Einar Ben is one of those restaurants in Reykjavík that seems to be a permanent fixture in the city. They’ve been there for as long as I can remember, serving up Icelandic cuisine—as far as that concept goes—for generations. This would, and should, bring about certain expectations for a fantastic evening in the age-old establishment.
Einar Ben is located near Ingólfstorg, in a wooden building from the early 20th century. The decor is very 1950s, resembling a stately Icelandic home from the era, of which there weren’t too many at the time.
The menu listed on the restaurant’s website is not the same as the physical menu you’re offered there. That one is comprised of four starters, four main courses and two desserts. The dishes are typical Icelandic restaurant items, meant to showcase the best of the local product: butter, skyr, seafood and lamb. It should be noted that the menu had at least five spelling errors. This is not to be taken lightly; proofreading is the least you can do when producing a text that is essentially the face of your business.
My companion chose a beef Carpaccio with roasted almonds as a starter, while I had the fish soup “filled with seafood and skyr cream.” The Carpaccio was quite dull—underseasoned and missing Parmesan shavings, which could have done a lot. The almonds were not roasted either. It came with a homemade pesto, which was fairly nice. The fish soup was very thick and heavy, more like a Louisiana gumbo than a soup. It was filled with seafood for sure, mostly pieces of cod and salmon, which are likely trimmings from the fillets used for the main courses. Nothing wrong with that, but the pieces of fish were not evenly cooked. Some were crisp, while others were chewy. The skyr cream brought about tartness, a lactose acidity, which was not pleasing to be honest.
For a main course, my companion chose the “lamb fillet, lamb shanks with potato terrine, root vegetables and red vine sauce,” spelling error included. I settled for fried cod, with butter noisette potatoes and a sweet potato purée. The lamb was nicely cooked, especially the shank, which was smothered in sauce. The sauce itself was a bit too heavy, but tasted nice. The root vegetables were spot on. The cod was cooked perfectly, crisp on the outside yet soft and flaky on the inside. As it should be. The potatoes needed seasoning and my dish came with a rucola and feta cheese salad, which did not really serve any purpose. The sweet potato purée was a fine choice for accompaniment.
For dessert we decided to share a crème brûlée with cream and fruit. The crème brûlée was very nice, its surface breaking like thin ice while the pudding itself remained soft and airy. However, it seems very odd to add cream on the side. Cream with cream. Sounds like a rap song.
Overall, our journey was somewhat lacklustre and it seems quite obvious that Einar Ben has seen better days. The fact that there are different menus could mean that they are in the process of developing a new one, rather than simply lagging in ambition. There were nonetheless faults in the service. At no point were our dishes explained to us and the tempo of our meal was much too fast, even after I made a point of saying that we were in no hurry whatsoever upon arrival. It’s like Diana Ross’s mom said, “you can’t hurry love.”
What We Think: Icelandic cuisine, at a high price.
Flavour: Scandinavian, with French and Italian touches.
Ambiance: Casual fine dining.
Service: Matched the food, mediocre.
Price for two (with drinks): 20 – 24.000 ISK
Our Rating: 2.5/5
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