While Reykjavik is renown for its gorgeous landscapes and relaxing thermal baths, its diverse cuisine also makes for an excellent reason to visit. We have checked out some of the best and here are some suggestions.
Kolabrautin: Island Italian Kitchen
Occupying one of the best locations in the capital city, on the top floor of the all-glass Harpa, Iceland’s first purpose-built concert hall, this spacious restaurant offers wonderful views over the harbor through sheer hexagonal glass panes. On a recent balmy evening, the setting sun gleams off the sea and gulls fly so close they almost seem like passing dinner companions. The glass beehive ceiling also adds an intriguing visual effect, clearly reflecting guests below at tables. Décor, in neutral tones, is minimalist, with grey supporting pillars throughout the room and attractive crisp white table settings.
A limoncillo cocktail with a Scandinavian twist – a nip of local vodka – is a precursor of the creativity to come, including starters of beef tartar with roasted sunflower seeds smeared with a creamy foam of Jerusalem artichoke. Guided by executive chef, Georg Halldorsson, Kolabrautin embraces strong Italian tradition with pasta choices plentiful. Rabbit-filled ravioli, cooked al dente, with baby carrot and sea buckthorn is presented as a kaledeiscope of colors, all four seasons represented on one plate including ‘white snow’ of ricotta.
A second tantalizing dish combines gnocchi with popcorn, smoked roasted kale and pine nuts, melting deliciously in one’s mouth. Leave the task of wine pairings to restaurant manager and sommelier, Alba Hough, who prides herself on her knowledge of lesser-known, boutique Italian varieties. A hearty choice for the main is the aromatic Arctic lamb, which includes both slow-roasted belly as well as seared steak with cardamom and cinnamon in a surprising duet of blueberries and pepper.
Dill: Contemporary Nordic Delight
Formerly the barn of a doctor, this intimate restaurant was opened on the busy, central Laugavegur Street a year ago. Seating more than 20, with groups of less than six accommodated, a side-room caters for another sixteen. Décor reflects Icelandic tradition, minimalist, with a touch of ‘rustic chic’ in an eclectic combination of high ceiling, slanted rafters from which a single rope dangles, candlelit wooden tables and walls of bare concrete.
Tasting menus come in three choices – 3, 5 or 7 courses. Restaurant manager, John Rock, from Dublin, offers diners the chance to rediscover everyday tastes such as mussels, beetroot and catfish in novel ways, the former dried and blended in cream served on a cracker with bell pepper and chives; thin slices of beetroot, soft as rose petals, wrapped around liver parfait and roasted yeast; and cotton threads of dried, salted catfish on a bed of brown butter and vinegar served in a wooden bowl, evoking images of dining with Vikings long ago.
Creative meat dishes include beef cheek on a bed of potatoes with skyr, an Icelandic dairy product similar to strained yogurt (a healthy dessert version combines it with celery, roasted oats and cervil and is as refreshing as Icelandic air).
3 Frakkar: Traditional Neighborhood Treasure
Compact, cozy and unpretentious, this restaurant lies within a 15-minute walk of downtown Reykjavik in a neighborhood of streets named after mythological Norse Gods. It offers a quaint, cottage-like setting of several interlinked rooms, complete with lace curtains, tiled floor and nautical-themed furnishings including a clock made of dried fish, glazed enamel and brass fish and crab ornaments, as well as a varnished wood boat-wheel.
A diverse menu designed by owner-chef Úlfar Eysteinsson poses delightful selection challenges. Being Icelandic, fish and seafood dominate, but the menu also features meats such as game pate with Cumberland sauce, grilled horsemeat and fillet of lamb. It’s a place to be daring. Instead of smoked mackerel and mixed herring, try more exotic fare such as smoked puffin breast with saffron mustard or sashimi-style fin whale and Arctic char. Instead of plaice, cod, catfish or salmon, try wild seabird ‘Guillemot’ breasts with game sauce and whale pepper steak or the whale pepper steak with new baby potatoes. To savor the delicious juices, best to mop them up with fresh homemade bread.
Fish Market: Asian-Nordic Fusion
This wood-framed, two-story restaurant encompasses a ground floor and basement in the same downtown street as the central tourism office. Its rustic Scandinavian ambience of decorative timber furnishings include wide plank wood floors and polished oak tables, but it’s combined with a trendy Asian décor of bamboo posts creating added privacy and greenery along the walls offering visual appeal.
A good start to an evening here is a spritely cocktail of Reyka vodka, wasabi, kiwi, soda water and lime, followed by nibbles of dried fruit bread that come in a hemp bag with hot rocks to keep it warm and sea-salt and whipped butter on a slate. If you’re a fish lover, this is the place for you, with sushi, sashimi and maki-style langoustine, tuna, scallop, char and perch among the many marine choices on the à la carte menu.
For an even better experience, however, arrive early to linger over the special tasting menu (for a minimum of two people) created by Chef Hrefna Rosa Saetran using seasonal produce. How does this sound? Squid tempura with lime grind and granola flakes; pan-seared Minke whale with horseradish shaves and cranberries; Icelandic mussels in a lobster, mascarpone and seaweed broth; sushi of scallops on smoked salt rice with chilli and salmon roe; salted cod with cherry glaze, sweet celery salad and potato puree; and Icelandic lamb with Jerusalem artichoke and snow of butter. Still hungry? Don’t worry, there’s also a generous selection of desserts to choose from.