Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reykjavik Restaurants... and Hot Dogs

Iceland! Icy one day, landy the next.

Actually, the name comes from the Icelandic word Ísland, meaning "island" (**see comment below - I stand corrected!!).  It's a volcanic piece of outer space inhabited by Vikings.. a place I most heartily recommend you going to.

No military, no navy, geo-thermal heating of houses and water, hydro-electricity, and hydrogen fuelled busses. Yoko Ono liked it so much, she built a light sculpture tribute to John Lennon there (the Imagine Peace Tower), that lights up in winter.

You'll find yourself swimming in lakes with steam under glacier capped mountains, marvelling at nature, smelling sulfur and noticing the sun not going down / or coming up (depending on what time of year you're there).

When you're on the plane to Iceland, Icelandic Air makes a big deal out of the most popular restaurant in the country being a hot dog stand (I wonder what John would say?).  Our bicycle tour guide, Eggy, explained why:

"It is the cheap way to eat, with only 300 kroner for a hot dog, and here the sausage is made from a mix of beef, lamb and the fat of a pig. Here we like to eat it with raw onion, mustard, ketchup and a special mayonnaise dressing.

"The most famous visitor to this restaurant is Bill Clinton. He was here because his wife Hillary Clinton wanted to be President, and there was a conference at the centre over there. We have many women in parliament, at the time fifty per cent of people in parliament were women, and we have the first female president, and so she comes here.

"While Bill Clinton is waiting, he stops for a hot dog. But he only had his hotdog with mustard.

"There used to be a photo of him here inside the shop, but somebody steals it, but you can still see his picture here, on a timeline that shows all the significant things that happen between when this hot dog stand open in 1938 and 2008, including in the history of the hot dog stand as well as Iceland."

You too can visit this seventy plus year old institution:
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

But what about some real nose bag?  OK: there are three main schools of Icelandic food which track its evolution:

Viking 101: The traditional school where you eat fish (smoked salmon, cod), puffins, whale, seagull eggs and basically any protein you can get your hands on.

Americana: The influence of the occupying forces during the second world war, after Iceland declared independence once Denmark got invaded by the Nazis, is still highly evident. They hosted the Allies, and were exposed to things like Rock 'n' Roll, pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers... all of which feature prominently on local menus. There are a stack of burger joints around, and there's even a bowling alley called the Big Lebowski.

High Food: to cater to the growing tourist market, you can buy high end Frenchy frou, Japanese sushi and just about whatever you want.

Surprisingly, the financial gap between an apocryphal meal and a truly outstanding one is narrow: you can spend eighty dollars on a pizza and a couple of beers that is terrible, or a hundred and twenty on a gourmet meal with a couple of rounds included of spirits and wines. It’s bizarre. Personally, my advice to the locals is to eat at home, and then when you go out, go to the very best places… and do them regularly.

To wit, my top tips for restaurants while in Reykjavik (and how do you remember how to spell this tricky town's name?  Remember, it's "y before k, then followed by j").

Grillmarkadurinn (the Grill Market)

High Food: Have I died and gone to heaven? Cool interior design, great service, nobody expecting a tip (after New York? I gladly gave one!). I ate a very rich but delicious dinner here in what could only be described as an über-trendy restaurant that was set up in an old theatre and was totally ace.

It's kind of hidden behind another building, up a little alley/driveway, but you can't miss it.  It's bright red.

Featuring tasting menus, I opted for a couple of courses only, though a word of advice to new players; the Atlantic lobster is not the same as "lobster" en Australie. It's kind of more like a hard shelled prawn.

Fantastic, I give it seven tentacles out of eight.

3 Frakkar (Three Coats)

A local institution, this is Viking 101 central. Set in a house on the hill, with doilies and netting windows, this is what it's like when you like it local. Dill, smoked fish and local specialities. Very nice, though a bit weird, and at the same time surprisingly banal; I ate reindeer paté (it made my mouth go numb), followed by a national dish of fish (cod) mixed with potato and baked in a white sauce… basically something like tuna mornay. All the while listening to a Canadian talk to Icelandic financiers about the global economy.

Six and a half tentacles out of eight.


Reykjavik’s most famous restaurant, where Prime Ministers take out dignitaries. Built on massive hot water tanks, which supply the city with warm water for washing and heating, they’ve built a complex with an observation deck and a glass dome with a restaurant on top (called Pearl in Icelandic).

The foyer, a big open air atrium, has a souvenir stand, and a model of a Viking in a glass box, downstairs they have a fountain that shoots water up in the air every few minutes, surrounded by photos of water engineering (hot water pipes down a hill side, swimming pools, etc.), the atrium even has a spiral staircase, etc..

The plants inside are all fake: fake palm trees, and plastic ivy around the bannisters framing tables upstairs. On the floor below Pearl, was a cabinet with all the chefs being photographed in their hats and the various prizes they’d won; including a photo of some of them shaking Bill Clinton’s hand
(N.B. again with the Hillary Clinton tour, Bill being photographed shortly after having had a hot dog down at the seaside... though nobody seems to be hanging any pictures of Hillary up anywhere).

I threw three kroner in the fountain over my shoulder, so I wonder if I’ll ever return?

Eight tentacles out of eight (I didn't eat there, but it was so kitsch, it's ace!)


Unknown said...

The Icelandic word Ísland means Iceland, not island. Ís is Ice and land is land.