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Restaurant review! – Tapas barinn’s fast food debacle

A couple of weeks ago, EPI and I decided to go out for dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary. After brief deliberation we decided on Tapas barinn, since we’d heard good things about it lately. I mention that because, well, we tried it when it first opened around 2002 or thereabouts, and were decidedly underwhelmed. If memory serves we ordered some kind of tapas taster menu, and thought it was pretty scant and basically not much like tapas at all – at least not the kind of tapas we’d experienced on our trips to Spain in the past.

BUT like I said, we’d heard good things about it lately, so decided to give it another go [in other words, we hadn’t gone there since that first time, excepting one time when we went there after the theatah with a group of people we were with and just had a drink and maybe one tapas serving].

We’d been told the current tapas taster menu was amazing. However, that recommendation came with an aside: namely that we should make sure to ask them to bring us the food slowly. Otherwise they’d just be bombarding us with tapas dishes and we wouldn’t have time to just sit there and enjoy.

We thought that sounded like a stellar idea, so when we ordered the taster menu of seven or so tapas dishes, we specifically asked the waitress to bring it to us slowly. “No problem,” was the reply.

It started out reasonably well. She brought us a basket of bread with hummus and tapenade, plus a glass of sparkling wine that was included. EPI ordered some red wine, which she brought before we were even halfway through our first drink.

Which sort of set the pace for the rest of the evening.

After a reasonable length of time, the waitress showed up again, bearing two plates of tapas per person: bacon-wrapped scallops and dates, and toasted baguette with foie gras atop some kind of sweet chutney.

YT: Um, we asked to have the food brought to us in succession. We don’t want the dishes to come all at once.

WAITRESS: Oh, yeah, I know. It’s just these first two that come at the same time. The others will come slowly.

Fair enough. We’re good people, prepared to cut a working girl some slack. And I’ll readily admit that both of those were pretty darn tasty, even though I would soon start to feel like that foie gras goose myself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next our waitress brought linguistine [wee Icelandic lobsters] grilled with garlic, which was also pretty tasty, although the linguistine was a little on the mealy side. Like the kind you get in Bónus, as opposed to the stuff you buy from a quality fishmonger.

But hey, we were still cool.

Next the waitress returned bearing three servings of tapas apiece.

Three. Servings. Of tapas. For each of us. Six plates of tapas manouvered into the small space on the table in front of us.

That’s when I gave her that look. That look that says: Excuse me, but which part of BRING THE FOOD SLOW don’t you understand?

YT: We asked to have our food brought slowly.

WAITRESS: Yeah, well, I can’t bring it any slower than this. It would stop the whole kitchen. We can’t stop the kitchen for just one table.

OOOH. ~~ OOOH.

Dear readers, this is Icelandic service culture in a nutshell. In Icelandic service culture, THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS WRONG. In fact? THE CUSTOMER CAN SUCK SAUSAGES because WE CAN’T STOP THE KITCHEN FOR JUST ONE TABLE.

I’m not even going to get INTO all the things that I could get into, like how other restaurants in this city that offer most excellent tasting menus can time the succession of their servings without the entire freaking restaurant spinning off its axis.

Or how the people at Tapas barinn could have, maybe, just told us that we’d be stopping the whole freaking kitchen with our insane demands, for instance after the part where we asked to have our food brought SLOWLY and before the waitress said “Sure, no problem.”

Or how one of those three tapas dishes consisted of a baked potato [!?!] that on top of everything else was inedible. And how one of the others consisted of duck breast that tasted like it had been boiled for 12 hours, then slapped on a plate with orange sauce. Or how just about every one of those tapas dishes was garnished with a bit of salad, that was all the same [lettuce leaves, diced bell peppers, dressing].

FAIL.

Instead we called the manager over. And we were not happy campers. We told him we had specifically asked to have our servings paced. He responded with the remark that if they did that for every single table, we would have to wait for an hour for each dish.

DOUBLE FAIL.

That may have been the point where I mentioned that I was writing a restaurant review. Which may have been the point where he said he’d give us complementary dessert. Which was probably when I told him we didn’t want his dessert because it was already included in the freaking taster menu that they were so intent on shoving down our throats.

EPI, who is usually the calm one in these situations, had smoke coming out of his ears and was ready to get up and walk out. I made him stay because I wanted dessert. Which, I might add, was excellent, and had nothing in common with anything Spanish – French chocolate cake with whipped cream and strawberries.

Once that was down the old hatch, we got up and left, with little love lost. It wasn’t until we got home that I realized that the manager had actually taken 20% off our bill, probably as a conciliatory measure, although he made no mention of it. So they get a point for that … and 2.5 stars for their food. As for an enjoyable night out … I think we’ll spend a few more crowns next time and go somewhere where they really know their game.

Comments

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  • Kris July 30, 2010, 4:04 pm

    They have a beautiful round hole and you are a misplaced square peg. Can’t you see that everyone else is wolfing down the meal! Not only that but how dare you insinuate that customers are more important than the kitchen staff. That is beautiful.
    Obvious to everyone except the manager/genius is that they need to work out their kitchen process and pricing to accommodate longer meal times, or server tapas burgers! or get seats with hard plastic bottoms — that will get the customers moving.
    What are the tipping customs in Iceland? Tipping = better service in my experience.

  • alda July 30, 2010, 4:09 pm

    Kris — I know. I forgot the first rule of Icelandic service: The customer is always wrong. And you will probably not be surprised that tipping is not customary in Iceland. I suspect it would make a big difference in the quality of service if it were.

  • Karen * July 30, 2010, 4:32 pm

    I enjoyed my visit both times I was there.

    Now, I don’t like ordering tasting menus – what I did freaked them out in a different way, but they really didn’t have much choice but to comply.

    I kept the menu at the table and ordered one or two at a time as I was ready, until I was full. I didn’t know how many dishes it would take, or what I would necessarily feel like having next. They kept trying to take the menu away and I just kept politely declining. 🙂

    I loved the food. I loved the sangria. I have never ever had better sangria in my life. I liked the atmosphere in the restaurant. I largely ignored the wait staff.

  • Thorunn Sleight July 30, 2010, 5:51 pm

    My date and I have been to Tapas Barinn several times and have never been disappointed. However, after the first time, we did the same as Karen since we noticed that the dishes were coming faster than we wanted them; ie we ordered a few dishes first and kept the menu to order as much as we wanted and as we wanted them: different dishes each time and most of them fabulously good. I think you must have had the bad luck to go there on a horribly busy night, Alda. They also have a range of full-sized entrées which I haven’t tried yet, but I intend to. I’ve never noticed a problem with the wait staff; they’ve been uniformly friendly and eager to please. One of the most enjoyable things about the place is the atmosphere; the foreign visitors we’ve taken there have loved it too.
    Having worked as a waitress in a similar class of restaurant in the US, I will say that I am personally very happy with the lack of tipping in this country, and I wish other countries would take it up too. Although most customers will appreciate good service and tip accordingly, it’s degrading for people to be dependent on the whim of the customer, not so few of whom require boot-licking and turn into petty tyrants given the opportunity. Stiffing a waiter is not uncommon, either. No, if you are not satisfied with the service, you should indeed speak to the manager, confident that if that particular server gets several bad mentions, he will be let go. Don’t be shy about it, nor about sending something back that is not properly prepared.

  • RK in Los Angeles July 30, 2010, 6:48 pm

    Alda I got curious about this place when reading this and googled the menu. I am unimpressed to say the least. I can name quite a few things needed to make this a real tapas place:

    Chorizo. Where is it? I mean, I dont eat it actually but its a staple for the Spanish cuisine.
    Hummus? Really? Where are the olives and the almonds? Why hummus?
    I found Bacalao on the menu but it was a huge portion, hardly a tapas and I would be disappointed to not be able to mix it in with my small plates.
    Then: Manchego Cheese with Membrillo, a must.
    I can name a few things that I would miss but these are the essentials.

    Finally, meat served with baked potato – NOT tapas. Very Icelandic though and good – but just not tapas.

    I take my tapas pretty seriously (is it obvious)? I would be more than disappointed.

    As to what Karen said about the waiting – Ive never had a waiter ask to take the menu away from me when I order Tapas in Los Angeles or San Francisco. They always assume you will keep the menu until the end. That is the way of ordering, just like how you order Sushi.

  • Luna_Sea July 30, 2010, 10:07 pm

    Icelanders – please don’t take offense because I am the biggest Icelandophile (not sure that’s a real word) in the world and I really liked the food in Iceland but if there’s one thing Icelanders constantly get wrong it’s authentic ethnic food.

  • Luna_Sea July 30, 2010, 10:09 pm

    Oops…should have read consistently instead of constantly.

  • Marko July 30, 2010, 10:45 pm

    For any special event, Fish Market is the place to go. They too have taster menu (9 courses), they pace them well and you would be hard pressed to eat any, as they all look like art. If you decide to eat any, you quickly find out that it’s not all the looks.

    I will be hard pressed to look for another “special occassion” restaurant other than Fish Market to be honest.

    Not the cheapest one though.

  • alda July 30, 2010, 10:51 pm

    RK – totally agree. I, too, have had amazing tapas in Spain (and also in Berlin) and, service aside, this just didn’t cut it. As tapas. — I mean, baked potato — WTF?!

    Marko — I agree, Fish Market is very good, but my favourite “special occasion” restaurant is Sjávarkjallarinn (The Seafood Cellar). OUTSTANDING tasting menu, so imaginative and clever. And yes — they know how to pace the different dishes. So if those two can do it, why should it be so hard for Tapas barinn?

  • hildigunnur July 31, 2010, 12:02 am

    I was pretty happy about the Tapasbarinn the 2 times I’ve been there – but both times we were with a fairly large company (first place the whole place was there for the same occasion, second time about 25 of us, after the final show of Sound of Music in the City Theatre – almost the whole show, actors, choir, orchestra, directors, stage crew, everybody). Not a “one table” to piss off the kitchen.

    Luna_Sea, yep – most ethnic restaurants here don’t really live up to standard, the Austur-Indía fjelagið does a very decent Indian thing though imho. Krúa Thai makes the best pad-thai noodles I’ve ever had – never been to Thailand but tried that dish in a variety of cities. Their other dishes I really wouldn’t know, had a 3 course something from them and wasn’t impressed in the least.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,Ireland July 31, 2010, 10:53 am

    You should have ordered a Waldorf Salad (as in aka “Fawlty Towers” Uk plc comedy from 70’s starring John Cleese if dont Know the show).

  • James July 31, 2010, 12:30 pm

    I like tapas as little complimentary tastes while drinking in Spanish bars. Then delivery is always nice spaced!

  • Joerg July 31, 2010, 4:50 pm

    I suppose, there is good and bad service in every country. I have had excellent service in Iceland, like at Austur-Indíafjelagið, which is also quite good in terms of perceived authenticity, and extremely bad service, like at the restaurant of Hotel Loftleiðir with really snotty, arrogant waiters. But most of my complaints about service in Icelandic restaurants are rather caused by lack of proficiency. For instance, I have noticed several times that waiters open the ordered bottle of expensive wine in the kitchen instead of doing so at the table, having the guest taste first.

    And as far as Tapas barinn is concerned, well, I can easily do without them in Reykjavik and enjoy Tapas in Spain. After all, I prefer to try the local food anyway, when I am abroad.

  • sylvia hikins July 31, 2010, 11:11 pm

    The whole purpose of authentic tapas in Spain is to stop you passing out at the bar. If I want a meal I always avoid tapas…wherever I am.
    Personally I think that your lamb and fish is the best in the world. I would swop all the tapas on the Costa Brava to get a plate of both right now!
    sylvia from viking wirral.

  • Karen * August 1, 2010, 2:15 am

    Oh please…. tapas may have begun in Spain, but it’s evolved. Get over this adherance to “real” Spainish anything.

    It’s now a style of presentation that can be applied to any food of any ethnicity. It’s about small portions, creatively plated, and ideally paced throughout an evening. Although some of us are control freaks who prefer to control the pacing and the amount of dishes. 🙂

    When in Iceland, tapas takes on an Icelandic flare. This is a good thing, a melting of the cultures, a sharing of ideas and styles and flavours from which we all grow.

    I’m not delusional enough to believe that the “Chinese food” I get in Canada has anything to do with authentic Chinese food anymore.

  • idunn August 1, 2010, 8:56 am

    I love how you put that.

    As for some of the other comments, I can’t get out of my head the image of patrons fighting with the wait staff to keep their menus at Tapas Barinn. John Cleese would be excellent casting.

  • D H August 1, 2010, 12:20 pm

    This is the first time in years of reading your blog that i actually found myself angry reading the content, it is the most spoilt sounding rant i have read in a long time and seems in serious need of some perspective

    Next time your in a tizz over getting an abundance of fresh, delicious food *too quickly* remember there are people all over the world eating mud just to fill their bellies.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22902512/

    It’s completely unfair to single you out, as it is a symptom of our culture, and maybe not ‘right’ to bring up the issue of world poverty within the context of a restaurant review but hell, what have we become?.

  • alda August 1, 2010, 1:08 pm

    DH – I’m sure I’d have a lot more regard for your opinion if you had the courage to post it under your own name. Not to mention provide a real email address, and not a fake one.

  • Stephen Cowdery August 1, 2010, 2:37 pm

    Regarding “D H” and his comments:
    It always amazes me when a commenter completely hijacks a thread to promote a holier-than-thou opinion. No, it is not “right” to bring up world poverty in the context of a restaurant review, just as it would be wrong to bring up a restaurant review in a discussion of world poverty. Not only is it not right, it is downright rude, disrespectful and socially retarded.

  • Luna_Sea August 1, 2010, 4:02 pm

    @Alda – I think there are good reasons for some of us not to post under our real names. Here in the U.S. almost every potential employer will google you and I wouldn’t necessarily want to make him/her aware of my politics, opinions and the particular circumstances of my life that I have at times posted.

    @Stephen Cowdery – well put!

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland August 1, 2010, 4:24 pm

    @DH well lets just close down every restaurant in the world, I don’t think Alda comprising 1 7 billionth of the worlds pop. has much sway over geo problems, nuclear bombs,Afghanistan,the Amazon rain forests etc etc, last I heard I don’t think she actually rules any country not even a mini one like Iceland.All she does is this blog to keep us happy out here in cyberspace, count your blessings if it was my blog there would only be one post a month, not blogging at the furious pace that Alda manages.

  • alda August 1, 2010, 4:28 pm

    @Luna_Sea — well, certainly, and by the same logic every potential employer or anyone else for that matter can google me and find this blog. I choose to blog under my own name, however, and I don’t have much time for those who choose to launch harsh criticisms from behind pseudonyms or false email addresses. To me that represents cowardice.

  • alda August 1, 2010, 4:28 pm

    @Stephen and Kevin — Thank you. 🙂

  • Stephen Cowdery August 1, 2010, 6:39 pm

    @Alda – You’re more than welcome. When I think of the dearth of real information about Iceland on the internet in 1999, when I started to plan my first trip to Iceland, I am completely in awe of your achievement with IWR. Restaurant reviews are important, especially in an economy with a large tourist industry. Your review of Tapas barinn should give its operators plenty of ideas for improvement, I hope they will be receptive to your criticisms. There have been a lot of good changes happening in Iceland in tourism (as your recent series of posts shows), what used to be a somewhat difficult trip to plan is getting better all the time, thanks to outward looking Icelanders like you.

    Everyone benefits when an open discourse of ideas flourishes.

  • Wally August 1, 2010, 10:51 pm

    I have had a very similiar experience to what you described at Tapas. The food really does come to quick and you end up just eating and eating and eating and feeling kind of bloated and full really fast.
    I never had the forsight to ask them to bring it slowly but after reading your review I realise that it probably wouldnt have helped. The excuse they offer is truly very very poor.
    However the food is very very nice.

  • hildigunnur August 1, 2010, 11:58 pm

    Luna_Sea – well if you blog and comment doesn’t contain anything you can be ashamed of, well your name shouldn’t be sullied…

    Then again, of course some web writers’ criticisms of dangerous things may put them in danger. Whistle-blowers for example. A comment like DH’s shouldn’t bring up any such danger; neither should providing a real email address where it isn’t shown anywhere. It’s also really easy to put up a real address that can’t easily be traced.

  • D H August 3, 2010, 1:30 pm

    Apologies for my outburst, it was somewhat inappropriate to bring these issues up out of context but definitely inappropriate to demonize Alda like that. I had had a heavy morning of reading about the worlds ills and the review came at a bad time, goodness knows i have caught myself complaining over similar issues in the past.
    However, the idea that we are completely spoilt as a culture stands on its own to be agreed or disagreed with regardless of who i am. I actually don’t care ‘who’ any of you are beyond the ideas/thoughts you present here and don’t think using your real name is anything to get sanctimonious about.