My belly started grumbling from the moment I opened the website, but first from butterflies of excitement; "wind up your senses and start your journey" it explained, without any pictures or hints at what the food might be like. The faded map in the background is Iceland in the middle ages, with the mythical monsters that followed the times instructing us to "step... dive... play" and "consume" the culinary discovery. And that, is exactly what eating at ÓX is like - an adventure in an Iceland you've never imagined.
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We were five, embarking on a 12-course meal without a menu, and trusted our hosts completely.
Hafsteinn Olafsson, prestigious winner of the title ´Icelandic Chef of the year 2018,´ would be cooking, and sommelier Hrói would be wine pairing. We started with rosé champagne and some small bites - first a mouthful of cheese, onion and celeriac placed in a glass bowl with a lid, closed on top of dried grass newly lit on fire came out, followed by tomato, lovage and salmon neatly packed together.
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A spicy scallop placed back in their shell with a spicy kick of wasabi came next, and the next glass of wine was a Piemonte Chardonnay. An Icelandic pancake with lumpfish roe, a local take on the Blini with creme fraiche replaced with Icelandic skyr soaked in cream, came next, and finally, the most memorable course of the night - rutabaga + grapes + horseradish. It looked a bit like a donut covered in chunky jam, but the cold, savoury taste was nothing like I've ever tried.
The next glass of wine was an unfiltered, naturally sparkling Italian wine, and another lid lifted revealed a foamy surprise of mushrooms and egg yolk - cooked for 3 hours at 67°c to make it just the right consistency. Just when you thought there´d be no bread to fill unnecessary space in your stomach, a geothermally baked rye bread was peeled out of a milk carton and cut into half-moon shapes and served on a bed of seeds with salty butter sprinkled with pickled angelica seeds. It was paired with an amber beer from Lady Brewery, making the combination as satisfying as a Guinness beer.
By this point, I was nearly full, but they had saved the best for last.
A glass of dry German riesling perfectly accented the Icelandic baked cod with mussel purée, caramelised miso, and onion sauce on a plate handmade by Icelandic potter Aldis Bára. The so-called ´main´ course came ninth - Icelandic lamb and chanterelles with red beets and Icelandic raspberries, along with a glass of red Terlan Lagrein. Three sweet courses followed, carrots, lactose free hazelnut ice-cream and a decadent chocolate sandwich sliver, paired in a blurry ending of slightly sparkling orange Greek wine that no one could pronounce, ´Björk´ Icelandic liqueur infused with a birch branch, and Ethiopian coffee brewed in a way scientifically impossible - hot water ran from below up into the chemistry-looking bulb pot.
The packaging and presentation of the courses was more than I expected - it not only made it beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, which, the Japanese believe has a lot to do with the taste experience, but it also incorporated a lot of the local Icelandic feeling of place - stone, lava, shell and wooden plates reminded me of how important nature is to Scandinavian design, and the fine dining feel of eating things on hand made clay plates and specially sculpted cups were perfectly matched to balance the simplicity. We finally received the menu at the end of our adventure, along with a wooden spoon marked ÓX with a smoking hot branding iron right in front of our eyes.
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We were told the experience would be 2.5 hours, but 3 hours later, we still sat with three half-drunk glasses of wine, schnapps and/or coffee and bowls of lava rocks with sweet bites waiting to find space in our tummies. The others had enough energy to ask about an after party suggesting, taking their completely satiated mouths to Kaffibarinn for a night cap. I, however, went home to sleep off my food coma.
I may or may not be the first regular at ÓX, since eating here for the third time may be a client record - the chefs think no other guest has returned twice since its opening in March. It´s not hard to do, since the menu rotates and changes regularly, so each time I´ve been taken on a different journey, with different company and even different chefs. There are three that rotate - Haffi, Georg and owner Thrainn are the masterminds behind the menu, and their joint genius needs regular change to keep up with their creativity.
Although it seats only 11, don´t be discouraged by its exclusivity
- there are often seats available on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. There is only one seating per night, but booking a seat (or two or three) on their website www.ox.restaurant takes only a minute and there are always seats available sometime soon. If you have a group of 10 or 11 and would like a private dining experience (it's an ideal bachelor or hen party destination), email email@example.com, or call their sister restaurant Sumac directly if you're in Iceland: +354.537.9900.
Follow ÓX on instagram: @ox.reykjavik. Photos and text by Katrín Sif @nomadic_cosmopolitan
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