From Iceland — Steikhúsið: A Great Meal That Would Be Better With Acid

Steikhúsið: A Great Meal That Would Be Better With Acid

York Underwood
Words by
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published June 4, 2015


Tryggvagata 4-6, 101 Reykjavík
Everyday 11:30-14:00; 17:00-22:00
What we think
The steaks are great, which is good because it’s a house for steaks. The starters and sides degrade the quality of the steak and bring the meal down.
Sans vinegar.
Heat, wood, and leather: a room to be alone in a crowd.
Price for 2
15-25,000 ISK.

Not everything is better with acid, but it can certainly make some things more vibrant, beautiful and full. Subtle flavours can be heightened, bringing complex aromas and bouquets to your palette. This meal would have been better with acid.

Steikhúsið has all the ambience of an upscale steakhouse: earth tones and masculine upholstery, lots of wood-grain furniture, and red-capped wine bottles for aesthetic punctuation. It gives you the feeling that the slaughtering of cattle is not only necessary but also elegant—even classy. It’s a warm enough atmosphere for a sit-down meal with the family, a third date, or a business dinner. Yet it’s private enough for more sombre events—like a funeral or wake.

The service is outstanding, with every server doing his best Johnny Cash impression with slick hair and all-black clothing (also quite fitting at a funeral, unless it’s one of those “Wear bright colours! Let’s celebrate his or her life!” funerals, in which case I think black goes with everything—except blue, but I’m not sure if that’s a rule or a guideline or true).

My guest and I decide against an apéritif, choosing wine for both before and during the meal. We went with the Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/ Carmenere from Chile (2,600 ISK per 25 cl. glass). Unfortunately, the wine was warm—not room temperature, but warm. This made the tannins a bit too potent for the first sip, and left us sipping water until the bread and starters arrived (I’m sure they would have replaced the drinks, but I was too caught up in telling a story to be interrupted by warm red wine). I spoke with a friend who was eating at a table near the kitchen at the same time that I was eating. They asked to move shortly after I left because it was too warm being that close to the oven, so maybe the mystery of the warm wine is merely logistical. They need to store their wine elsewhere.

We chose the “Best Choice” (2,990 ISK), a “mixed starter with all our favourites.” This included: deer carpaccio with herb-truffle oil, warm goat’s cheese and balsamic glazed blackberries; crispy breaded chicken tenders, tortillawrapped with corn and tomato salsa; grilled minke whale “tataki,” chilli marmalade and tamarind jalapeno sauce; and spring rolls with smoked guillemot, dates, Japanese mayo and bell pepper jam.

Dinner was beef tenderloin (200 g for 4,190 ISK) with an optional baked potato (490 ISK) and coleslaw (550 ISK).

The steaks are grilled to tender perfection. The flavour of the beef is clean and full and cooked to medium rare (as ordered). This is a steakhouse and it makes steaks, well. Very well.

However, there was an essential ingredient missing in many of the dishes: vinegar.

The coleslaw was sliced cabbage, carrots, and, possibly, apples? I couldn’t tell because the dressing was essentially just mayonnaise. It needed vinegar to bring out the component flavours, rather than just goop. The “Tataki” was also lacking an acidity to give it any real flavour. The dressing with the whale meat became mush. When I think of beef tataki, which would be the closest resemblance to whale tataki, I think of ponzu sauce, a citrus-based vinaigrette that would pickle the accompanying vegetables along with the lightly seared meat. The spring rolls are tasty but hard to enjoy after every appetizer had a similar seasoning and texture: no snap, no crunch, mush. Smoked guillemot is such a beautiful-tasting bird, but the flavours were hidden. It was like a food tray at a funeral, comforting and bland. Nothing to take your attention away from the overwhelming despair the fragility of life creates.

The steak is very good though. The price, however, would make me wary to suggest it over the other options available. It’s too bad because the service was spot-on. It’s the tiny details in the starters and sides that could really bring the menu here to life. There is nothing more stark but difficult to define than the difference between life and death. If only, like here, it was just a few drops of acid.

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