Grillmarkaðurinn is the new contender in the Icelandic steakhouse circuit. It is tucked behind the restaurant Happ, and shares one facet of Happ’s food philosophy with an emphasis on high-quality, locally procured produce.
But Grillmarkaðurinn is a steakhouse as fundamental in its devotion to the charring of flesh as Happ is to the roasting of beets (and sometimes flesh). This is a place where things that go moo and baa meet fire and are magically turned into tasty meat. If Grillmarkaðurinn had a mascot it would be Luke Skywalker half-dressed in that yak thing from ‘Empire Strikes Back.’
Some friends had found the decorations overwrought. Although Grillmarkaðurinn does veer dangerously close to a tumble down the rococco rabbit hole with the bludgeoningly obvious references to Icelandic nature (basalt columns, fish skin dividers, sod roof retaining walls) I found myself liking it. If anything, the layered design is perfect for a first date you’re unsure about, a business meeting you’re indifferent to or relatives who you can only stand to be in close proximity to for 45 minutes at a time—the decorations give the eye a place to wander. Anyway, in this kind of lighting even a pile of rocks looks great.
The prices are on the steep side. You can expect to pay something in the region of 10–13 thousand ISK per person. And considering how hard reservations were to come by, I find the Icelandic recession hard to swallow. Maybe they threw all their eggs at the house of parliament and were forced to eat out. But Grillmarkaðurinn buys its fish and meat directly from local farms and fishermen that employ sustainable practices and in many cases have tracked down ridiculously specific stock (like lambs reared on angelica) seemingly simply for the novelty value. Add that to the generous servings and the $50 steak seems a lot more reasonable.
First course. Wifey ordered the coal-grilled mini burger trifecta of puffin, mink whale and lobster, respectively (2.490 ISK). Although I’m not sure if “burger” is the appropriate name when none of the meat has been ground, couldn’t we call it a slider or a sandwich? The whale and puffin tasted surprisingly samey but all the cuts were perfectly rare and melted in the mouth like a venison sorbet.
I ordered the lobster rolls (2.950 ISK), which came without a bun and weren’t really lobster rolls at all. That being said, the flakey, deep-fried langoustine with fish roe and a mason jar of mussel sauce didn’t disappoint. Although I think Icelandic restaurants have made their point with the mason jars.
She had the steak and potatoes (4.990 ISK). No steakhouse is, or should be, complete without them. You can dress it up a little but do not dare touch the essentials. A nice solid slab of medium rare rib eye with roasted or fried spuds, a hearty sauce with some lettuce in the corner fighting a losing battle. I’m happy to report that Grillmarkaðurinn does this very well. No complaints at all, other than the small pile of kosher salt mixed with volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajökull in such an insanely touristic stunt that I feared my lamb would come with smoked Björks in creamed Sigur Róses.
That fear was ungrounded but the lamb did come grounded in creamed celeriac and a rich rosemary sauce, along with pickled onions (4.390). Perfectly cooked and none of the gamey flavour that some associate with lamb fat. But I couldn’t really taste any angelica either.
With bits of grass-fed meat trying to squeeze its way between my ribs, I had no intention of topping that off with a dessert But, alas, the job isn’t all booze and cushy meals, sometimes one must throw oneself on the syrupy sword for a worthy cause.
Not that the desserts really repaid such devotion. We ordered the “Potluck” tasting platter that is a random selection of 3–4 dishes from the dessert menu (1.890 ISK). The chocolate bubble encasing a coffee ice cream which the waitress collapsed with a stream of hot caramel sauce was a neat trick but all the dishes seemed to be lathered in the same caramel sauce or toffee crumbles and it all tasted quite similar. But I was glad to see the pineapple pudding making a come back.
What We Think: Sometimes get carried away with the frills and the tourist angle but mostly an excellent and business-like approach to local flame-licked meat and fish.
Flavour: Meat meets meat
Ambiance: Soft-lighting, fancy, business or romance
Service: Very professional, unobtrusive but always around the corner. And brought an English menu for the lady without being prompted