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Friday
Oct092015

The Icelandic Pantry, Borough Market


“They say that every time you experience a new taste you add a year to your life.”


I’m not sure who “they” are, but if it’s true then last night I added 14 years to my life. So I am inclined to agree with them. Whoever they are.

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to a reception at The Icelandic Pantry at Borough Market. This is a special, one-off event giving Icelandic farmers, fisherman and other small-scale producers a chance to present their goods to the UK public at Borough Market. They will be there for one more day (Saturday, 10th October) so do pop down while you have the chance.

It is Eirný Ósk Sigurðardóttir, founder of The Icelandic Pantry, that I have to thank for this new revelation that I will live well into my golden years, despite all the overindulgences. Indeed, in light of them. I had never eaten Icelandic food before last night and almost everything I tried was something I had never experienced before.

Icelandic cuisine takes the concept of terroir to another level. Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir explains that Icelandic cuisine developed as a result of the restrictions imposed by the landscape. Cattle and pigs proved difficult to rear, leaving sheep as the main livestock and leading to a heavy reliance on fish.

The harsh winters made preserving food particularly important, explaining why there are so many smoked and cured products on offer at the event. One of the best products I tried was the ‘sheep’s fillet’ cured in salt and dill from Hundastapi. It was meltingly tender and extremely moist for a cured meat. The dill, not a flavour I would usually think to pair with lamb, worked surprisingly well and the cure was light so that you could really taste the quality of the meat.

The same light touch was taken with the smoked ocean perch from Sólsker, cured with a little lemon and dill and only having flirted with a smoker so that the most prominent flavour was the fish itself, which is as it should be.

I was pleasantly surprised by the rollmop from Osnes, something I've never taken to in the past. I’ve always found the fish to be overpowered by an acrid tang or cloying sweetness or both at once. This was quite the opposite, a perfect balance of sweet and sour and just a hint in each direction.

Smoked cod’s liver from iCan was much nicer than it sounds, though I think ‘arctic foie gras’ might be overselling it a bit. It tastes just as you might imagine – very fishy and very smoky with that musty, iron-rich flavour that all liver has, whatever the beast. Somehow it works, especially with the little sprinkling of lemon rind that they dusted the tasters with, which added a welcome touch of freshness.

Angelica, the plant in the picture above, is used in a lot of Icelandic cooking. It appeared in many of the foods I tasted last night, another first for me. It worked particularly well in this apple jelly, lending it delicate floral notes. 

If you love coffee and chocolate, then you must try the Omnom coffee bar. It is made in the same way as chocolate, but using coffee beans. Earthy and smoky, sweet and creamy; £6 is a lot to pay for a small chocolate bar, but I’ve never had something quite like it.

As a goodbye gift Sandholt Bakery gave us a goodie bag with some shortbread, chocolate biscuits and a ‘happy marriage’ cake. I made the mistake of sharing out the biscuits with my work colleagues today before I tried them. Buttery and crumbly, sweet and salty; the shortbreads, rimmed with salt and angelica, were divine! Oh well, at least I still have a shot at the happy marriage.

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Reader Comments (2)

Wow , what an interesting insight into a whole new world of food tastes. Like you I have never eaten icelandic food before , but you've written it up so well I can almost taste it.Pity it was just a one off, byt maybe the icelandic pantry will still be selling some of this stuff when I am next in London ?

October 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Cod liver is delicious. It's a pâté consistency, very convenient and very healthy. It has a light fish taste and is fatty. But so good by itself or on crackers!

October 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLt

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