What got me in was their ‘Around Iceland’ menu. We travel for food. When we get somewhere we like to eat what is locally loved (fermented shark meat and all).
We also like to see as much of a place as possible; which when you’ve only got two days clear in your schedule can be tricky.
So when a restaurant like Fish Company promises to bring the best of all of Iceland to your plate, it’s hard not to want to go there. For the convenience more than anything.
We arrive at the restaurant after spending the afternoon lolling around in the Blue Lagoon, which is just as idyllic as it sounds. I’m so relaxed by the time we leave that I slide into a deep sleep on the bus, like a kid who’s been plum tuckered out by fun times at the pool.
Fish Company is down by the old harbour in Reykjavic, tucked under a bridge. They’re quick to turn this into an asset, emphasising on their marketing paraphernalia that ‘all the best adventures take place under a bridge’.
Inside the restaurant it’s monastically dark with heavy stone walls and dark wood panelled floors.
There’s a burst of colour to one side of the entrance hall. It’s a flutter of post it notes where previous guests have left scribbles of praise.
This is a good sign.
We soon discover that the English of the staff is terrifyingly good and menus are available in both Icelandic and English. Which is a another good thing, because our Icelandic is just a tad little feeble.
The ‘Around Iceland’ consists of four courses. There’s also the option for pairing wines. We decide to order the wines for just one of us. It turns out to be a canny choice.
First up there is a basket of bread. It comes warm and accompanied by a traffic light arrangement of local flavours to play along. There’s a butter blended with skyrr, a dairy product with a similar tang to labna. There’s another mound of butter infused with smoked apple wood, which is a bit like a fatty wander in a forrest. And in the middle is a delightful puddle of spiced red peppers.
Just as we’re swiping our way through these (and The Hungry One has sucked back the suggestion of an aperitif of a shot of brandy, which tastes of potato, dill, fire and brimstones), there’s a gift from the kitchen.
It’s a jar with a nifty spoon, dangling from the side. It’s a constellation of cured pink fleshed fish, celery root puree, pickled onion, cucumber and a sweet oat crumble.
It’s at this point that we realise the kitchen has some serious game.
This is not going to be a touristy schlock meal where we taste puffin and get nervous about having to refuse to eat whale. This is going to be a serious meal that puts to good use all of what is naturally great and available in this country.
One of the products that we’d heard the most about on arriving in Iceland’s beautiful, ‘Lord of the Rings’ style shores was the local lobster. It’s more the size of a langoustine, but having spent its life in these clean and cold waters, its flesh is particularly sweet. For our first proper course it’s playing with a lobster hollandaise, a fillet of cod, pureed Jerusalem artichokes and some fennel slaw.
From there we stay with the aquatic theme- appropriate for an island lapped by such clear waters.
There’s rose pink and raw Arctic char and salmon cubes. There’s salmon roe. And then on the rest of the plate there’s a noisy party, with smears of a vibrant green dill sauce, a sweetened mustard foam and even a quenelle of malt ice cream. For additional textural curiosity there’s a beer bread crunchy crumble and a sticky mound of snow- otherwise known as maltose powder that’s been flavoured with salted walnuts.
It’s a busy dish reminds me a little of some of Bjork’s music (one of Iceland’s most famous exports). Under a lot of that extra textural noise there are some lovely harmonies. It’s just sometimes you just have to strain a little to hear it.
The highlight of the meal is most definitely the lamb.
There are more sheep than people in Iceland and to make it through their frigid winters, these lambs have evolved to be hardy herbivores.
(NB, at this point it’s worth saying that I’m not that disappointed that we haven’t had the chance to taste one of the more traditional Icelandic lamb dishes. Svið is a sheep face. I think eating the hakarl may have been enough for me).
Instead we got croquettes of salted lamb which is thready as an unravelling rug, some criminally soft and gently cooked fillet, pulverised yellow beets, mashed potato and a sprinkling of crowberries (which the chef had collected on his way to work). It was, without a doubt, a stellar dish.
Sweets again become slightly more hectic. There’s blueberry pudding that’s studded with shards of caramel chocolate. Along with that is a quenelle of caramel coated pearl barley and a yogurt and lime sorbet. The blueberries and the yogurt and lime sorbet on their own would probably have been enough for me.
By 9.30 pm the restaurant is hoppingly busy. There are plenty of over seas blow ins like us who have come to see some wonders, or take advantage of Iceland Air’s cheap NYC to Europe flights and Reykjavic (fact for the day; Reykjavic is exactly equidistant between Washington DC and Moscow).
But there are also plenty of locals, who certainly know how to have a good time (we can hear them still having that good time outside our hotel window at 5 am). One reason they might all be having such a good time is the generosity of the wine pours at restaurants like Fish Company. Throughout the night the drinks have jumped all over the world, from Australia, to Italy, to South America. And the size of each glass is nothing to sneeze at.
While we’re sipping tea, made from fresh mint and lemon that’s lolling about in hot water, we think about what we knew about Iceland before we came.
We knew about the Blue Lagoon. We knew about hakarl. We knew about the local music scene. We, like everyone who has a pulse, knew Bjork.
We had heard about the hotdogs.
But the real reason we came was in search of Northern Lights.
That night the sky was cloudy, the weather too warm and the timing was off.
So instead of whisking off at 9.30 pm in a four wheel drive to look for magic in the sky, we elected to stay at the table, where we found some startlingly great stuff on a plate.
And we didn’t feel disappointed at all.
(The ‘Around Iceland’ menu was 7900 Icelandic Kroner. Which when we went converted to around £28).
Fiskfélagið / Fish Company
Vesturgötu 2a, Grófartorg – 101 Reykjavík