Last month, an impromptu trip to Iceland opened up a whole new horizon of ‘seafooding’ for me. It all started with an invitation from Sjavargrillio Seafood Grill restaurant located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, known and meant for its seafood.
This six-year-old restaurant is headed by Chef Gustav Axel (who was named Iceland’s Chef of the Year in 2010), and Master Chef Larus Gunnar, who both spent months traveling around Iceland looking for the real taste of the country. Overall, Iceland is a pescetarian haven, but this restaurant is the poster child for innovation on seafood delicacies, because everything my guest and I ate here was undeniably fresh and absolutely satisfying.
For drinks, we were introduced to the Brennivin, a rhubarb liqueur based mojito-style drink, which was utterly delicious. Not sure I’d do justice describing it, so you’re going to have to make the trek to Iceland and try it for yourself.
From the food, I want to highlight some of my favorites. The Fried Brie Cheese did everything to appeal to my existing cheese fetish. I began drooling just as soon as it was placed in front of me, and then upon cutting into the oozing brick of cheese dripping in rhubarb jam and honey.
The bread on the side was delicious, but the cheese could do without.
The Langoustine Taco was simply out of this world! Langoustines (aka Icelandic Lobster) can be found on most menus in Reykjavik, but here done to perfection. A crispy, tender langoustine placed carefully in a folded flour tortilla along with dates, garlic, onion and plenty of coriander. There was a sweet and salty taste to this dish and it did wonders to the lobster meat.
The Deep Fried Tiger Prawn Maki only further showcased the versatility of the restaurant. A beautiful roll of deep fried prawns, pickled red onions, red bell pepper and seaweed onion is not a dish to be missed!
The Slow Cooked Artic Char is another Icelandic delicacy, which I’m happy we got to try. This dish was delicate both in taste and flavor. It was also the most beautifully plated dish from the night, and almost too beautiful to eat. The buttermilk foam and the cured caviar were a unique and graceful touch.
Saving the best for last, the Shellfish Soup was the dish I had been anticipating for weeks, and let's just say, it was well worth the wait. Everything from the cream and butter to the fish was locally sourced. The thick broth had a medley of shrimp, scallops and mussels cooked slowly in a stew of fennel, cognac and coffee cream. Couldn’t get more creative than that! I may even have licked the bowl. The soup is especially perfect for that weather right in-between summer and fall. This dish was strong proof of how well the restaurant prioritizes on fresh ingredients, something I learned is key to the Nordic cooking culture.
Dinner ended sweetly with their classic Crème Brulee, and the only dessert that hasn’t left the menu since its inception. It came with sorrel ice, a strawberry sorbet and lots of tasty semi-bitter cocobean crumble to balance the sweetness.
They say that dining is not just about the food but also the experience. My tasting at this restaurant solidifies that concept. Everyone from the hostess to our darling waitress Sophie was so committed to giving us the best experience possible. It was such a key element to making our meal all the more memorable. I know I will return to Iceland, and when I do, Sjavargrillio is where I will step in first!
The fun didn’t stop there! The very next day, we attended another tasting at a newer joint, also located in downtown Reyjavik, called Messinn. The restaurant is based on the Western Iceland concept of pan cooking, where most dishes come out in a sizzling pan and with a similar garnish of cherry tomatoes and spinach. Yet, each dish is unique on the inside and created with careful thought. That concept was a first for me, but I enjoyed it nevertheless!
The tasting started with a round of drinks, their famous Gull beer and The Arctic, which once again had my new favorite, Brennivin, some Blue Curacao, Bjork (Birch Tree Bitters), Pisang and simple syrup. You could probably cool down by just looking at this dish..
Having had the groundbreaking Shellfish Soup the day before, we decided to start with a bowl of Messinn’s famous Lobster Soup. We must have had good soup karma, because this soup was also delicious, and the cognac gave it a strong, woody taste. I also loved that the broth had actual pieces of fresh lobster scattered throughout.
The Cured Salmon was insanely beautiful and tasty. A plate of fresh pieces of salmon in floral arrangements, rubbed with juniper berries, lemongrass, lime, mustard seeds, chili and red wine. I can assure you I have never had anything like that in the U.S., especially with salmon. On the side came this delightful Sugarbean & Cucumber Salsa, which was once again, a unique treat for a side. A simple dish that made a big impression!
We had now switched to wine by now and were introduced to Campo Viejo Rioja, which was just the perfect accompaniment to our meal. Let’s just say we did not deviate from it for the rest of our dinner.
Then came the dish that I had been waiting for all along. I can’t say that I am a very adventurous eater, but the Fish Gills had my attention from the start. To be honest, I didn’t even know that fish grills are edible, so it was a pleasant surprise to be eating off a sizzling pan of these gelatinous-textured organs sautéed in a garlic butter, lemon and liberal amounts of chili. We later learned that the preparation was Scandinavian-inspired.
We had to get the Artic Char again, which was in a different preparation at the restaurant from the night before. Another sizzling cast iron plate came out with tender fish sitting in a creamy lemon butter sauce, drizzled with honey and almonds. This dish was quite tasty!
The Fillet of Cod, a specialty at this restaurant was enjoyable too. It had chili, curry, leeks, apples and finger-licking mango chutney, doused with white wine and Parmesan. Many different flavors incorporated into one dish, but they all came together well.
On the vegan side, we tried the Chickpea & Carrot Fritters, which I very much loved. The ginger and cashews in the fritters were phenomenal as they augmented the texture and taste. And although these were spicy, the tomato hummus on the side helped mar the zing a little.
To cool our palettes further, we ended with their classic Chocolate Cake, which was simple but decadent with an almost brownie like taste and consistency. And a dollop of vanilla ice-cream!
Messinn was wonderful all around and I loved that we got to try so many fun items on their menu. The menu is fish heavy, which is always a plus for this pescetarian. Service was excellent and the drinks were delightful. I’ll be back!
What can I say, I ate well in Iceland! Skal!