Before yesterday my two pieces of Iceland trivia were: that Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly national capital and that Iceland is quite green, while Greenland is icy. I also had a vague sense that volcanoes and hot springs are part of the topography. After eating through all four courses of the media preview dinner for the Taste of Iceland event I’ve added a few new bullets to that list.
The “Taste” part of the festival is a four-course fixed price ($45) menu that chef Hákon Már Örvarsson and the Drake‘s chef Darren Glew have created. The first course is a for-sharing selection of Iceland seafood dishes that run from a surprisingly light deep-fried cod and potato fritter, to the excellent pickled herring on sweet rye with curry dressing, and of course the traditional combination of Harofiskur and Icelandic butter. That last one is a traditional fish preparation that involves salting and then air-drying the fish until it’s almost brittle. The flavour is intense and layered and the butter helps with the texture.
Individual cast iron pots did an excellent job of building anticipation for the next course. They also helped present the applewood aroma that flavoured the cold-smoked salmon. The fish was cooked (sous-vide) to a temperature that gave it a texture halfway between what we expect for cold-smoked salmon and the more firmly set hot-smoked version.
A third course of free-range lamb was the first taste of meat on the menu, but was definitely worth the wait. Its dark, slightly gamy flavour was lifted by the juniper berry jus and wild blueberry garnish.
Dessert balanced a light mousse made from skyr (the Vikings’ very rough equivalent of skimmed buttermilk), poached rhubarb, and skyr ice cream.
Chef Hákon trained at the Iceland Hotel School and has worked stints at notable establishments, including Reykjavik’s Holt Hotel and Lea Linster Luxembourg. The special menu will be available at the Drake from March 21 to 24 and can be complemented with a Sons & Daughters cocktail ($9) that is based on Icelandic products like Reyka Vodka and aquavit, as well as traditional Scandinavian flavours such as caraway seeds and sea-buckthorn syrup.
A music component to the festival contrasts with all the food. We were joined at dinner by Soley and two of the musicians that she’s touring with. They’re playing the Icelandic Airwaves Showcase at the Drake on March 22 (doors 6 p.m. $10) and the Reykjavik free concert on March 23 at the Hoxton (doors 6:30 p.m.). Both concerts are 19+.
Obviously, four-day festivals like this are the hook at the end of a very long line. Happily, Icelandair now flies direct from Toronto to Reykavik, the trip takes about five hours, and word around our table was that flight-and-hotel package can be had for not much more than $600. The event is presented by Iceland Naturally, a cooperative marketing organisation for Iceland’s tourism industry and several of the country’s better-known brands.
The friendly musicians helped me add another “pro-tip” to that list of Iceland trivia. Unlike warnings from servers about hot plates in restaurants it’s critical to take seriously the danger signs posted near the hot springs.