Fiskfélagið, Iceland

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I travel for food. When The Hungry One and I arrive somewhere we like to eat what is locally loved, fermented shark meat and all. So, when a restaurant promises to bring the best of all of Iceland to your plate, it’s hard not to want it. For the convenience, more than anything.

We find Reykjavik’s Fish Company tucked under a bridge near the old harbour. Inside the restaurant is monastically dark, all heavy stone walls and wood-panelled floors. Yet there’s a burst of colour to one side of the entrance. It’s a flutter of Post-it notes where previous patrons have left scribbles of praise. This is a good sign.

Their ‘Around Iceland’ menu consists of four courses. There’s also the option for pairing wines. We decide to order the wines for just The Hungry One. It turns out to be a canny choice.

The evening begins with a basket of warm bread. Like dry socks and a good martini, warm bread is a bearer of good tidings. Here it’s escorted by a traffic light arrangement of flavours. There’s a butter blended with skyrr, a dairy product with a similar tang to labna, a delightful puddle of spiced red peppers and a mound of butter infused with smoked apple wood – which is a bit like a bloated wander in a forrest.

Next there’s a gift from the kitchen. It’s a jar with a bent spoon, dangling from the side. Inside is a mix of cured pink fleshed fish, celery root purée, pickled onion, cucumber and sweetened oat crumble. It’s at this point we realise this is not going to be a touristy schlock meal where we nibble at puffin and get nervous about having to refuse to taste whale. This place has game.

One thing we’d heard about before arriving in Iceland’s shores was the lobster. In Reykjavik it’s closer in size to langoustine, and after biding its time in its clean and cold waters it’s preciously sweet. For our first course we find it pottering about with lobster hollandaise, cod, Jerusalem artichokes and some fennel slaw. It’s a winning combination, bedding together both girlishness and grunt.

Next is a hectic dish, marrying raw Arctic Char and salmon. With it is an entourage of salmon roe, dill sauce, sweetened mustard foam, malt ice cream, beer bread crumble and a sticky mound of maltose powder flavoured with salted walnuts. It reminds me a little of Bjork’s music. Under the extra textural noise there are some nice harmonies. It’s just you have to strain to hear it.

For The Hungry One (a man who appreciates the good things, like local ales, red meat, large beds and clean sheets), the undeniable highlight is the lamb. Turns out there are more sheep than people in Iceland. In order to make it through their frigid winters, these lambs have evolved to be hardy, tasty herbivores. It’s a sturdy combination of salted croquettes as thready as a spooling rug, gently cooked fillet, pulverised yellow beets, mashed potato and a sprinkling of crowberries (which the chef had collected on his way to work).

Sweets veer again towards the hectic end of the scale with a blueberry pudding studded with chocolate. Along with that is a mound of caramel slicked pearl barley and a yoghurt and lime sorbet. I’m reminded of Coco Chanel’s sage advice: before leaving, look in the mirror and take one thing off. The blueberries and the yoghurt would probably have been enough for me.

By 9.30pm the restaurant is hopping. There are plenty of blow-ins taking advantage of Iceland Air’s cheap NYC to Europe flights. But there are also plenty of locals who know how to have a good time (and who will keep having one, outside our hotel room until 5.30am). One reason for the revelry might be the generosity of the wine pours over here. One flight of matching wines and we’re floored.

While we sip mint tea, we digest what we knew about Iceland before tonight. We knew about the Blue Lagoon. We knew about hakarl. We, like everyone with a pulse, knew Björk. We had heard about the hotdogs (a story for another day). But the real reason we came to Reykjavik was in search of Northern Lights. That night the sky was cloudy and the weather was too warm. Our timing was way off. So instead of rushing away at 9.30pm in a four-wheel drive to look for magic in the sky, we languished at the table.

And we didn’t feel disappointed at all.

Fiskfélagið: Fish Company, Vesturgötu 2a, Grófartorg, 101 Reykjavík. Tel 552-5300. Website.

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