We completely miss Bjargarsteinn on the first approach. I’d expected to find it right away as we trundled around the small harbour of Grundarfjörður—but no. I open up Google Maps and, under a heavy grey sky, we circle for the second time through the narrow seaside network of dripping warehouses and workshops. Up a discreet pebbled track by the sea wall, Bjargarsteinn finally appears, with a welcoming golden light glowing from the windows.
We’re the first guests of the evening, and we mill around the bright, tidy dining room. There’s a charming collection of bric-a-brac to take in—an old stove is topped with irons and antique crock pots, and the mossy green walls hold shelves of antique food tins with retro designs, and porcelain ornaments.
“I used to be able to tell people that this was both the oldest and newest house in town,” says our beaming waitress as she seats us to take our order. It turns out that the oldest part of the building was brought here from Akranes, the attic of which still holds a museum-apartment area with a sewing machine, shelves of old framed photos and crochet-blanketed sofas under the low rafters. It’s traditional and retro, but curated rather than kitsch.
The same can be said of the handwritten menu, which—at first glance—looks like the same seafood and lamb fare you’ll find in most of Iceland’s restaurants. However, the attention to detail becomes quickly apparent. The seafood soup is a light, savoury bisque loaded with plenty of shrimps, juicy king prawns and bright orange scallops, served in a beautiful old cast iron pot. The broth carries a fresh leek flavour, the chunks of succulent white fish flake perfectly, and the scallops are meaty, tender and fresh as can be. More than an overly familiar starter, the soup is a seafood cornucopia, and an event in itself.
Despite tempting catfish and ling specials, I’m curious to see if the kitchen can also elevate the traditional Icelandic staple of lamb, served here with beets, white cabbage, and figs. My companion, with an understandably raised eyebrow, opts for the single “vegetarian dish,” which—unlike everything else on the menu—doesn’t contain any more specific ingredient information.
Such fears are quickly allayed when the plate arrives—a colourful arrangement of carefully prepared vegetables complete with a crisp salad and a mini saucepan of creamy pasta. It turns out to be something of an extravaganza, with everything from mustard-coated Brussels sprouts to puréed carrots with a burst of passion fruit flavour. The pasta is a filling comfort-food addition; it’s a hearty meal that gets a firm seal of vegetarian approval.
The lamb dish comprises four perfectly grilled loin fillets with a welcome gamey flavour, arranged over al dente broccolini and cauliflower, and surrounded by swirls of bright green herbal emulsion and purple beet juice. The chef’s sense of playfulness is evident, but never overbearing—the top quality ingredients are always allowed to shine through.
We sadly don’t have time for a dessert, and as we finish up a heavy storm starts to lash the windows with rain, blotting out the view of Kirkjufell over the fjord. We head out into the wet gales with a spring in our step, and a bit of Bjargarsteinn’s domestic tranquility and warm glow to help us on our way.
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