The wind must be blowing just right, as we could have walked blindfolded down Skólavörðustígur to find Sjávargrillið. The smell of a seafood grill grew stronger on approach. Without reservations we arrive to a bustling dining room on an early Wednesday evening. After a slight pause, and a glance over the reservation book, we are led to a dark, boisterous cellar where the party has already started. A banquet of twelve was under way and we were offered a dim table on the sidelines. At first we felt like stowaways in the hull of a ship. Back lit driftwood lines the walls with light slipping through the cracks, maritime maps and abstract modernist portraits dot the walls, and a custom made couch modelled after a stone break wall separates us from the kitchen. Had we dined above, I would have overlooked this hideaway completely. The interior design is quite impressive, considering the exterior of the house is so colourless and pedestrian. From the old seltzer bottles with which still water is served, to the flat river stones used for serving custom butter, almost every detail is considered save for the lone tea candle illuminating our table. I use this to my advantage and steal a kiss from my date.
The menu is equally subdued, with a manageably tame selection of deliciously healthy, intelligent combinations. We both settle on the set menu of the three course lobster feast (6.900 ISK), which begins with lobster from Höfn with celery root, seaweed, and date; lobster and mussels from Breiðafjörður in the west of Iceland with cauliflower, cucumber, and snow peas, and finishing with a raspberry vanilla crème brulèe. The thought of wild mussels alone sold me on the platter.
We began with an unexpected creative amuse bouche, compliments of the chef, served in the form of a miniature clay potted plant and playing on the texture of topsoil with the taste and bite of fresh fennel. With little visibility we had to rely strictly on taste and texture, which surpassed any conceptual presentation. We started off with a bang. The langoustine appetiser, which is what Icelanders commonly accept as lobster, slid out of their shells and washed away effortlessly with the bright Cabernet Franc suggested by our waiter. The biggest surprise of the evening was the arrival of the main lobster tail; which turned out to be of proper proportion. An average size lobster is a rare bird on the Icelandic table; and like most of our better seafood, nearly all is sold off for export. Perhaps the only lull of the evening was the accompanying mussels from Breiðafjörður that I had highly anticipated. My gullet was keen on the flavourful wild variety, but instead was served a mild, farm fresh sort that bordered on blasé. A dash of contrast might increase their vigour, but nothing tastes quite like fresh wild mussels. Keep fishing! As for dessert, a simple crème brulèe punctuated by homemade raspberry sorbet, bull’s-eye.
Sjávargrillið is a nice addition to Icelandic dining. It should pass the test of time since it strives to cater equally to foreign guests and locals alike. With affordable prices, pleasantly comfortable decor, and exceptional Icelandic cuisine, this place should gain a loyal following. Count me as one.
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