Restaurant Review: Teni - An African Affair to Remember - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Restaurant Review: Teni – An African Affair to Remember

Words by
Photo by
Alísa Kalyanova

Published May 16, 2015

Teni

Skúlagata 17, 101 Reykjavík
Mon-Sat 11:30-22:00, Sun 17:00-21:00
What we think
Bottle that berbere sauce and replace that funky grocery store feta with some fresh Aybe.
Flavour
Ethiopian classics.
Ambiance
Casual.
Service
Knowledgeable and friendly.
Price for 2 (no drinks)
6-10,000 ISK

I was an Ethiopian food virgin until Teni. Reykjavík may boast of many restaurants serving authentic regional cuisine but true culinary maturity is seldom achieved these days unless your town has an Ethiopian joint. So I suppose we are heading in the right direction.

My partner and I have dined at Teni a few times now. The place, which is run by sisters Liya and Tsiga Behaga, features simple colour schemes without any of that kitschy decor forcefully thrust upon the diner. There is no pre-plated froufrou or bothersome cutlery here. It seems to be all about breaking bread together, literally.

For one of our first experiences, we went for the vegetarian lunch offer, which consists of Misir Wot (red lentils/masoor dal cooked in a spicy berbere base) with an assortment of vegetables, including Fasolia (green beans, as in string beans, not Icelandic baunir, and carrots sautéed with onions), and Atkilt Wot (cabbage, potatoes and carrots cooked with turmeric) This platter is a good choice to try multiple dishes for 1,990 ISK.

At the heart of Ethiopian cuisine is the berbere spice mix, a blend of sun-dried chilies, ginger, garlic, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, coriander and other spices. In his memoir, ‘Yes, Chef’, Marcus Samuelsson, an Ethiopian-Swedish chef, described berbere as “both masculine and feminine, shouting for attention and whispering at me to come closer. In one sniff it was bright and crisp; in the next, earthy and slow.”

The Misir Wot lentils, which were spicy in a way I wasn’t prepared for, were cooked perfectly—soft, yielding to pressure, but still with a texture that was not gummy, a sign the chefs know how to cook this underrated, overkilled protein. The vegetables in the Atkilt Wot were fresh, lightly sautéed in turmeric and onions—they didn’t need much else to make them shine. Together, they made for a very satisfying meal.

On other occasions, we have tried the Doro Wot (2,990 ISK), a succulent bonein chicken, slow cooked in a melange of tomatoes, onions and spicy berbere. Familiar yet exotic, this remains a firm favourite of ours. I see it becoming a comfort food favourite for those cold, gloomy days, which we have a lot of on the island.

We also tried the Sambusa (1,290 ISK), deep-fried pockets of thin dough stuffed with mildly spiced, fragrant lamb mince. It definitely did not need the salsa sauce that was served alongside. I see myself going back for those meaty morsels. The beef tartare, Kitbo (3,990 ISK), was a nuanced dish with hand-cut chunks of beef (no sinew or fat), tossed in warm chili powder and clarified butter, served with Aybe (an Ethiopian fresh cottage cheese). The hot clarified butter seems to flash cook the meat ever so slightly. A must try for tartare lovers for a regional variation outside of the French classic version.

All the dishes come with the staple accompaniment, Injera. A fermented teff pancake-crepe with a pronounced sourdough taste, Injera looks like a dark buckwheat crepe and tastes like, well, Injera. Don’t be put off by the sourness, it pairs beautifully with the various accompaniments, soaks up any sauce like a dream, and balances the flavours overall. (Note: The restaurant currently uses a blend of grains with teff, and plans to go all-teff shortly, which is good news for those with Celiac!).

It is heartening to see the presence of international cuisine in Reykjavík. And from what I can tell, Teni isn’t really toning things down to suit the local palate, which is always a good thing when offering authenticity. The restaurant has 20% off menu items during weekday lunches. They also offer an Ethiopian coffee service, which we are told is not to be missed. The service is very good and thoughtful touches like the warm towels after the meal are little details that one takes home. Portions are big, so bring an appetite or a friend or two. Grab a table at Teni, and you will discover a whole new world of flavours, and culture, all on one plate.

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