From Iceland — Laminated Menus, Hits And Misses

Laminated Menus, Hits And Misses

Words by
Photo by
Anna Domnick

Published August 29, 2015


Þingholtsstraæti 1, 101 Reykjavík
What we think
Family style Italian.
Italian flag, needs a bit of seasoning.
Actually, quite warm. Only tourists, though.
Very personal, endearing, but a bit flaky.
Price for 2 (no drinks)
9-10,000 ISK

Primo is a relatively recent addition to the Reykjavík downtown restaurant scene, although it used to operate as somewhat of an Italian fast food take-away restaurant (pizza being its forte) in the suburbs not too long ago. Having acquired one of the best locations in the city, on the corner of Bankastræti and Þingholtssræti, Primo reopened last spring to pretty much—as of yet—no acclaim.

The reason for this is rather simple. That exact location used to house a well-liked mainstay of the downtown restaurant scene, Caruso, up until last fall. The landlords gave the owners of Caruso the boot following a publicly fought petite bourgeoisie real estate dispute as the very curious, very petite bourgeoisie nation of Iceland watched from the sidelines. It would seem Caruso wasn’t showing due deference to the overbearing landlords, so they sought to establish their own restaurant on the premises (and now have). This is not the best way to publicize a new business and has not helped Primo locally.

Therefore, Primo has had to endure a lot of prejudice during its first months in downtown Reykjavík. However, as my companion and I took our seats at Primo on a Wednesday night, we decided to leave aside the question of whether the negative reception was justified or not. We were about to enjoy dinner at a cherished location, with a lovely street view, on a beautiful night—our meal would be judged by its own merits. Surely, a restaurant’s kitchen and service staff are not to blame for the history of their employers.

The place itself is decorated in a very similar vein to its predecessor, with dark wood interiors, rustic furniture, dim lighting and a roaring fire from the wood burning stove Caruso had to leave behind. All in all, a fitting setting for a candlelit dinner. Primo is an Italian restaurant of the Americanized “family style” type. The menu itself is even laminated, already sporting white stickers over items that were no longer on offer. Not the best sign, for sure.

From the laminated menu, my companion chose a “platter” (1,990 ISK) of Parma ham, sausages, olives and grilled vegetables for his antipasti, while I decided upon the lobster soup (2,390 ISK) with cognac flambéed lobster tails. My companion was pleased with the platter to some extent: the pork products were flavourful and the olives delicious and plentiful—we actually nibbled on those throughout the evening. The grilled vegetables were, surprisingly, heaped with ground Parmesan, and failed to add much. Luckily, the lobster soup far exceeded my expectations. It was served in a gravy boat and poured into a bowl containing thinly sliced lobster tails, thereby cooking them in the steamy, deeply flavourful broth. Perfect!

For our mains, my companion chose the lasagne (2,790 ISK) and I decided, when in Rome, to go the wheat-egg route to pasta land, with a hearty frutti di mare (3,290 ISK) laganelle with lobster, scallops, mussels, chilli, lemon, garlic and white wine. The lasagne was very generic, lacking any “oomph” factor—it was in sore need of some seasoning, and the beef ragu could have done with more flavour, too. Adding ground Parmesan did improve the experience slightly, but it was still the height of mediocrity. The laganelle, however, was very nice, I must admit. Perfectly al dente, full of flavour, with a bounty of seafood. The chilli brought a heat and sharpness in contrast to the sweetness of the seafood, while the lemon gave the dish a fresh top note.

All in all, Primo is nothing more than what it presents itself to be. There are faults here and there: the bread did not arrive on time; one drink order was served, the other forgotten; and there’s that embarrassing moment when you need to ask for cutlery. The food, however, is not bad at all. The lobster soup comes recommended in any case, although, for generic Italian (not a bad thing in itself), there is room for improvement. Starting with new, up-to-date, sticker-free menus.

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