Aldin is a newish restaurant that overlooks Lækjartorg in one of the best locations in downtown Reykjavík where the restaurant Happ once stood. Although its name, which is written in a font borrowed from the Danish chocolate company Anthon Berg, makes the place sound like a Turkish teahouse, Aldin is no such place. It offers simple, ready-made meals, served over the counter, with a focus on lunch service.
It has vegetarian and vegan options and, based on what I saw on their Facebook page, they are enamoured by Yotam Ottolenghi, restaurateur and Guardian food columnist. I am usually highly suspicious of places that throw words like “healthy” and “honest” around as if those words hadn’t been robbed of all meaning, but I had liked the old Happ and I love Ottolenghi and therefore decided to go in there with an open mind.
Upon entering, however, the place just felt wrong. Aldin has retained the same arrangement and decorations from the Happ days except now there’s less of everything. It feels half-baked and manages to make you feel exposed and boxed in at the same time. The walls are bare, the colour scheme is dull and it feels a little like a cafeteria that’s aiming for something else. The inspiration seems to be one of those nu-beige UK hole-in-the-wall health bistros which delight Gwyneth Paltrow and horrify Jonathan Meades.
I am very impressed by the work that has been done in building up a community of sustainable agriculture and organic and free-range produce, but I am equally annoyed by how the ideals of that movement have been hijacked by the bland and the bourgeois and turned into a watered-down commodity.
Furthermore, the service was lousy on my first visit and unremarkable on the other occasions. The person behind the counter seemed to consider us an unpleasant surprise and couldn’t squeeze out enough enthusiasm to familiarise himself with what was on offer. Seeing as there were no menus, we had to rely on guesswork.
Finally, the food was nothing special. I could see a couple of clear Ottolenghian “inspirations” here and there: the aubergine with chilli yoghurt, except with skyr replacing the yoghurt; sweet potato wedges; salads with nuts and berries; tabouleh with a twist, etc. It was mostly seasonal and mostly imported over long distances.
They seem to be navigating by flavour rather than the perceived healthiness of the dishes, which is more than I had dared to hope, but its too bad they are sailing with a broken sextant.
None of the food is cooked to order and it is kept uncovered and just below room temperature. That includes baked salmon, béarnaise and hollandaise, roasted sweet potatoes, eggplants, roasted lamb and rice. The only warm items on the menu were the chicken and the soup. I should not have to explain why keeping béarnaise sauce uncovered next to the till for any amount of time is a terrible notion.
The salmon was well cooked, making me all the more annoyed that it was being served tepid. The eggplant was bitter and soggy and still haunts the ruins of my taste buds. The sweet potatoes were cold, overcooked and tasted like Gerber baby food. The best thing on the menu was the chestnut-dusted chicken, which was very well seasoned and served hot and on the bone. It tasted a bit like a cerkez tavugu and worked well with the coconut cream/mint sauce that was served with it.
During my first visit we risked a dessert. My wife chose a muffin that collapsed into a pile of sand like a mummified fart when exposed to a fork and tasted like nothing but globs of salted butter and frozen blueberries. I chose the walnut carrot cake, which was nuttier than a squirrel outhouse and tasted of the same salty butter.
It is also worth mentioning that Teapigs, the quaint artisan tea company which Aldin displays proudly on their shelves, was recently discovered to be wholly owned by the second-largest tea manufacturer in the world, Tata Global Beverages Limited (something Teapigs had tried hard to conceal).
This may have nothing to do with the flavour of the food, but it leaves a bad taste all the same. If Aldin was a band it would be Foster the People, an organised and cynical attempt made by people with a strong marketing background trying to cash in on an established fan base by masquerading as a quirky indie band.
Austurstræti 22, 101 Reykjavík
What we think : Some people swear by it. I don’t.
Flavour: Middle-eastern, Ottolenghi, vegetables
Ambiance: Faux-rustic, barren, claustrophobic
Service: Middling to bad
Price for 2 (with drinks): 1500–2500 ISK