Who told me that the food was bad in Iceland?

Who told me that the food was bad in Iceland (the country)? I mean, I am pretty sure that everyone told me that the food was bad in Iceland. They were misinformed. I journeyed out to Iceland thinking I would have to eat hot dogs every day as a penalty for being able to see the Northern Lights. In reality there was too much food to choose from.

We’d missed the tour of Reykjavik due a late night arrival and so battled into the city along amidst the snow storm that had prevented our next tour from even going ahead. Then we battled to the conference centre that was not just funky looking, but it was the nearest shelter we could see, spent as long as humanly possible looking in the souvenir shop, while we plotted how we would make the ten minute walk to the harbour side, and what we would do if there was nowhere to warm back up there.

We were rewarded for risking that 10 minute walk in the snow, in which we conjectured that the divorce rate must be high in Iceland. It is impossible to hear anything when you are wrapped up in hoods, hats, high snoods: “Did you remember to turn the lights off?” “Did you hear me?” “Did you remember to turn the lights off?…?!…?”. It took about half an hour in the end, because we found ourselves debating which of the 3 rather good looking cafes and restaurants we would risk. We settled on the fishy looking Hofnin. Here is a quick flash of the menu:      Do you see that pizza marina thing going on in the left of the menu? Pizza express eat your heart out! Didn’t have that, though. And that traditional all Icelandic fish stew… Nope, didn’t have that either. Even the waiter seemed confused when I asked for a recommendation. In the end, he said that fish broth is the reason everyone comes here. So I ordered that, sadly forfeiting all other options (well, what else could I do? Order the whole menu? Even I have my limits).   My broth arrived in a teapot, and I poured it over a reserved amount of fish food, including a sensitively cooked scallop. And once I had done that, there were flavours bouncing around all over the place. How can there be so many good flavours in a uniformly coloured broth? I wonder if I missed out on some incendiary new ingredient that will do nasty things to my insides in later life to make up for the experience.  The broth was rich and lightened by bubbles of cream dispersing into it.

My husband’s main course was salted cod with lamb fat and rye bread.    The lamb complemented the cod, this apparently being a very traditional combination for the Iceland. But what you really wanted to do with the lamb fat was dip into it with the Icelandic Rye bread. The very sweet rye was close to being Jamaican ginger cake. Seriously this could have been dessert. I wish I could have taken it home with me. The only flaw of this dish was that these flavours eclipsed an otherwise perfectly nice brown butter sauce

Some of the local rye breads are cooked in the volcanic ground. This led to a rather stomach busting experience at a spa that offered bread on a buffet later in our holiday. They were foolish to put this in a buffet, with all those tourists knowing that they had one week only to make the most of this bread. Butter is often serverd whipped with other flavours like beer and lavender.

Those main courses were not quite lived up to by the regimental parade of desserts.   Much effort seemed to be put into the staid appearance, but little into flavour, despite the menu sounding a little more promising. I am not sure they really understood dessert. But frankly, after that main course, they didn’t really have to. I recommend someone invents sugared rye bread and lamb fat. I jest not.


It gently snowed as we sat over looking the harbour with our coffees. Well it’s always gentle when you’re watching from indoors The coffee was good.  They certainly seem to understand coffee around here. There is something quite perverse that the further you get from a place that you can grow coffee, the more you ritualise it.   Exciting meals did not stop at Hofnin, however my notes have fallen away as my stomach enlarged. I feel kind of guilty about this, because I cannot name these exotic combinations served by ‘The Fish Restaurant’s’ guest chef Adam Dahlberg during the Reykjavic Food festive. You will not guess at the ingredients without the menu, but please enjoy the pictures:

  

  

  

I very much recommend Iceland as a place to go to just for the good food, at a good price. There is something very intelligent about the Icelandic approach to tourism. they do not miss a single trick to make money, but none of it is arch, pushy and all done with impeccable politeness. you tend not to find, for example, that you have been tricked into unneceessary expenditure. 

No, I mean Iceland the country, not the supermarket, and you are about the 57th person to make that joke. it’s not funny anymore.

I’ve more than once made the mistake of thinking that I am visiting the Everest Inn for a curry

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A Review of the Everest Inn, SE3

The Everest Inn is on Montpellier. Did anyone else think that it used to live near the Fresh spa? Hmmm, restaurants ought not to be up and moving in the middle of the night when there is no one watching.

The Everest Inn, whilst sounding like a destination to be reached with frost bitten toes in order to drink nutritious hand held stews and whiskey through sealskins, is a Tibetan restaurant. It figures.

I’ve more than once made the mistake of thinking that I am visiting the Everest Inn for a curry. The menu certainly reads that way: The same convention of offering most dishes by the type of meat, and a good chunk of tandoori selections with naan and rice. Plus cobra is on the menu. In reality, if you come away feeling you’ve had your average takeaway, you’ve missed out because the subtlety of the dishes is beyond sticky plastic boxes . It is good food, with an unusual depth of flavour. Brick Lane it ain’t.

Cobra

Cobra

Naan

Naan

Hot towels

Hot towels

Here are the spectacularly presented starters- albeit slight messed up by a mix and match effort undertaken by my husband. That’ll be a chilli prawn found its way from his plate and masquerading as paneer on the side there. All in the interests of maximising information for this review, you understand.

Artistic starters

Artistic starters

So for the main course, I am remembering just how great aromatic fish can be and order the excitingly described Machha Modi Kohla- marinated fish, aromatic spices, mustard, ginger, herbs and yoghurt. In red it stated “most popular villagers recipe from Modi River, western part of Pokhara, Nepal.” I am such a sucker for extra words on the menu even if I am struggling to work out the grammar. I have probably become immune to some of the modern European over-adjectified menus, but Modi river, villages. Ooohhhh.

The dish was undoubtedly aromatic, arriving with chunks of fresh spring onion and a gentle after taste of ginger. So was it the beer, was it the Naan? I did just yearn for something a little hotter- just a crumble of chilli. I did the meal down because I wanted ‘takeaway’.

The next upgrade from your average curry house is the hot towels. These were presented in elegant ceramic containers with water to poor over the dried towels. Glad these came without chilli though.

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It really really was worth the wait. A Review of Villa Moura

Lulas a Villa Moura. Unstoppably lovely

Lulas a Villa Moura. Unstoppably lovely

If you have been a regular reader of the blog lately, you may have noticed that I have been trying to re-live the fishing village dinners of my recent french holiday, memories of chargrilled octopus for ridiculous cheap prices along side simple halves of jacket potatoes.

Well, I think I have finally found it- albeit without the cheap prices.

Having ordered starters, we had a sense of foreboding when Villa Moura placed next to our waiting cutlery a plate of bread that featured a cheap brown roll. We are guessing hovis, or maybe Aldi. This was made all the word by the attempts to warm it, which just dried it out and made it seem stale.

The starters arrived with a type of a grilled bacon like chorizo which initially felt a bit disappointing, but then we tucked into the whole combination of squid and peri peri sauce, and then didn’t really stop until there was nothing that could be swept up with a fork, and then reaching for the bread to mop it all up and thinking… er… maybe not, I am not going to let stale hovis spoil this masterpiece of a dish. Perhaps this is how the anglicised disgust with wiping plates with bread all began. It was never as we might have thought, a belief that such a habit was rude and messy, but respect for not ruining the meal with bad bread.

 

So really, having felt a little disappointed with the scene setting bread, things were looking up.

Things looked down again when we then got so fed up waiting for the plates to be cleared that we cleared them ourselves ands put them at the end of the table, where they were studiously ignored by many an empty handed waiter and waitress. We forgot that that starters were great and started to fall asleep. We asked if our mains were going to show and were given an apologetic explanation about disorganisation in the kitchen, and dinner would be no more than five more minutes.

Robalo con Pinhao... Worth the wait!

Robalo con Pinhao… Worth the wait!

Eight minutes later, filleted sea bass with a pistachio crust cooked in shallots and lemon juice basil and parsley arrived (looking like it had been cooked for about eight minutes) with cooked potatoes and vegetables and similar items that the menu hadn’t mentioned. It was flawlessly delicious. It was what I have been looking for all month. It was worth the wait. Did I really say that? It really really was worth the wait.

Shortly after we finished it the table behind us, who had been in before us, received their main meal.

Many of the desserts looked promising. But it was getting a bit late to spend much time choosing and I had an enjoyable poached pear in red wine, and sampled the creme caramel on the other side of the table. Both arrived very promptly.

Poached pear

Poached pear

This was not the end of the meal. I mean, can you imagine the joy of being able to order truffles with (or for – if you’re that type of person) dessert? The menu offers truffles in quantities of 3,5,8- a quick perusal of the restaurant revealed that we were almost all in pairs- we were compelled to chose the 8. And we were motivated to do this by the truffles we observed on another table, very large round chocolates. However what arrived were the flaked chocolate truffle-type and not all that great. We have our suspicions… It feels like they are working throughout a set of gifts the guests brought.

 

We hadn’t brought chocolates, wine or flowers on our visit. Do you think that is why they never cleared the plates?

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Promises Seafood and Quaintness, and Cycle Paths, A Review of the Cutty Sark Pub

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A Review of the Cutty Sark Pub, Greenwich

Quite some distance from the actual Cutty Sark tea clipper is the Cutty Sark pub, overlooking the bleaker Thames views (including the O2 but amongst the nautical cottages like a village corner tucked away from the sugar factory and mobile phone factory (and Paul Rhode’s bakery where they do the real actual cooking stuff that appears in their coffee shop). This feels more Dickensian and Whistler-en than the Trafalgar that famously hosted one of Dicken’s character’s weddings. (But did not host my wedding due to the terrible state of it when we came to view the ballroom).

It also promises seafood and quaintness, and cycle paths, and a huge anchor sculpture. Having returned from a holiday in a French fishing village, this was going to be my ‘pretend I am still on holiday’ meal. It was clam linguine advertised on the board outside that closed the deal, sounding like a light lunch that I may or may not precede with lighty battered monk fish cheeks.

The interior is well suited to the exterior. Tastefully reminiscent of all things Georgian and full of bar snacks that looked like canon balls (scotch eggs and pies.) No insult in the words cannon balls in this context.

The menu looked good too. I was pleased to see Billingsgate fish pie. It would have been a terrible oversight to serve fish quite so close to such a famous fish market and not even try. And it sources its bread from Paul Rhode’s bakery, which must save it a fortune in delivery costs. Dressed crab, rock oysters and other fishy specials sat happily next to burgers.

It was just a pity that the food did not remotely live up to the context.

The ‘lightly battered monkfish’ was in layers of batter thicker than the monkfish itself, and as a starter, this grease level detracted from us even desiring a main course. The main courses themselves were not too bad. Posh chicken Kiev with celeriac mash and truffle oil was actually pretty decent which we hoped would make up for the disappointment.

 

Lightly? battered monkfish

Lightly? battered monkfish

But when we got to the desserts, it was the same again. The rhubarb fool arrived unmixed, actually being rhubarb compote with thin layer of cream on top, although the cinnamon crisp went down well. And the enjoyable Bakewell tart arrived with clotted cream instead of the listed clotted cream ice cream. Is that a big deal? Well you tell me. I think it is a big deal in a restaurant that asserts it is passionate about food, because this would have meant that the combinations, textures and hot/cold sensations should have been designed with the ultimate in mind. And while the Cutty Sark Tavern did not make these claims so much as some other culprits, the menu and environment did imply it.

Clotted Cream

Clotted Cream

I have to tell you, this really hurts. Everything about the pub was perfect, except the delivery. Wistful river gazing, half a pint of beer, fireplace (summertime- no idea if it was real) appetising sounding-menu, Georgian authenticity, charming staff.
But food cooked without passion.

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