I must admit I was surprised after having written about food and wine for some 10 years I was invited for Icelandic dinner and cocktails at Leña Restaurant in Toronto. This dinner was part of the 8th annual celebration of Icelandic culture which included food and spirits, design, culture, music and film. The Icelandic tourism authorities and government were not shy about shelling out a generous amount for the events. Could this be because on a per capita basis Canadians are the biggest visitors to Iceland and there some 200,000 Canadians claiming Icelandic descent?
The evening did not get off to a good start as my bus to the subway was rammed from behind. No one was hurt that I could see but it was a rattling experience. It was windy and very rainy and I rather felt returning home was a good choice but I plodded on and glad that I did. Icelandic cocktails were flowing liberally but not having eaten lunch I decided very tasty Icelandic sparkling water was a better idea.
I saved my Reyka Vodka Martini for post dessert and crisp, clean and very cold and clean, like Icelandic winters!
The Icelandic Chef was Chef Fannar Vernharosson who is currently head chef at Mathus Garobaejay working alongside executive chef of Leña Restaurant Julie Marteleira to create the final menu. The dinner was a wine paired one.
We started off with an Arctic Char Tartare. It was one of those rare dishes you roll your eyes to and your whole body just shouts out “incredibly awesome”. The raw Char was served in a luscious egg cream with tout roe and dulce. Each one of the separate elements was astounding and together the trout roe added blasts of saline only slightly fishy and the dulce added a delicate crispiness. The Luigi Bosca 2017 “a rosé” from the Mendoza region in Argentina was a perfect mid-weight to the dish. A bad choice of wines with fish can totally destroy the fish and bring an overpowering fishy taste but this wine complimented and powered the dish to a perfect degree of harmony.
The next dish was pan fried Langoustine tails with apple yuzu, fennel and celery granita. The granita added a seductive and smoky element to the langoustine tails with end result being somewhat like a smokey Cohiba tinged with warm marmalade. A Cava Rosé from la Vida al Camp added some warmth and depth to the dish with its clean and crisp flavours but tinged with enough fruit to make the dish less fishy.
The next dish was Icelandic lamb that wanders free all summer munching on herbs. It was served with a smokey and gingerish celeriac, baked garlic a staggeringly tasty shiitake mushroom glaze. Get ready for more Icelandic lamb on the market. The Tomero 2015 Malbec from the Uco Valley in Argentina had an interesting note of blackberry, black cherry but the palate was wreaked by sour cherry and was diffuse. Strange that an Argentinian Malbec could not handle the lamb. I would have preferred a Margaux or Côtes de Blaye from Bordeaux.
The finish was a Creamy Skyr (like yogurt ice cream) with baked white chocolate, malted barely syrup, sour ice cream, sorrel and hops. The taste was intriguing but the presentation a bit sloppy. A creative el Maestro Sierra, medium sherry from Spain did the trick.
Aside from the dessert presentation I’d say the dinner was Michelin starred worthy. I look forward to my dining experience in Iceland! The absolute star of the night was the Arctic Char Tartare!
And to Evolution P.R., very savvy marketers of spirits including Reyka Vodka, thank you for a memorable evening.