From Iceland — An Adventure Under A Bridge

An Adventure Under A Bridge

Published July 5, 2023

An Adventure Under A Bridge

Fiskfelagið is still going strong, 14 years on

Fiskfelagið, also known as Fish Company, is often confused with the other fish-in-its-name restaurant down the street. But point out that it is the restaurant under the bridge, or the restaurant in the stone cellar, or ahem, the Reykjavík Grapevine’s Best Seafood restaurant 11 years in a row, and an aha moment of clarity dawns. 

Whether you are visiting, or live in Reykjavík, chances are that you’ve lingered more than a moment taking in all the architectural delights around Grófin. The historic, nautical heart of downtown Reykjavík is home to thoughtfully restored timber and stone buildings, some dating as far back as 1863. Standing at the corner of Tryggvagata and Vesturgata is the historic Zimsen house, a building with a history riddled with as many adventures as those promised on the menu at Fiskfelagið. 

Originally located at the corner of Hafnarstræti, the Zimsenhús was moved in its entirety in 2006 from its original location, on a specially rigged out moving truck. It was a newsworthy event, with spectacular images and the enthusiastic observation that the move was so carefully orchestrated that a flower vase in the window sill made it safely to its destination. While speculation was rife about the renewed use of the building and its possible new location, by 2008 it was clear that a restaurant run by one-time Lækjarbrekka owner Guðmundur Hanneson and chef Lárus Gunnar Jónasson would open in the stone basement. 

Carefully restored by architect Hjörleifur Stefánsson, the landscape is meant to evoke what would have been piers around this location in 1863. In place of the shallow harbor, is a stone paved dug down square with a pond on one side, replete with a timber bridge — an awfully delightful way to cut across to Hafnarstræti. Tucked away from the bustle of the main street, Fiskfelagið beckons with its dark, stone walls and outdoor patio seating. On a sunny summer noon, you’ll be hard pressed to find a free table outdoors as regulars descend in hordes to make the most of a rare good weather day. 

But what has Fiskfelagið been up to since Grapevine last reviewed them in 2012? Well, a lot. 

Rooted in Iceland

Walking into the cavernous restaurant instantly transports diners elsewhere. This is one of well known interior designer Leifur Welding’s more successful projects that combines a sense of place with a touch of worldly flourish with aplomb. Pops of mustard add a depth of warmth matched by the hospitable staff that are quick with a chat or happy to leave you alone, depending on your preference. Artwork by local artists, including a bold number by illustrator Solveig Pálsdóttir, is as prominent as the wall of Norwegian porcelain plates from Figgjo, altogether creating a moody, grotto-like ambience that feels fitting to plot a delicious escapade. 

Since they first opened, and to the amusement of reviewers before me, Fiskfelagið’s affinity for naming dishes after countries with seemingly no connection to the ingredients proposed has been a baffling phenomenon. But bat away those affronting appellations and choose what calls to you the most. What was once a lone offering of ‘Around the World’ dishes offered either as a set menu or as a la carte has since grown to include a snappy adventure around Iceland menu, set menus of three and five course dishes, and a substantial lunch menu that is as celebratory a feast as dinner.

When my picky sister-in-law told me about the best salad í bænum, I was skeptical. Not only was this at a seafood restaurant, but also a lunch-only offering, reinforced my presumptions about sad salads. Fast forward ten years since, and I am now channeling that same enthusiasm for the Lobster Salad (5490 ISK) as my family first did. Crisp chunks of greens, often romain, are dotted with batter-fried langoustine, shrimp, tomatoes and a mountain of grated parmesan. What feels like a loose riff of a Caesar salad at first sight is deceptive of the textures packed into a seemingly simple dish. The greens are always dressed just so, the lobster freshly fried and crisp, the tiger shrimp plump and firm, and the cherry tomatoes alone make me sigh — some are confited lightly and peeled, others left raw but halved, making for an indulgent yet light lunch affair that altogether feels like a successful midday escapade for one.

They’ve taken something familiar and had fun with it in the most maximalist way possible by combining flavours and ingredients that aren’t traditionally paired, but which somehow still work in a tasteful, pleasing fashion.

The fish of the day (3790 ISK) is the usual formulaic offering of white fish-sauce-whole lotta veggies-purees, but dished here in a refined, restrained avatar that showcases the strength of that code. It’s testimony of how even their simplest plates are worthy of recall when you can remember the ling with a sherry sauce, years later. 

Around the world

Carpaccio. A dish that evokes dusty memories of Italian-esque plates (once declared dated by NYT a whole decade ago) rules the roost in Reykjavík. But Fiskfelagið does with it what they do best (not the name, it is mysteriously named Greenland). They’ve taken something familiar and had fun with it in the most maximalist way possible by combining flavours and ingredients that aren’t traditionally paired, but which somehow still work in a tasteful, pleasing fashion. 

Delicate slices of reindeer (4990 ISK) parquet the platter,  hidden under a cornucopia of toppings your mind insists don’t go together, with the first bite quelling such unrest. Flash frozen nubs of foie gras are scattered across the wintry landscape of savoury cep cream, blueberry compote, with the crispy oyster mushrooms and roasted split hazelnuts offering a pleasant contrast to all the smoothness. The parmesan adds sharpness yes, and on your third and fourth bite, you realise the hidden but there whispers of truffle oil. If there ever was a dish that screamed Reykjavík’s menu mantra of more is more, it is this dish right here. But even a curmudgeon like me is weak for this tasty excess. 

While you may be tempted to skip classics like graflax, I implore you to try the Iceland-Lovage (3490/ 3890 ISK) here. Incidentally, also the one dish that nails that country-ingredient epithet. 

Where foam has been villainized off menus, one even Fiskfelgið was accused of in the past, today they lean towards frozen flourishes in a successful play of textures and temperatures as proven by their take on graflax. Instead of thin slices of fish, the salmon is served as hefty ribbony wedges almost, piled over a celeriac slaw. A quenelle of Icelandic cucumber and wasabi ice cream is meant to be scooped up with the mussel broth, the bright lovage oil adding a touch of spring to the ensemble. Eaten together with the rye crumble, it is a fun, and original take on a treasured classic.  

Some version of slow cooked trout has always been on the menu and at a recent outing, the Ireland-Malt (4790/ 6390 ISK), was the table favourite. True to the kitchen’s spirit, the sous-vide cooked local fish is more than what the menu reads. Though a stout foam is promised, it is a beer-forward sauce, with the bitterness of the brew shining through all that buttery richness. The apple jam is more fruit puree than cloying condiment, delicately smoked, and deftly placed, so you only catch on to its presence while wondering where it is coming from. The trout roe-dill vinaigrette lends colour and pop. Even fried sunchokes, which I’m otherwise tired of, are a welcome dash of earthiness here. 

Food at Fish Company is modern Icelandic in an appeals-to-everyone way while still being playful, fun and creative.

While I hadn’t reviewed them formally – an oversight I am now rectifying – I have enjoyed more than one fantastic meal after another at Fiskfelagið. Each year, the highlight of putting together our Best of Dining and end of year Christmas festive menu roundup are the outings here. 

Complaints I have about the excesses of predictable tropes rest easy here. The food at Fish Company is modern Icelandic in an appeals-to-everyone way while still being playful, fun and creative. Much has been written about their seafood, their genial service, their ability to host 25-person plus jólaparties, sometimes two across the room, without breaking a sweat. 

But I return here again and again not just for their skyr mousse (2890 ISK) with strawberry broth, their melt in the mouth lamb (5990/ 7990 ISK), or that salad, I am often here to bask in that more is more Reykjavik vibe. 

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