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To Be, Or Not To Be... Icelandic

Icelandic Bar, Ingólfssræti 1a, 101 Reykjavík
4.6.2014
Words by Björn Teitsson
The Icelandic Bar is not a new establishment. It came about as part of a trend, around five years ago, when a several new joints seemed to be popping up around the city with the same brilliant idea of naming themselves after a certain nation. That’s when we got the English Pub, Den Danske Kro, and even a German Bar for a while—which, if memory serves me correctly, only served Danish lager.

The Icelandic Bar, however, is the only nation-themed establishment in Reykjavík that is also a restaurant. Recently reopened at a delightful new space at Ingólfsstræti 1a (where Næsti Bar once was), they also have a slightly reconstructed menu from their predecessor of the same name. But before we delve into the menu, please note: Icelandic Bar serves whale meat. And shark. If this is offensive to you, then this will not be your kind of place. In fact, this part of the menu is a bit disappointing. The goal is obviously to show off some Icelandic cuisine—the stuff that locals eat—but are they actually showing off what locals eat, or simply what tourists would stereotypically expect Icelanders to eat? Personally, I don’t know anyone who eats shark. Regularly or otherwise. And in Iceland whale is eaten very, very rarely. Like maybe if you’re camping. And even then, only because it's insanely cheap. Why is it so cheap? Because there is no demand. No one eats it!

That being said, the menu at Icelandic Bar is divided to six categories. We have “Starters,” “Jars,” “Burgers,” “Missing Dogs,” “Main Courses,” and “Small and Sweet.” These categories actually offer something of a fresh approach. The Icelandic Bar is, after all, a bar, and most of these dishes fit the occasion quite well—they can easily be paired with some of the craft beers that are served on tap as well as by the bottle.

From the starters, I chose a “Sconepizza” with gravlax, mustard, walnuts and dill (1,540 ISK). From the “Jars” selection, my companion chose the smoked lamb tartar with beetroot, pickled red onion and horseradish (1,390 ISK). The Sconepizza was lovely. The scone itself was fluffy and sweet, and paired nicely with the gravlax, which was full of flavour, yet not too sharp. The walnuts added a delightful crunch and texture. My companion’s smoked lamb tartar, a delightful spin on the “national dish,” was also very nice. Its smokiness was quite apparent, but not too overwhelming, with the pickled onions adding a sweet and acidic element that balanced the dish well.

Now, for our mains. I must admit that the small dishes that excited me initially were the “Missing Dogs”—basically hot dog buns filled with something other than a hot dog. I ordered two of them and counted that as my main course. My companion, meanwhile, went “all in” on the burger menu, ordering a “Surf & Turf” burger comprised of a beef patty and deep fried langoustine.

My Missing Dogs were delightful, and are recommended as a bar snack at any hour. One version had deep fried shrimp and spicy mayo (1,390 ISK), with some lettuce on the bottom. The mayo was actually quite spicy, which is a feat in this nation of ours. The lettuce felt a bit off; I imagine some pickled slaw would have been a better choice. The shrimp, however, was fine—deep fried shrimp usually is. The other version was a typical local favourite: shredded roast beef drenched in béarnaise (1,520 ISK) with some fried onion on top. This was quite nice. Tasty béarnaise made from scratch, and a nice touch with the onions, which had obviously been deep-fried moments before being served. My companion’s “Surf & Turf” burger (2950 ISK) was excellent. The beef was perfectly cooked, showing red on the inside—very tender and tasty. The langoustine was also quite nice, although if I were to go again I would consider a beef burger sufficient. It is a hefty portion of meat (around 150 grams) and really deserves to be its own master. The burger was served with fries that were actually above average. I highly recommend the spicy mayo as an accompaniment.

Neither of us had any appetite for dessert. Full of all kinds of cholesterol, enriched sauces and beer, we decided to call it a day. The whole experience was a surprise, I must say. In my mind, Icelandic Bar does not need the whale and shark element, especially if trying to show foreigners what locals actually eat. It's not honest and does nothing but maintain a myth that has long been outdated. Apart from that, Icelandic Bar comes recommended. It's very good for its price range and they serve very good beer. When paying a visit to a bar, what more can you ask for than good comfort food and good beer?

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What we think: Cosy, but orientated around a dubious theme

Flavour: Americanized Icelandic (mayo), pickled , sweet.

Ambiance: Modest, relaxing

Service: Very professional, dishes explained, attentive. A pleasant surprise

Price for 2 (with drinks): 8-10,000 ISK

Rating: 3.5/5

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