Iceland’s Dining Scene Heats Up
Like most countries, Iceland’s culinary tradition is based upon the needs and lifestyle of its ancestors. Hunting, gathering and farming on a rocky island in the middle of a frigid ocean meant centuries of fairly basic preparations of lamb, cod, puffin and whale. However, a booming tourist industry, the building of greenhouses and a worldwide interest in local, artisanal foods have all helped usher Icelandic kitchens into the territory of New Nordic Cuisine. And without the entrenched food philosophies of, say, France or Italy to guide them, Iceland’s chefs are free to let their imaginations run wild. Here are 5 restaurants that prove Iceland has more to offer diners than that infamous fermented shark.
Chef-owner Gunnar Karl Gíslason is on the forefront of New Nordic Cuisine, a movement that is transforming the way diners think of Icelandic food. During lunch, the restaurant keeps things simple and casual. By night, the tiny dining room becomes a glowing laboratory for Gíslason’s imagination, where he experiments but never strays too far from his earthy cooking style. A new 7-course menu with wine pairings is created each week; diners can also opt for a 3- or 5-course tasting. With such frequent menu changes, you’re guaranteed to have a new cultural experience each time you visit.
This little brother of another beloved Reykjavik restaurant, Fishmarket, puts an emphasis on sourcing ingredients, giving credit to each farmer and purveyor for their role in creating their dishes. Sitting at the bar upstairs gives diners a peek into the open kitchen -- but beware, it gets hot when the grill fires up. Eat your way around the menu, which includes everything from skewered meats to crispy duck salad to “big steaks,” or order the chef’s tasting menu. Before leaving, be sure to head downstairs for a cocktail in the beautiful lounge. It might be the last civilized thing you do before heading out into Reykjavik’s thumping nightlife.
Not only does chef Viktor Örn Andrésson offer creative and modern versions of Icelandic classics -- such as a sophisticated bowl of the normally rustic fish soup and a gorgeous filet of cod with lobster sauce -- but it’s all served with one of the most stunning views in the world. Imagine milky, baby-blue pools with steam rising up among the surrounding piles of dusky volcanic rock, which sport an occasional streak of bright green moss. It’s positively otherworldly.
Groups can arrange to have the restaurant’s chef prepare sweet, moist rye bread baked with geothermic heat, and eggs are hard-cooked in one of the nearby heated pools. The bread is served with a heavy smear of rich Icelandic butter, herring and those eggs, as well as a frosty bottle of Icelandic schnapps. It’s a memorable experience, if you can swing it. When the wind gets the better of you, head inside for an outstanding buffet that includes crisp-skinned roast pork and luscious salmon. The floor-to-ceiling windows in this lodge-like room allow diners to take in the rugged hillside opposite the geyser area -- and on blustery days makes you even more glad for the coziness of the stone and wood room.
Sure, the a la carte offerings of sushi and “grilled catch of the day from Jón the fisherman” sound tempting. But it’s much more fun to get a group together and take advantage of the restaurant’s multicourse, family-style grill dinners, which might include puffin served with European shag (a species of cormorant) and minke whale or grilled Icelandic lobster with golden perch and mussel sauce. With these festive meals, the restaurant “promises to leave no one hungry.” Sounds like a challenge this restaurant can meet, if you ask us.