by Devon Walsh
When dining abroad, it is one’s greatest hope to happen upon a hidden gem, a best-kept secret reserved exclusively for locals and the discerning. Coincidences that unique are fittingly rare, but occasionally you get lucky. Such was the case on my recent trip to Isafjordour, Iceland when, by chance, my travel buddy and I discovered an intimate seafood bistro known as Tjoruhusid.
A sleepy fishing town, Isafjordour lies on the coast of the West Fjords. The village is a humble base for whale watching excursions and treks to the nearby, uninhabited Hornstrandir peninsula. It’s position off the Ring Road and as a base camp, albeit for some of the most remote experiences Iceland has to offer, doesn’t necessitate a culinary gem. Yet, choppy Arctic waters are nigh and the fish couldn’t be fresher.
At the end of Isafjordour’s main road, in a cluster of cottages that includes the Heritage Museum, sits Tjoruhusid – the warehouse that houses this seafood lover’s mecca is cozy and wooden and dates back to 1781.
The food is buffet style. Believe me, I was surprised too. Elsewhere, multicourse tasting menus are having the ultimate moment, while buffets call to mind Chinese restaurants in strip malls and establishments like Old Country Buffet or Golden Corral and, for many, the excitement of serve-yourself soft serve. Funnily enough, soft-serve, like buffets, happens to be extremely popular in Iceland, particularly in gas stations, but that’s a topic for another time.
Suffice it to say, all preconceived notions of buffets should be abandoned once in Iceland. Here, buffets mean seafood bisque, cod with olives and sundried tomatoes, and a halibut in cream sauce brought out to the front out the house in steaming cast iron pots by a small group of very busy chefs. The dishes reflect the days catch, the plentitude of the sea instead of the pantry. Everyone’s favorite were the mussels, prepared in classic, if predictable, meuniere style. Only here, the staff intercepted to control portions.
Otherwise, waitresses urge diners to eat as much as they can. It would be unheard of in more gluttonous countries, to leave patrons to their own devices with a delicacy as adored as fish—like children with soft-serve, all bets are off. But then again, beverages too, are on the honor system. Only a gangly teenage boy and a petite women in her 60s kept shoveling helpings onto their plates long after the rest of the inclement weather ready clientele were drinking tea and nibbling on chocolate.
We left satiated in both mind and body, wishing only that we had room for more. I sometimes wonder if the whole experience was really real or a mirage. Go find out for yourself if you get the chance.
Tjoruhusid offers a la carte lunch and a choice of two seatings at 7 or 9pm for dinner.
Address: Neðstakaupstað, 400 Isafiordr, Vestur-Isafjardarsysla, Iceland