ÓX is a foray into the unknown, fit for Viking kings
For all its popularity, Iceland remains a harsh and relatively unknown land, renowned for ice-blue glaciers, stirring volcanic landscapes and mysterious light shows. Indeed, this enchanting and unforgiving island still manages to evoke a sense of new Old-World adventure, intrigue and wonder which has been somewhat lost in other, more trodden parts of the globe. What better place then to dive into a 12-course degustation meal than in Reykjavik’s premier restaurant, hidden within another restaurant, hugged around a Chef’s Table and scattered with a small group of other friendly, like-minded explorers?
This Inception-esque fantasy venue was brought into reality earlier this year under the stark name, ÓX and is located at the back of Sumac on Reykjavik’s main drag, Laugavegur. The cosy and softly decorated 11-seater room is bright, warm and inviting. My dinner date – whose birthday it happens to be – and I are greeted with big smiles from our chefs, a glass of Drappier, Brut Nature Rosé Champagne and a bowl of lemon oil-soaked olives. We nibble and talk amongst ourselves while waiting for the other guests to arrive. Slowly but surely the space fills up and we’re delighted to find that we’ve been sat next to a charming, solo Californian and a boisterous, fun-loving Dutch family. Score.
Our first course of a celeriac, cheese and onion dumpling arrives smoking on a bed of hay in a miniature glass dome. It’s beautifully presented, and the smell of smoke immediately causes our salivary glands to gush. For most, this course is down in one satisfying bite as our next course of chicken liver pâté with sea buckthorn crackers arrives in its place. The sparkling rosé still flowing, we eagerly dig in whilst getting to know a little bit more about our neighbours. A small bowl of layered tomato and lovage followed by a plate of Icelandic pancake, cultured cream and lumpfish roe, are delivered and devoured as we find out our new Californian friend is dining on the back of a week-long holiday with his two teenage girls. He shows us his favourite photos of the trip and the magic of his experience is still very much alive on his face and in his stories.
Having finished our first four rounds of appetisers and an ample amount of wine, the group loosens up as we move onto a hollowed shell filled with scallops, horseradish and daikon paired with a Pfaff Sylvaner from Alsace. The crunch of the daikon and delicate spice of the horseradish beautifully interplays with the soft flesh of the scallop. Next, a curious egg-shaped bowl of rich mushroom consommé arrives topped with a silky egg yolk cream. The intense umami flavour of truffle immediately beckons the diner back for another taste, making its maddingly small portion size exquisitely cruel – these chefs know how to tease.
We take a break from our rapturous dinners to attempt to box clever with the paternal Dutchman sat beside us about soccer and the recent World Cup. Neither my date nor I are particularly sport-savvy, however, as I nod along enthusiastically (albeit silently), the birthday boy does a splendid job of appearing as if we are. Saved by the bell, our next course of volcano-baked rye bread and whipped butter arrives with a healthy glug of amber ale from the local Lady Brewery. This is the most traditional Icelandic dish of the night and coupled with the fantastical preparation of being buried under thermal ground for 42 hours, it feels like a bucket list tick all in one mouthful. The dough is rich, moist and almost cake-like but the sour rye flavour keeps it firmly in savoury territory. It’s delicious and I immediately plan to find myself a whole loaf the next day (I succeed).
Our entrées behind (inside) us and our girths widening, we watch hawk-eyed as our chefs prepare the first of our mains. A juicy plate of thick-cut monkfish draped in baked lardo, covered in a wild onion sauce and served alongside a log of poached cucumber is beautifully crafted. The cucumber brings a unique flavour which broaches the unpleasant but stops short to find a harmonious middle ground for which the contrasting flavours of the rest of the dish happily intermingle.
Nearing bursting point, we brace ourselves for the final course of lamb neck, carrot, blueberries and liquorice. Any concerns that the chef’s may have had about their guests not finishing quickly evaporate as we all but lick our plates clean of the rich bone jus. Mercifully, we’re granted a short break as our stomachs attempt to contend with what we’ve just done to them while we finish the generous pour of Pieropan Ruberpan Valpolicella from the previous course.
Somehow (I shout it across the table), I let slip it’s my man’s b-day and we’re treated to a shot of rhubarb liqueur from our yet-to-have-met dinner guests at the end of the table before being serenaded by an enthusiastic rendition of happy birthday. As we laugh and chat – as a fully formed 10-person group now – our first dessert of strawberry sorbet, burned chocolate and basil is tenderly proffered to us with a glass of Cidre Bouche Lemasson from Normandy.
The final dish of Omnom chocolate, hazelnuts and chanterelle is an offbeat and ambitious note to finish on. Although I love mushrooms as much as the next fungophile, I find that this is one flavour combination that’s either too clever for me or too clever for itself. However, the accompanying glass of Henriques & Henriques medium-rich Madeira is sumptuous and dangerously moreish. We end our night with coffee, chocolate sweet bites and a shot of Bjork birch liqueur.
As we bid farewell to our gracious hosts and enter into the great unknown of Reykjavik’s downtown for one last nightcap, we feel both unbelievably full and unbelievably fortunate to have been able to dine on a truly unique feast fit for Viking kings (with Victorian table manners) around a table of eclectic new friends. ÓX restaurant masterfully provides an evening full of the very best reasons to travel, making it an absolute must for all adventurous Icelandic explorers.
ÓX, Laugavegur 28, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
Tel: +354 537 9900
Head into Sumac restaurant on Laugavegur 28 in Downtown Reykjavik. The staff will guide you through to ÓX. Dinner starts at 19:15 and lasts 2½ hours.
Type of Restaurant: 11-seater chef’s table in a fine dining restaurant (Iceland’s smallest restaurant)
Price Range: A fixed price of €210 per person for the dinner which is inclusive of all paired drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic).
Insider Tip: Head over to Veðurbarinn for one last nightcap with your tablemates.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
Melanie Chenoweth is a London based, freelance food writer and photographer. If you can eat it, she’ll snap it. Then eat it. Then write about it.
Photographs courtesy of ÓX Restaurant