With the first snacks, the tone is set. Algae, rum, ash, and dill (of course). The Icelandic seafood, smoke, fire and locally sourced produce with deep flavours make Dill the Atlantic’s northernmost spot for wandering gastronomes. Here you can experience New Nordic cuisine in the volcanic Arctic environment. The old building in the middle of town has a raw charm with high ceilings and many original details scattered about the rustic wooden tables. When the evening darkens, the spotlights create atmosphere around the cooks as they assemble the dishes in the open kitchen. The three snacks arrive quickly. A baked Jerusalem artichoke covered with tarragon powder stands out, as does dried egg yolk with trout strips which are smoked with, among other things, dried sheep dung – a reference to the time when everything had to be utilized. They have great ambitions here when it comes to matching the food with both beer and wine – though there are no alcohol-free pairings. The sommelier is well read but not that pedagogical when it comes to explaining the ins and outs of the biodynamic natural wines. The Greek orange wine, Roditis from Domain Tatsis, is demanding with its muted fruit – yet a superb combo with the dish containing pickled mushrooms and a tasty mushroom broth under a thin mushroom-powdered crispy round of baked celeriac. An unoaked biodynamic chardonnay from Mâcon is also well matched with char and cucumber. The lightly cured fish is covered with chartreuse parsley powder and accompanied by crème fraîche, pieces of salted cucumber, and toasted crumbs of rye bread. It’s stylish but the flavours don’t quite get off the ground. The smoked haddock is an equally handsome presentation, but with yummier flavours. Dill oil and creamy, whipped skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) create contrast for the smoky fish, which is paired with a bitter sweet-sour Belgian-brewed beer: Mikkeller Hva Såå!? The service is nimble and even the chef is part of the team around the tables. The tempo is high and the atmosphere is good among the international guests who get a seat in this Nordic food temple. In a country that has more sheep than people, a lamb steak is a foregone conclusion – tender and nicely accompanied by baked parsley root, pickled fennel, and fennel cream. It’s not exactly a showstopper, but it is good together with the Montefalco wine from Umbria. The challenging mix of barley grains, malt and dried grated guillemot (a sea bird) is interesting with its wild notes but does not raise the roof. The first dessert, on the other hand, is one of the best of the year: a beautiful scoop of red beet sorbet with a lid of meringue powdered with tarragon rests in a cream of the caramellized whey cheese called brunost. All these intense and contrasting flavours meet in a perfect mix of caramel notes, sweet earthiness and fragile sweetness. The bubbly raspberry-fruity Pieropan wine enhances the experience. They also get it right with a Norman apple cider served with poached pear with almond sorbet and a sauce made from birch sap served in a beautiful ceramic bowl. The entire setup at Dill testifies to ambition and feeling. Though we wish the service had a bit more personality and charm, we leave feeling extremely satisfied.
There is no need to throw a coin in the wishing well that you pass on your way to the underground lair in downtown Reykjavik where “The Fish Company” is housed – not to improve your chances of having a great meal anyway. This is one of the most popular restaurants in town so rest assured they can handle a full house and still give you a singular experience. Fresh local ingredients appear in interpretations inspired by exotic kitchens from around the world. The presentations of all of the courses are outstanding – starting with appetisers served from a log and nitrogen cooling at the table. All of our taste buds are triggered. The connection to France is established through deliciously sweet and mild fried monkfish and langoustine with a foamy and elegant nutty foie gras sauce, both fresh and pickled Jerusalem artichokes, Jerusalem artichoke ice cream, and crunchy roasted hazelnuts, all embellished with watercress and parsley. One of two Icelandic starters on this world tour is “all in” on cod: a slowly cooked fillet of cod is served with cod caviar mayonnaise, chunky cod and almond crumble, smoked cod foam with sharp notes from pickled celery, and a refreshingly sour lemon and celeriac purée. The trip to Malaysia is a decorative, tasty serving of mild and buttery diced tuna with a soft, rounded mustard emulsion, restrained green chilli notes, a fresh liquorice taste from fennel, and sesame crisp. The kitchen has won our confidence, so we dare to enjoy the contribution from Canadian cuisine in the form of a very pink pan-fried duck breast with a crispy skin, tender and juicy duck leg confit with exotic apricot jam and fried wild mushrooms, egg yolk sauce and honey-glazed carrots with smoked almond and apricot granola. After such a great world tour, we cannot help but wonder if perhaps all those coins are from satisfied guests flipping one in the well on their way out.
When the thinly sliced pieces of minke whale fillet meet the heat of the Japanese Robata Grill for five seconds, magic occurs. The bitter surface seals the juicy, fleshy flavour from the tender whale meat. The experience is enhanced after we dip it in soy and ginger. The meat is topped by grated horseradish where bits of red currants give an acidic kick to the bitterness and umami. With this we drink a Hrefna Belgian Strong from Borg Brugghús with deep, fruity forest notes of crowberries and blueberries. It’s sensational. Restaurateur and Chef Hrefna Sætran has not only brewed the beer, she is also responsible for the interior in the old yellow wooden house – one of the Reykjavik’s oldest – where the walls are decorated with moss and old tree stumps. The light from the table lamps with shades made of fish leather creates a nice ambiance, to which a knowledgeable and light-hearted service staff contribute. Throughout the meal we choose dishes to share, like a stylish lemon-glazed char with an intense green purée of edamame beans and crispy rye bread. It works well with the sour Leifur beer. The beer and wine pairings are consistently creative. Like a bitter hops Úlfur India Pale ale with red beet-coloured tempura-fried shrimp with melon and jalapeño dressing. Or a bittersweet Úlfrun paired with a lightly salted cod with dried cranberries, sweet celery salad and a silky potato purée. The confited leg of lamb belongs to the island’s best, served with preserved beets and a variation on mushrooms. The Garún Icelandic Stout holds its own with a burnt sweetness. The conclusion is notably good: a grand Icelandic dessert with exotic fruits, ice cream and a smoking crater of raspberry mousse and liquorice.
It’s a creative atmosphere at Gallery Restaurant, with its dark mahogany ceilings and classic interior with artwork from Hotel Holt’s unique Icelandic art collection on the walls. This mixture of classic aesthetics and bold innovation is reflected in the grandiose wine menu filled with classic as well as themed wines, which perfectly complement Chef Friðgeir Ingi Eiríksson’s successful Latin-Icelandic melting pot. With more than 4,000 bottles in the cellar, this is the place to go in Iceland if you are a lover of rare and fine wines and spirits. From the moment we enter the room, we are engulfed by the classy yet cosy atmosphere. On the impeccably set round table, the napkin holder quotes the father of modern French cuisine, Fernand Point: “Garnishes must be matched like a tie to a suit”. Then we get our first impression of the kitchen with creamy homemade butter and crisp, airy sourdough bread. The first serving is a daring and delectable langoustine soup that combines fresh langoustine with roasted white chocolate cream – a delightful signature course. It tickles our senses when perfectly paired with a 2012 Alsace Pfaffenheim pinot gris. We are intrigued when a rich 2013 Sauternes complements the exotic fruit flavours of the crisp and tender seared foie gras accompanied by almonds and apricot. As a cold appetizer, we recommend the veal tartare with sour cream, bacon and pickled mushrooms. Not a traditional minced meat serving, it is composed instead out of delightfully tasty cubes of fresh veal and decorated with brawn (aka., head cheese). The homemade tagliatelle with Italian truffles, truffle butter and Parmesan cheese is a well-composed but rather traditional main course, whereas the Icelandic reindeer with Italian truffles and braised celeriac in Madeira with white asparagus and blueberry sauce really showcases the kitchen’s creative approach to combining flavours from the Latin and Icelandic kitchens. The tender meat is garnished with a lot of decorative finesses, such as purple lichen, fresh enoki mushrooms, plenty of truffle shavings and a rich demi-glace – and it all tastes delicious together. The chocolate and tonka bean crème brûlée with characteristic smoky perfume notes from the beans, served with creamy chocolate and raspberry sorbets, completes the meal and highlights how the kitchen fully lives up to the quote on the napkin holder.
Smart design is the first thing you think of when you enter Geiri Smart at the Canopy Hotel, another one of the many new establishments on the recently fancied-up Hverfisgata. The name is taken from a famous Iceland song, “Sirkus Geira Smart”. With a smile we are guided to our seats in a nice, warm room with sapphire-coloured chairs and banquettes. Though we are surrounded by lot of staff, it’s still cosy and relaxed and strangely not even noisy. Cocktails are currently in fashion, and they sure know how to make them here: “You Sexy Thing”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or maybe you would like to try “Wicked Games”? It’s a good selection. You can choose from among the set menus for the whole table or order à la carte. From the “A side” options (they like their music puns here) we choose beef tataki with soy and horseradish, and smoked cod with fermented potatoes. They are both very good. A shellfish soup with scallops and shrimps is nice and warming on a cold night. Blue ling fillet with fried broccolini is super fresh when in season, and the best of the main courses we have tried here. The beef is also tasty and the tagliatelle with Havgus cheese is elegant. We try a red wine from the Canadian grape, baco noir, for the first time ever – it’s an interesting pairing from the well-educated sommelier. Both the Madagascar chocolate with blood orange and the crème fraîche ice cream are tasty desserts. Geiri Smart is a great new choice in town.
In 2001, Iceland received a sensational bronze medal in Bocuse d’Or – the unofficial World Cup for chefs. In 2017 Iceland’s time came again, with Viktor Örn Andrésson at Grillið. However, it is Atli þór Erlendsson who is the head chef here. The dining room on the 8th floor of the Saga Hotel has been carefully restored and the view over Reykjavik is magnificent. It raises one’s expectations. The meal starts deliciously with charred scallops with salted cucumber, drops of ramson oil and vendace roe accompanied by dried roe, both as grains and as an emulsion. It’s a fresh start with finely tuned sea flavours. However, the vermentino wine that is paired with the dish is far too simple. The same goes for a Chilean gewürztraminer with a pan-seared ling fish with butter-baked cabbage and chives, fermented garlic cream and sea urchin foam – they are difficult flavours in an unbalanced arrangement. We expect a lot more from a sirloin with a variation on Jerusalem artichokes and red wine sauce and oyster mushrooms – even though the garnacha wine Tres Patas adds to the flavours. The red beet trilogy on hot ceramic dishes offers delicious flavour combos, where the smoked and creamy Icelandic cumin cheese called Tindur matches the earthy red beet notes and whole grains of barley. The natural wine Sota Mon Soleu, a merlot from Ardèche in France, is right on the money with its soft fruitiness. The service is more correct than personal. The desserts are worth waiting for. A granité of rose petals with dried raspberries and meringue is elegant with a half-sweet moscato wine. The chocolate ganache with malt ice cream and native blueberries mingles well with a porter from Borg Bregghús. Grillið is a cultural treasure worthy of cherishing.
The Grillmarket has been one of the hottest places in town since it opened. The bold interior design gives this place quite a unique look and is reminiscent of an American steakhouse. The dried skin of spotted catfish is certainly something to look at on the wall. The restaurant spans two floors, the first floor and basement. On the upper floor you can watch the chefs grilling the food over an open fire. The service is very much alert and attentive. The style of cooking is rather American; though the portions are not as big as usual, which is nice. As a starter the shellfish soup is good and hot, and served with fresh dill. The grilled king crab is rather tasteless and served with seaweed from the south coast of Iceland. The main course of a hefty redfish fillet and smoked pork cheek is a nice duo served with corn and chanterelles. The skyr and liquorice with crispy meringue is really good. Overall we enjoy our visit, and the place is packed as usual on a Sunday night.
Kol Restaurant has been one of Reykjavik’s most popular establishments since it opened in 2014. It’s in a great location in postal code 101 – in between different kinds of boutiques, and other restaurants and bars. With a touch of Nordic cuisine, and a bit of France and Asia thrown in, it is known for its hip and cool cocktails like “Donkey” – a blend of vodka, lime, ginger and grapefruit served with mint sprigs in a silver julep cup. The service is a little bit slow but friendly, and the place is hopping. As a starter the slow-cooked duck salad is colorful but the number of ingredients - cashews, pomegranate, romaine and watermelon – makes it feel a bit out of line and overly complex. The seared tuna is tender with a touch of chilli and aioli, and a rather sharp finish. We wait quite a while for the main course of charred salmon, which is good, with a bunch of granola and a green, fennel-dill Hollandaise sauce. The cod loin in red wine vinaigrette with rutabaga, however, is messy and rather flavourless, and the food is almost floating on the plate. Kol has been better than on this visit, and might be in need of a little firming up.
There is always smoke hovering over the Blue Lagoon because, whatever the season, the air temperature is always colder than the 37° volcanic water. A lunch or dinner at Lava with its tall panoramic windows facing the lagoon reinforces the surrealistic experience. In the strictly elegant dining room the food is wild-caught and locally-grown. A rich langoustine soup has deep flavours with sea notes from the seaweed. Smoked haddock takes on the character of rutabaga and dill oil. On a turquoise plate, hot as lava, rests a perfectly cooked piece of cod on a bed of barley grains and sliced fennel to go with the cauliflower variation. It’s very beautiful. Do not miss the Icelandic donut called Ástarpungar. They have a good wine list and the service is particularly competent. By 2018, the competition around the lagoon will increase with restaurant Moss in the new five-star hotel.
Mat Bar is a new restaurant on what is now one of the chicest streets in the center of Reykjavík. Knowing that Chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson is also the owner of Slippurinn and the former owner of Matur og Drykkur tells you that at the very least this place is worth a visit. All of the dishes at Mat Bar are built on the idea of sharing for two or more and you write down your order on a piece of paper. There’s a 5-course menu with wine pairings, or you can choose to order à la carte from the selection of house tapas, vegetables, proteins and more. The place is rather small but smartly designed. The service is warm and professional. We start by sharing beef tartare on bruschetta with truffle mayo, and scallop ceviche with oranges and fresh coriander. Both are good. Next we try the glazed beets with smoked buttermilk flavoured with tangy liquorice, wow! Salt cod with smoked tomatoes and onion is a typical Spanish dish, and good enough, but the veal is even better, bolstered by baked fennel with chilli and grilled polenta with cheese. The dessert of white chocolate “skyr” is smooth though a bit underwhelming. Overall, we enjoy our visit to Mat Bar and look forward to coming again.
Every Icelandic chef with an interest in food culture has channeled Helga Sigurðardóttir. This mother of Icelandic food, like Julia Child, set the standard in Icelandic cuisine with her 1954 recipe collection, Matur og Drykkur (Food and Beverage). These traditional dishes are the inspiration at the restaurant called Matur og Drykkur. The raw environment echoes the building’s history as a fish factory. The design and decor today are playfully creative and the staff have a nice, relaxed style. In both the kitchen and at the bar, their ambitions are high. Why not start with a Brennvin Negroni, one of several fun cocktails that have made them famous in town? Interestingly enough, it works well with a trout that has been smoked with a mix of sheep’s dung, straw and blueberry rice served with horseradish cream. A German riesling is perfect with their halibut soup, in which a magically tasty fish broth is poured over the fish, some mussels, marinated raisins, apple cubes and dill oil. The flavours are equally balanced in the arctic char dish, where dill oil is combined with cucumber, fennel and a cream made from skyr (Icelandic yoghurt). The homemade birch schnapps that goes with their Ástarpungar – twisted donuts with caramelized whey – is a must as a finishing touch. And with that, good coffee from locally roasted beans.
Rub23 is a good place to know about if you should fine yourself in the heart of northern Iceland. The Asian-inspired concept involves them rubbing hot spices into the fish or any other dish of your choosing (there’s a vegan option). We like the idea, especially on a cold night. The list of beverages is really good, especially given the restaurant's remote location. The sushi options take up a large portion of the menu. The must-try starter is the signature dish from chef and owner Einar Geirsson: sushi pizza. It’s essentially the popular and elegant fish, fresh Arctic char, served on rice with various toppings. The starter of cod and salmon ceviche with fennel and orange is nice, but the reindeer tataki with fresh apple and a hint of lime and soy blows us away. The mixed seafood platter is also a good choice. The young staff provide cheerful and decent service. Rub23 is a gem in Akureyri, perfect for spending an evening in the far north.
This is a nice place to visit throughout the year. The restaurant opened a couple of years ago in this old but renovated and colorful house located in the farm town of Selfoss, which has a long and remarkable history. It is nice to sit down beside the salmon-filled Ölfusá River after an hour’s drive from the capital. You relax right away. The service is friendly and you feel right at home. The langoustine bisque is a typical dish for this area, even though it is not close to the sea. It’s served neatly on a vintage-looking plate, and it’s hot and nice. The slow-cooked pork with pear and crispy prosciutto is a well-balanced dish. The main dishes, a vegetable dish with cabbage and carrots and slow-cooked wild salmon from the river nearby, are nice and natural. Tryggvaskáli is a good choice to stop for lunch, dinner or even just a cup of coffee or a beer on the terrace, which is open in the summer. It’s also a perfect place for large groups of people as they also have several different dining rooms.
The high-end restaurant at the Hilton Hotel offers an international atmosphere with spacious modern facilities and a big open kitchen committed to the New Nordic manifesto where impeccably dressed chefs, waiters and sommeliers interact with clockwork precision. Both the wine pairings and the after-dinner selection are exquisite, and the guidance by the sommelier is knowledgeable. White, ultrathin slices of salted cod carpaccio form a colourful artwork with green from wasabi, flowers, and local herbs and delicate red from the brambleberries. The serving is excellently balanced between the distinctive fish, the hot wasabi, the acidic yet sweet nitrogen-frozen berries, and the delicate mountain flowers. It is skilfully matched with an off-dry and mineral 2009 classic riesling from Framingham in Marlborough, New Zealand, with a lovely fragrant nose of sweet citrus and peach. The next course is a deliciously smoked pork belly with a buttery brioche, crisp sweet and sour apples and bitter, hoppy notes. The real wow-effect comes from the characteristically mild gamey flavours in the little cubes of immensely tender tartare of Icelandic reindeer. Mildly bitter chokeberries and crisp watercress are served on creamy and delightfully sour fresh cheese that’s stirred up with herbs; a unique and seductive treat. Smoked, juicy wild sea trout with a pronounced meaty structure is served with fresh celery, horseradish and an intensely yellow yolk from a quail egg. After the diverse dessert of pear sorbet with fruit chunks, baked white chocolate, creamy whey cheese and lemon, petits fours and digestifs, it is time to hit the fashionable and well-stocked bar.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.