Ah, fish ‘n’ chips, the food of kings. Greyjoy ones, anyway. They’re best eaten piping hot in the open air, doused in salt and vinegar, and preferably within spitting distance of the sea.
It seems like a dish that Reykjavík should excel in. Potatoes, fish and sea? Triple check. Love of all things deep fried? Check again, bold and underlined.
But, much like a perfect pizza Margherita, spaghetti carbonara or Hungarian goulash, Britain’s famous gift to the culinary world is simple to make, and difficult to perfect. We went to a few Reykjavík chippies to see how they fare in the only cod war that matters.
Fear the walking vinegar
Google’s top hit is Icelandic Fish & Chips at Tryggvagata 11. It has a rolling menu of different types of fish—a promising start, suggesting they have a connection to the Icelandic supply chain. I opt for the tusk, which—somewhat sacrilegiously—comes with wedges instead of chips. What the heck, Icelandic Fish & Chips? “Chips” is in the name of the restaurant! You had TWO JOBS.
A factor that partially rights this affront is the sight of malt vinegar on the tables. It comes in a small glass bottle with a pipette, which succinctly describes the Icelandic attitude towards this much-maligned condiment. It’s stored like some kind of toxic, dangerous chemical. All that’s missing is a biohazard symbol.
The fish comes quickly, in a generous portion of four fillets about the right size to be considered finger food. The batter is light, crisp and slightly salted, like a tempura hybrid. The tusk is flakey, juicy, and very enjoyable. The potato wedges, however, are plain weird. Deep-fried at high heat, they’re charred and oily. Our tip is to skip the chips, and buy a pint with the change. Icelandic Fish & Beer—a concept we can get firmly behind.
Next up is Reykjavík Fish at Geirsgata 4a. Here, the vinegar-phobia manifests in a spritzer with a tight lid; kind of a mace-like weaponized spray version. The only fish on offer, outside of their wider non-fish-‘n’-chips menu, is cod. Which is fine. We can respect picking a lane.
It comes as two big chunks in a thin batter, much like you’d find in an everyday British chippy. It even disintegrates in your hands in such an authentic way that I’m temporarily transported to Portsmouth harbour.
The chips? I’m shocked as they’re revealed beneath the brown paper. They’re not chips at all, but skinny, crunchy, cardboard-y french fries. Not cool at all, and a red card offence.
Vinegar for days
The third and final stop of the day is the red Fish And Chips Wagon, located on the harbourside street of Hlésgata. There’s a big queue and plenty of people happily munching down their dinner on some nearby benches. It looks right and smells right. The condiment shelf comes with big, glorious vinegar bottles to properly douse the meal.
This must be the one, I think, opening the box to be serenaded by the perfect fried fish aroma. The chunky, fluffy chips are a sight for sore eyes. I reach for the battered, mouth-wateringly crispy fish… and find that it’s a perfect miniaturised portion, around half the size of the other places.
So very close, and yet so far. If they upped the size of their offering, this would be the place. As it stands? Either double-dinner or a pilgrimage to Portsmouth Harbour might be in order.
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