It was with great pride and excitement when I set out to review what was once one of my favourite restaurants: Við Tjörnina. That being said, I hadn’t actually been there for almost five years. Although I anticipated some changes to have been made since then, my expectations were still high given that The Grapevine awarded Við Tjörnina ‘Best Seafood Establishment’ in Reykjavík in 2011. The sea products of Iceland are, indeed, their specialty. The cooking style is predominantly French, although with an Icelandic twist—using local herbs and vegetables unique to the island whenever possible.
The name, which translates to “By the Pond,” is, as the name suggests, located by the pond in downtown Reykjavík, overlooking both Alþingi and City Hall. Entering the restaurant past a narrow stairway in the elaborate early 19th Century wooden structure feels like time travel. Við Tjörnina has been going strong for almost 30 years, but the decorations and ambiance could well be something from a 1950s, upper-class living room.
After being seated in one of the three dining rooms, it became obvious that the place could do with a bit of maintenance. That is not to say that it looked too old—it’s supposed to look old—but one of our chairs was just barely hanging together.
Despite the aesthetics of the place, the menu looked promising, consisting of four starters, four main courses and four desserts. A small menu is a good sign, especially if a restaurant prides itself on fresh sea products. It should be noted that the menu here is regularly changed. The wine list, however, could do with a bit more variety, while still offering solid choices of French and New World reds and whites which are all moderately priced by Icelandic restaurant standards.
For my starter I chose the smoked salmon (1,950 ISK), served with bits of rolled omelette on a bed of rocket and slices of radish. The salmon was very tasty, the smokiness not overwhelming. My companion had the beef carpaccio (2,150 ISK)—one of two courses that include meat from mammals. The carpaccio was served with leaves of watercress, pickled red onions and a slice of deep-fried camembert. The dish was nicely presented on a triangular plate, perfectly seasoned and very pleasing.
For the main course I chose the redfish with a saffron cream-sauce (3,780 ISK) while my companion chose blue ling with a Dijon and cognac-sauce (3,880). Both dishes were served with fresh potatoes that had been introduced to some Icelandic butter and dill, and julienned root vegetables. Very excellent and fitting. The redfish itself was a touch overcooked, sadly, and therefore a bit dry. The blue ling was closer to what it could have been, but was also a bit dry. Both courses were perfectly seasoned and the sauces were excellent, especially the Dijon and cognac sauce. It was a shame that the execution of the star ingredient, however, was not spot on.
There was not very much room for dessert, but I felt obliged and chose a skyr-mousse, the dessert that had the “lightest” sounding name. It was served with a nice, tangy emulsion of blueberries and crowberries, with whipped cream and a Meringue-crumble. The crumble provided a nice, sweet crunch that offered a nice balance against the tanginess of the berries. The mousse itself was light and airy, as it should be, with a lovely hint of fresh vanilla.
The service at Við tjörnina is very professional, accommodating and friendly. Our waiter explained everything very well, bread and butter arrived at the right time and our glasses were never empty.
Although it could have been better, my visit was overall satisfying, and just like five years ago, it offered a genuine, Icelandic, post-war experience. And the mere fact that it counts nearly three decades of continuous service in a city with as changeable a culinary climate as Reykjavík is testament enough to its quality.
What we think: Simple food made from local ingredients where seafood is the star of the show
Flavour: Icelandic cuisine, local ingredients, French influence
Ambience: Casual, fine dining
Service: Professional, friendly
Price for 2 (with drinks): 17-22,000 ISK
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 18:00-00:30
Our Rating: 3.5/5
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