My final restaurant review in Westfjords was at one of Iceland’s most celebrated establishments, the fabulous fish restaurant, Tjöruhúsið. I knew this was going to be a special place because when in Reykjavik whenever I mentioned that my next stop was Westfjords people immediately asked if I would be visiting Tjöruhúsið. Nestled inside a 1781 fish warehouse next to the Heritage Museum, with bench seating and long wooden tables the ambiance here makes the experience unforgettable.
The Chef was a portly man clearly passionate about food and amazingly talented at hoisting and filleting the slipperiest of fish. He eagerly told me his favorite story when world famous Chef of The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal came into the kitchen and fried up his catch of the day after a fishing trip. The restaurant had been closed for the winter season and I had the divine privilege of eating on its opening day of the season. For some reason I got the impression they had opened the restaurant just for little old me, but I can’t imagine anyone would do such a thing… I had good fun standing in the kitchen as he whipped around, slicing up fish with a long blade and carefully tending to it in a hot pan which he covered in dab after massive dab of creamy Icelandic butter. His wife plays an integral role sprucing up each pan with boiled potatoes, fresh vegetables and parsley.
I have to make an honest acknowledgment that I am not a fan of fish. I am least likely (if ever) to order fish off a restaurant menu. I grew up in a family where fish was served “fresh out of the freezer” and breaded with tartar sauce. The odd occasion it was cooked fresh it often had little bones sticking out of it. I think this trauma as a child turned me off the stuff through most of my adulthood. As you can imagine, with a five week press trip of Scandinavia I knew I would be encountering dishes that don’t often enter my mouth. While I often would have preferred gnocchi with a dollop of cream and pork hoc I was thrilled to have the opportunity to eat some of the best fish in the world. For me it was the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to break an old habit and experience a bit of adventure. I figured, if I still didn’t like seafood after eating it at a hand full of five star restaurant than perhaps it just wasn’t for me.
My meal at Tjöruhúsið in many ways changed my view of fish indefinitely. Both dishes were so perfectly cooked and seasoned and really had no fishy flavour that so many of us seafood-phobes loath. I’m sure the sea of butter sitting in my pan also helped. During the next four weeks I encountered countless plates featuring fish and their sea dwelling friends. I made certain to sample each and every one to compare it to the best fish I have ever tasted. Straight out of the kitchen and served in a huge skilled at Tjöruhúsið.