Iceland’s Dining Scene Heats Up

See what's hot in Iceland's dining scene.
By: Rina Rapuano

Related To:

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.

Photo by: Elizabeth Parker

Elizabeth Parker

At first, you may wonder how a world-class restaurant came to be in what looks like a classy community center. But the fact that Dill is located in Nordic House, a cultural center that seeks to foster connections among the Nordic countries, was quite intentional -- and having a restaurant on-site meshes perfectly with the center’s mission. The building is surrounded by a garden used by Dill’s kitchen and a wild bird preserve, and the expansive windows offer views of a lake and airplanes landing in nearby Reykjavik airport.

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.

Photo by: Kiersten Chou, flickr

Kiersten Chou, flickr

A temple to grilled meats, fishes and vegetables hides in an alleyway in downtown Reykjavik, and those who seek it are rewarded with a gorgeous, glowing space in which to explore the freshest ingredients this country has to offer on land and sea. And while menu items may sound simple on paper, chef-owner Hrefna Rósa Sætran and her team employ the experience they gained in Michelin-starred restaurants around the globe to inspire their elegant yet hearty dishes. (Sætran is also on the Icelandic National Culinary Team.)

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.

Photo by: Rusty Blazenhoff, flickr

Rusty Blazenhoff, flickr

Dining at Lava is a wonderful way to conclude a relaxing soak in the Blue Lagoon, a series of outdoor geothermic pools about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. Lunchtime bathers can throw on a robe and head to Lava, which is built into a lava cliff, for an a la carte menu in winter and a buffet lunch in summer months.

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.

Photo by: Elizabeth Parker

Elizabeth Parker

A great way to venture outside of Reykjavik is to take a tour of the Golden Circle, a day trip through Iceland’s countryside that takes visitors through some of the country’s most beloved natural wonders, including the breathtaking Gullfoss waterfall and a geyser area that features the dormant Great Geysir and the active Strokkur geyser, which erupts about every 10 minutes.

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.


Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

Down the street from one of Reykjavik’s most iconic structures, the Hallgrímskirkja -- a tall, pale, austerely designed church that can be seen from just about anywhere in town -- sits this, one of the city’s newer landmarks. Since opening in 2011, Sjavargrillid has made a name for itself with its nightly ode to Iceland in the form of a menu that puts modern spins on some of the country’s most beloved ingredients. The corrugated metal behind the bar was salvaged from a fish-freezing plant found during chef-owner Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson’s travels through Iceland, and several dishes bear the names of friends and purveyors, giving a personal touch to the seasonal menu.
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.

Next Up

What to Do in Reykjavik on a Budget

Fear not, cost-conscious travelers: The land of fire and ice has plenty for you, too.

Take a Dip... in a Beer Pool

This Austrian brewery doesn't have just one pool of beer: it has seven.

Discover Positano: Italy's Enchanting Coastal Village

Take a photographic tour of one of the country's most picturesque destinations.

Escape Tuscany’s Crowds at These Under-the-Radar Spots      

Find local treasures, amazing food and wine and Italian hospitality at these out-of-the-way spots.

Lingering Secrets of Pompeii

Though the spectacular city met its tragic end nearly two thousand years ago, archaeologists are still hard at work unearthing its story. What might the next chapter be?

A Swiss Filmmaker Talks Travel and Good Luck Charms

The Paris Opera director Jean-Stéphane Bron talks about his latest documentary and his travel obsessions.

7 Hacks to Keep From Going Broke on a Trip to Iceland

Yes, you can see Iceland’s glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes without breaking the bank.

What to Know About Moving to France

Are you about to pack your bags and move to France? Get the information you need before you make the move.

Meet the Yule Lads, Iceland’s Terrifying Christmas Trolls

This cast of seasonal characters (and their mother, and a man-eating cat) make Krampus look like the Elf on the Shelf.

Icelandic Hangover Cure: Svio and Svioasulta

Cure your Icelandic hangover with a sheep's head terrine.

Trending Now

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.