La Primavera is a welcome respite from tasting menus and small plates. The concise menu seems like Chef Leifur Kolbeinsson has cast aside the present-day trend of making cuisines less intimidating to diners—and I, for one, am happy to see chefs having faith in their cooking, and in the expanding palates of diners, allowing them to embrace food for what it is, without the mollycoddling of familiar flourishes or ‘local interpretations.’
It’s an assured way for this much-admired institution to make a comeback—on its 25th anniversary, no less. The starkly Italian menu shines a spotlight on lesser known (outside of Italy, anyway) regional dishes like Pasta di Girini (1,100 ISK), a Friulian dish from Northeast Italy, often described as “tadpole pasta” thanks to its shape. Fresh cod roe makes an appearance, at the height of its freshness, as buttery, pan-fried roundels, slapped to attention with a puttanesca-ish sauce, the hard fried slivers of garlic a lovely contrast to the creamy roe.
Deliciousness notwithstanding, Primavera can be inconsistent—much like the Icelandic spring. At a recent dinner, the primi courses were 3/4 seafood dishes, and most fell short of brilliant.
The Ravioli with Baccala (3,980 ISK) had silky pasta, but was an assembly of too-soft filling, soft tomatoes and soft capers. The Veneri Seafood Risotto (3,980 ISK) arrives looking like it is ‘all’onda.’ Risotto should flow across the plate, creating waves as it were. But on closer inspection, our dish has split—the rice and the starch haven’t been cooked enough to amalgamate into creamy perfection, and the last flourish of heavy handed ‘mantecatura’ created puddles of melted fat amidst the rice. When SOE Kitchen first debuted this dish, it hit all the right notes; perhaps a revisit is necessary for the kitchen.
Regardless, I will go back. For when they get it right, Primavera truly gets it right. The full lunch services are proof. The Veal Milanese (4,990 ISK) is tender, with text-book execution. For diners with Instagram devotion to tweezer-precise plating, or ‘of the moment’ modernity, the presentation might seem anti-climactic. It might (wrongly) also keep them away from Primavera. But one bite of the crunchy cutlet, and we were reminded why pared down simplicity is often best.
The wine menu is contemporary, with regional selections drawn from across Italy, from full-bodied Tuscans to sunny Romagnian whites. Their by-the-glass pours are pleasingly generous, and I’ve often discovered a wine I didn’t know of before. The bottles, however, are pricey—Suavia Monte Carbonare for 9,300 ISK really bleeds your wallet dry.
Biscuits and wine
The endings at Primavera should be as sweet as the Cheesecake La Vina (1,600 ISK). The slice has gotten smaller since the restaurant’s renaming, but it still tastes excellent. They also make good Italian coffee, served with housemade cookies like pistachio amaretti or hazelnut brutti ma buoni.
La Primavera doesn’t trade on fermented vegetables, foraged flowers or reimagined cuisine, which comes as a relief in a time when many restaurants seem like clones of each other. If they could iron out a few inconsistencies and rethink some menu choices, they might just ride out the rough Icelandic tides that Reykjavík restaurants have been facing lately.
Visit the restaurant at The Marshall House, Grandagarður 20, and online at laprimavera.is. Read more about dining in Reykjavík here.
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