The idea of a Viking themed bar triggers the same knee-jerk reaction that natives get when they’re confronted with the puffin plush toys and plastic helmets shops in downtown Reykjavík. It’s understandable that we’re seeing more of these shops given the summer traffic of visitors to Reykjavík, but it’s always a little heartbreaking to see a charming old wooden house get press-ganged into tourist service. But I’m inclined to cut Víkingakráin (The Viking Tavern) some slack.
Víkingakráin is firmly in the spirit of those Medieval Times jousting places we all know and love/loathe. In my opinion, the place has real potential to offer a barrel of stupid fun to foreigners and locals alike and if you need to put on your ironic hat to enjoy it then be my guest.
For one thing, they’ve gone out of their way to maintain authenticity and are well ahead of the Viking Village in Hafnarfjörður which is too ‘Disneyfied’ and ‘plasticky’. Here there isn’t a plastic horned helmet in sight and the costumes (every guest gets one!) are quite convincing.
For what’s mostly a bar, Víkingakráin offers an ambitious menu. Local dishes and local ingredients make up most of the menu and of course the usual rotten shark, smoked lamb and wind-dried cod are well represented. But they also offer things like salted cod in orange sauce (3.100 ISK) and lamb filets in beer sauce (3.900 ISK) and some interesting group menus, which I didn’t get a chance to try. So they seem to be aiming for bistro status.
My companion and I kicked off with what should be considered the basics: Icelandic lamb stew (1.600 ISK) and the creamy fish soup (1.450 ISK), and the recommended light lager Jökull to wash it down. The lamb stew I’m used to is served with either rice or oatmeal as a thickening agent and so the thin broth-like stew that they offered didn’t feel quite right. They do get a big plus for skimming off most of the fat as the fat on the Icelandic lamb can have an almost overbearingly gamey taste to it. They also used what looked like fresh herbs and vegetables, which is not a given.
The fish soup was somewhere between a Manhattan and a New England clam chowder and worked well—mixed seafood, heavy on the cream, but with fresh tomatoes and white wine (also sour whey?) to lift it up.
For the main course we picked the lamb shank with blueberry sauce (3.400 ISK) and the interesting-sounding Arctic char with a cumin-brennivín sauce (3.100 ISK). The Arctic char was of the typical mass-farmed variety and I missed the burned, crispy skin, which is where the char really shines. The sauce tasted more of burned butter than cumin and the overall impression was bland and did not do justice to the Arctic char.
The Lamb shanks, I’ll bet good money on, had been boiled prior to roasting. Overcooked, the flavour wasn’t there and the salty blueberry-free bouillon sauce did little to liven up the protein.
I squeezed in a dessert of rice pudding with blueberry “kissel” (also known as “jam”) and got what looked like a Rice Krispies yoghurt bar. It was day-old, cinnamon-less mulch and I heartily recommend the cream pancake or skyr in its place.
I would like to give kudos to the lady holding down the fort by herself for the better part of the evening and with a packed room of tourists too! It can be difficult to predict traffic in restaurants aimed at tourists and these things happen but she was professional and friendly despite the workload.
The menu may be over-ambitious for this range and the kitchen needs a kick up the ass, but I’d say it does the job for a theme bar/restaurant and could easily be raised up a notch with a few easy fixes (if you have to precook it, then leave it off the menu!).
Overall, Víkingakráin does a good job of letting you know what you’re in for and if you take it for what it is then the meal should live up to expectations.
However, it would be nice to see the theme of the place explored further, involve the guests more, add more events, involve the staff more, maybe some bar games, like an axe challenge with free shots for those who hit the bulls eye!
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