Icelandic nonchalance and delicious chaos ensues at this weekly-menu driven restaurant
It is often said that adversity breeds creativity. Creative arcs across the globe showed what research has also borne to be true — difficult times call for inventive solutions that would otherwise have been considered preposterous. For the restaurant industry it meant testing formats like home delivery of fine dining kits going beyond discounted fare. For some others, it meant an opportunity to experiment with the premise of restaurants and restaurant menus.
Enter Hosiló. In true “make the most of what you’ve got” fashion, the pandemic venture saw the coming together of three friends and chefs, Númi Þorkell Thomasson, Atli Ottesen and Aðalsteinn Ragnar Benediktsson, in the space that used to be Dill. The interiors are the only remnant of its hallowed past. With a fitting name like Hosiló — in Icelandic it means a small room, generally entered from another room, for example, a kitchen — the barn-like space is pretty much run like a home kitchen, too. Shying away from a mainstay menu, Hosiló offers a weekly menu instead, a rotation of three appetizers, mains and desserts.
In the three years they’ve been open, Hosiló has charmed a loyal clientele; they were even Best Goddamn Restaurant runner’s up in the Grapevine’s Best of Reykjavik 2022. Despite their notoriety with their reservations (hard to reach via phone, unresponsive to messages, not on any online booking platform) and (sometimes) service, Hosiló continues to garner attention for their food.
In an interview when they first opened, the owners prided themselves on their “fresh produce and good, honest food,” a commitment I am happy to report still shines through. If you are one of those who seek comfort in predictability, Hosiló may not be for you. But if you were to approach it with the knowledge that the weekly rotational menu has something for vegans, vegetarian and carnivores, and will showcase flavours and dishes from around the world, then rest assured that you’d be rewarded with big, bold plates that don’t quite reveal that they’ve only been at this a week.
Every Thursday, this eccentric-adjacent restaurant shares a menu on their Instagram page, a carousel of their new plates, then printed menu outtakes. So for those who’d like advance notice, this is perhaps a feeble nod to that. Some of my favourite meals at Hosiló have been their lunches. Ideal for midday escapades, the regularly vegetable-forward menu is often light and given the weekly rotation, a fun way to embrace surprises. One day, they might take you to Italy or Denmark, on another, they render a sublime Icelandic dish in a contemporary cloak. Clever details, like massaging ribboned celeriac with saffron, hint at a maturity I’d like to see more of.
It is often the case however, that landing there with no inkling of what the week brings is precisely when you end up with fireworks. At a recent lunch, emboldened by my untested theory that the kitchen was so engrossed in perfecting dishes they forgot to post on IG, a girlfriend and I were treated to a lunch so delicious, we have been talking about it since. Simply called “Noodle soup,” what we received was a deep dish with islands of thin rice vermicelli rising out of a pool of zippy fish sauce slicked broth that was tangy and earthy. Charred wheels of leeks and wedges of fresh tomatoes lend heft, while barely seared tiger shrimp hid all the above underneath.
You might get lucky with the Skagen toast, as it regularly makes an appearance if you keep your eyes peeled for it. There may be some element of the toast that might appear refashioned, as a paprika dusted devilled egg, with carelessly scattered hand-peeled shrimp. Lately I have noticed a resurgence of Indian dishes on their menu, but I have to admit being too shy to try it.
Hosiló’s cocktails are boozy, perfect for folk like me, who often complain about the lack of alcohol in the (frankly) overpriced drinks elsewhere – your concerns are unfounded here. Like the food, the beverage menu leans towards the compact. House red, white and sparkling are available for wine lovers, at a fairly decent price of 1.700 ISK per glass. Bottles for the table are, too, but you’d have to attract the attention of the waiters to see if one of them would deign to walk you through what’s available.
Attention to detail
Despite the changing menu, chances are you will encounter some variation on a dish you know. While Reykjavík suffers from an overtly bad case of the “Asian” syndrome (naming any and every dish with the prefix Asian whether the dish uses ginger, or something as “exotic” as soy sauce), Hosiló regularly displays a maturity in this regard. A few weeks ago they had a faux pho, and leaving aside the word play, it instantly tells you what to expect. These are the occasions where dining here makes you feel content and comfortable all around.
But the pitfalls of a changing menu is also that the kitchen perhaps never has time to perfect any one dish. Which can be an exhilarating experience when they get it right or a comedy of errors when they don’t. Which would be funnier if we also weren’t paying steep Reykjavik prices.
At dinner last week I paid 7.900 ISK for a saffron risotto that would have led Milanese Italians to riot en masse if they’d been served the mushy slop I was. As if the chefs were aware of this ghastly grjónagraut masquerading as risotto, the feeble attempt to mask it with role-model cooking of assorted seafood (meaty scallops, grilled langoustine, seared shrimp) only heightened the poor handling of the risotto (the pop and bite of the trout eggs adding further insult to injury).
At these price points and their intention to serve high quality comfort food, the absence of arborio rice seemingly cooked in water and watered down saffron (this from saffron loving Hosiló!) is avoidable. Like the waiter sagely surmised, when I pointed this out to them, “rice isn’t just rice,” is an observation they’d take up I hope.
Hosiló is most successful when they riff on dishes while preserving the spirit of the original. Like the lovely paratha-like flatbread they once served with a hearty soup. Or their many Southeast Asian inspired plates. Less successful are attempts when they try to overcomplicate dishes, like the Agnolotti all’agnelo (2.900 ISK), whose pulled lamb filling recalled gyoza with its unnecessary pan frying and not the silky pasta it is meant to be. A shame really, as one could see how beautifully the pasta was rolled and shaped.
Hosiló embodies Icelandic nonchalance in everything but their food. Yet the ritual of dining is seldom anchored by food alone. Very much an owner-driven enterprise, there is a big sense of “character” to being here.
The flipside of personality-driven service is that it runs the risk of alienating potential customers. On perfect evenings, you are greeted warmly, seated almost instantly (it is a small restaurant) and the courses arrive in well paced succession. On others, however, there is an inexcusable amount of arm flapping to draw attention to your table, or dishes arrive excruciatingly slow. What I find indefensible is the condescension that seems to be baked into their service ethos, an ingratiating tone that seems to scoff at how little you know of them, or their format. Arresting this would see me return there more often, a sentiment I have heard echoed from those around me.
The phone lines and messages might be left unanswered, but the food delivers big, bold punches of flavour at Hosiló.
Find Hosiló on Facebook or IRL at Hverfisgata 12.
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