Continental Charm - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Continental Charm

Larissa Kyzer

Published April 15, 2014

Snaps Bistro

Óðinstorg, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Mon-Sun 7-23
What we think
Take your mom, take your date, take your hip friend from out of town—everyone will be happy
Flavour
Classy Franco-Nordic comfort food
Ambiance
Continental bistro, with a touch of Brooklyn
Service
Attentive but patient, and there when you want it
Price for 2
8,000 ISK–14,000 ISK

Óðinstorg, 101 Reykjavík

Although it only opened two years ago, Snaps Bistro has become something of a staple on the Reykjavík restaurant scene, helping to bridge the gap between the city’s more fine dining establishments and your standard grills, family-friendly quick meal stops and takeaway joints. With its square bar, open kitchen, Edison bulb lighting and conservatory-style dining area, Snaps is cool, but not too cool, comfortable but still hip. Not for nothing has it won Grapevine’s own “Best Goddamn Restaurant” award two years running—this is a place where you can pop in for an after-work beer and a sandwich or sit down for a nice, leisurely meal without dipping too deeply into your wallet.

When my companion and I arrived for dinner at seven, there was a smattering of diners and a few people sidled up at the bar. Over the next hour, nearly all of the tables filled with regular, though unrushed, turnover. So while it’s likely that we would have faced a wait if we arrived much later (Snaps doesn’t take reservations after 18:30), it’s unlikely that it would have been a long one.

In keeping with the easy-going atmosphere, our waiter was attentive but didn’t hover, allowing us extra time while we debated our beverages (and later our desserts) with an equanimity that is often lacking in busy restaurants. Better yet, he always reappeared right when we needed him. Having taken our dinner orders, he returned promptly with an ample basket of still-warm brown bread sliced baguette-style and soft butter.

I’m perhaps abnormally fond of bread and butter (particularly Icelandic butter, which is uncommonly good), but I might have forgone this staple had I realised that my bouillabaisse appetizer (2,200 ISK), would not only be admirably substantial, but would also come with a side of twisted rye crisps and a creamy garlic butter dip. Personally, I’d rather have double the crisps and dip instead of the preliminary bread, which is saying something.

The bouillabaisse’s seafood broth was a rich brown, more savoury and deep in flavour than I had expected. It was dotted with large chunks of fresh cod, ten-krónur-piece sized scallops, mussels and shrimp, all of which were simply garnished with sprigs of fresh dill and cilantro. I was so focused on my own appetizer that I nearly missed my window to sample my companion’s starter—fried calamari (1,200 ISK) from the bar menu. These were satisfyingly chewy while still being crisp, breaded in a lightly salted batter which was complemented by an aioli dipping sauce. (It bears mentioning here that I am an inveterate salter and often think restaurants serve their food a bit on the bland side, when just a pinch of salt would do wonders. But while there was a small dish of sea salt on the table, I never touched it; our food was always pleasingly salted, without being salty.)

Just shortly after our appetizer plates were whisked away, our entrees arrived: steamed mussels and fries (1,800 ISK) for him and calf’s liver with onions, apples and a bed of mashed potatoes (3,200 ISK) for me. Fresh from the nearby Breiðafjörður fjord, the mussels were a rather brilliant orange and, as my companion put it, far more “protein-y,” or meaty, in flavour than we were expecting. The fries were purposefully un-crispy—“fried mashed potato,” as described, mid-bite—which is not everyone’s preference but was well suited, we thought, to sopping up a tasty broth. The latter was definitely tasty, although the flavour of the white wine came through far less (if at all) than that of the cream and fish stock. My meal—the liver sliced thinly and buried under a wonderfully aromatic mound of sautéed onion—was a classy, flavourful take on a homey comfort meal. The savoury sherry sauce in particular was good enough that I’d have sipped it like broth if I could have, and served basically plain, the potatoes provided a nice counterpoint to (and vehicle for) all the richness on the plate.

Very definitely approaching fullness at this point, we persevered to dessert, a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (1,490 ISK) for him and lemon tart (1,490 ISK) for me. The cake was more like a dense brownie, heated just enough to melt the ice cream a tad. The tart had a pleasingly custard-like texture and bright citrus flavour with a nice, crispy caramelised glaze on top. Neither were exactly revelations, but really there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. They were both very good, a satisfying finish to an all-together satisfying meal.

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