Originally based on the restrictions of a rocky island and isolated in the North Atlantic, Iceland’s cuisine has made several strides from basic preparations of lamb, whale, puffin and cod over the past few centuries. With no grandiose shoes to fill in terms of gastronomy, as some other European countries have, Iceland’s chefs are free to be their own creative masters, combining artisanal ingredients and a bit of tradition with all kinds of global twists. Here are the restaurants in Reykjavik that are not to be missed.
Bistro, Restaurant, Bar, Brasserie, European, Northern European, $$$
Snaps Bistro serves French-inflected cuisine | Courtesy of Snaps Bistro
This bar is located in a quiet, picturesque neighborhood that is home to many. The cozy atmosphere, complete with low-lighting, hanging plants and large windows, is one of the most memorable in Reykjavik. If you want a quiet evening with friends in a sleek, cool environment, go here and check out the gin and tonic menu. They also offer a range of French brasserie-style dishes such as moules marinières, prepared with mussels harvested at Breidafjordur, and French onion soup made with Icelandic Isbui cheese.
This is the first Icelandic restaurant to receive a Michelin star. The small restaurant, seating 20–30 people, has great personality. Every week a new seven-course menu with wine pairings is arranged, using a mixture of traditional Nordic and Icelandic culinary roots with a modern twist. The head chefs, Gunnar Karl Gíslason and Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, are the pioneering creatives behind the restaurant. Enjoy a large selection of wines available by the glass, which changes often.
Grillmarkaðurinn uses locally sourced, seasonal Icelandic ingredients to serve meals like delicious whale, puffin and lobster mini-burgers served with pesto, chorizo and horseradish mayo. Opened in summer 2011 by two of Iceland’s most talented chefs, Hrefna Rósa Sætren and Guđlaugur P. Frímannsson, it resides in the beautifully reconstructed Art Nouveau Nýja Bíó, which was destroyed by fire in 1998. The restaurant’s smart, contemporary dining room is inspired by Iceland’s natural elements of rock, water and wood.
This cozy restaurant-and-bar is open all day with an amazing selection of European gastropub food with an Icelandic twist. Located on a busy corner street downtown, this place is hard to miss with its large windows full of eclectic remnants of its former days as a pharmacy (apotek means pharmacy in Icelandic). With an extensive cocktail menu including locally sourced ingredients such as dill, Estragon and pepper mixed with Icelandic liquor, you can’t go wrong.
While not what you would exactly seek out on your trip to Iceland, this is a legendary place when it comes to Indian cuisine. For over 20 years this somewhat hidden gem has been serving the perfect blend of Indian spice and Icelandic ingredients in downtown Reykjavík. The atmosphere is warm and genuine, and the interior decoration could transport you to another continent altogether. If your palate calls for more spice during your trip, this is where to find it.
Þrír Frakkar, or Three Coats, has been managed by the chef Úlfar Eysteinsson and his family since opening in 1989. Located on a quiet street close to downtown, the restaurant offers a classic, laid-back atmosphere. Well-regarded as one of the best places for fish in Reykjavik, Þrír Frakkar offers a variety of dishes, including cod, halibut, catfish and plaice. The cozy restaurant is also apparently a favorite of Jamie Oliver’s.
MAR Restaurant enjoys a prime location in Reykjavik’s scenic Old Harbour and is housed in a particularly interesting building, Hafnarbúðir. This was constructed in the 1960s with the specific purpose of providing a restaurant and accommodations for fishermen. Updated since then, MAR’s interior was visualized by the Reykjavik-based designers Hafsteinn Júlíusson and Karitas Sveinsdóttir in a style faithful to the area’s old harbor houses. The restaurant also features artwork from Icelandic graphic designer Siggi Odds and crockery designed by Guðný Hafsteinsdóttir. Specializing in seafood that incorporates a range of international flavors, MAR offers dishes like the salted cod with zucchini, rucola and plum jam.
Fiskfélagið, or The Fish Company, is well-known for some of the best seafood in Iceland. Here you can try a very creative assortment of flavor and textures on offer on the tasting menu. Located under a bridge downtown in a former store built in the 19th century, Fiskfélagið offers an exciting blend of Nordic fusion. Enjoy the unique interior décor designed by Leif Welding and the owner, Lárus Gunnar. From the menu, try the fish soup with langoustine, coconut jelly and Icelandic seaweed.
Offering tasty, tapas-style dishes based on local ingredients and Icelandic recipes, Foréttabarinn, or ‘the starters bar’, is the perfect destination for a night of innovative cuisine in a vibrant, laid-back atmosphere. Located in a smart building close to the harbor, the restaurant has an exterior that features a beautiful wave-like mural – a nod to its location. Inside, the interior marries rustic wood with contemporary elements like minimalist white walls and stylish, understated lighting. Dine on dishes like a terrine of venison with cinnamon apple chutney and pickled red cabbage. For drinks, sample Foréttabarinn’s extensive range of local Icelandic beers or wines from across the globe.
Classic international dishes are given a comfort-food twist at this establishment – a stylish, welcoming and popular restaurant established in early 2014. Situated over two floors, the spacious venue has an open kitchen and cosy dining space with leather couches and warm lighting. This is complemented by furniture designed by British design firm Tom Dixon and art from Icelandic artist María Inga Brynjarsdóttir. Head chefs Einar Hjaltason and Kári Porsteinsson bring more than 20 years of experience working at Reykjavik’s top restaurants, cooking up innovative yet comforting dishes like wolf fish, served with escabeche vegetables, mashed potatoes and a smooth parmesan velouté.