Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Sjavargrillid, Reykjavik Iceland

I didn't think I was going to eat well in Iceland. Yes fresh fish is plentiful, but Icelandic cuisine is hardly world-famous. That said Texture earned its Michelin star under the leadership of a Scandinavian chef and my meal there was one of the more memorable ones back in 2010. But my first meal of dried fish and whale steak were far from promising.

Sjavargrillid was in the old city area on the corner of the street that leads to church. The young chef at the seafood grill house has put together an ambitious menu using the best ingredients the country has to offer. We opted for two different "feasts", which pretty much covered the a la carte.

Generally bread we have had in restaurants in Iceland were lighter than usual, and this was no exception, super soft and fluffy bread with mousse-like freshly churned butter. The butter was so good it reminded me of Viajante's.

Grilled Icelandic lobster & golden perch with mussel sauce
sunchoke, apple salad, small potato emulsion
Since Brother is not a fish-fan, he went for the full meat feast and this was his first course. And chef sent me an extra portion, on the house, before my soup. Thank you.

It was a beautiful dish. The 'lobster', langoustine by British definition, was charred on the outside to seal all the sweet juices and left a smokey trace on the flesh. The muscle was insanely juicy, ridiculously sweet and incredibly tender, yet full of bounce to show off its freshness. It even had a line of roe to give it its distinctive flavour. It was quite simply perfect.

Golden perch was also executed perfectly, slightly undercooked with a translucent centre. Full marks on texture.The onions and diced apple were sugary, and worked very well with the concentrated mussel sauce. This was top-notch.

Hallgrim's shellfish soup
Icelandic lobster, blue mussel, fennel, chilli
The soup was equally impressive. It had a golden glow with sprinkles of black ash and drizzles of olive oil. A skewer held another gorgeous langoustine hidden in the soup, together with a couple of blue mussels. Needless to say the mussels were massive, with plump morsels almost the size of green mussels!

The flavours were powerful, as if a bucket of shellfish were concentrated into this bowl, each spoonful was an overwhelming wave of fresh seafood. But it wasn't too heavy, the soup was frothed and whisked to give an airy lightness, lowering the density.

Even so, by the end of the soup, I was full. The portions were huge. 

Sjavargrill's Christmas platter
herring, smoked rack of lamb, salmon, apple, beetroot
This platter came next for Brother's feast. 

While the smoked salmon, herring and the apple salad were delicious, as expected, the smoked lamb was odd. Perhaps I wasn't prepared to eat the lamb so raw? The meat was diced and barely cured / smoked, while the mouthfeel was almost similar to tuna sashimi, the idea of it wasn't so appealing. But that's a culture thing.

Smoked lamb and breadcrumbs covered lamb
potato, sweet béchamel, yellow turnip, Icelandic flatbread
Thankfully this smoked lamb was much more cooked, with a pink, tender centre and a seared exterior to get the meaty essence flowing. Because it was a leaner cut, the milky lamb flavour wasn't strong, but the meat was cooked to a melt-in-mouth tenderness. 

The breaded hulk of lamb was an interesting contrast with a very crispy shell enveloping slightly fatter meat and some collagen even. The meat felt denser and also more succulent, packed with flavours. It was a very accomplished dish.

Bro didn't actually think he could eat this after the two large plates of food, but somehow, just somehow, he cleared it, all of it.

Grilled fish combo
Catch of the day from Jon the Fisherman (?!)
The plaice I had was stunning; it had the most brittle skin, yet retained its moist, silky flakes of flesh, which demanded skills for such a thin fillet. The earthiness of the fish was also toned down and replaced by a clean crispness. 

The perch was again masterfully executed. It was my second serving of golden perch, but that wasn't intentional, it just so happened I received an extra starter that was not on my fish feast menu. 

Warm chocolate cake
pear, toblerone, gingerbread, mandarin
It was hilarious when Bro discovered the white chocolate mousse was infused with cinnamon, because this gave him a legitimate reason for not eating it (neither of us like cinnamon). The chocolate cake was gooey, dense and very rich. We couldn't say no to it.

White chocolate mousse and macaroni
Dill, raspberry, rum, caramel
My dessert was made easier to stomach with the dill sorbet; it refreshed and cleansed my palate. Halfing the sugar would have made it even cleaner and alleviates the white chocolate mousse instead of adding weight to the overall composition. But still good.

Sjavargrillid was a pleasant surprise. The young chef was ambitious with his menu, careful with his execution and delivered to a high standard. The recipes were modern, with the kind of elegance we take for granted in London. There are, however, things that could have been done better. For example chef could experiment a wider range of ingredients; I think apple came up 3 times in a 4-course menu, and funnily enough, smaller portions wouldn't be a bad idea. Anyhow, best meal I had in Reykjavik.

Skolavordustig 14
101 Reykjavik
Tel: (+354) 571 1100

You may also like: Passage 53 (Paris), Kiruna (Sweden), Santa Maria (Barcelona)

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