Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital, has recently established itself as a haven for food lovers. Taking advantage of its local seafood, meat and game, the city is a prime destination for those wishing to sample New Nordic cuisine.
Nestled on the edge of Vatnsmyri, Reykjavik’s urban wetland and wild bird reserve, DILL Restaurant serves New Nordic fare, a cuisine that promotes local food cultures and seasonal ingredients. The brainchild of chef Gunnar Karl Gislason and sommelier Olafur Orn Olafsson, DILL is situated in Nordic House, one of Reykjavik’s premier cultural venues designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Guests can expect classic Nordic ingredients with a contemporary twist at lunchtime, such as meatballs and plokkfiskur, a hearty fish stew. The dinner menu changes weekly with three, five and seven courses available, as well as the option of a matching wine menu. Some of DILL’s most innovative recipes include baked rutabaga with cheese foam and crispy millet and a celeriac and herb cream with lojrom caviar, cress and goats cheese.
Grillmarkadurinn, or The Grill Market, resides in a faithful reconstruction of Reykjavik’s art nouveau Nyja Bio (New Cinema), which stood in the restaurant’s location from 1920 until 1998 when it was destroyed by a fire. Grillmarkadurinn’s artistic and luxurious design, based on Icelandic elements like rock and water, provides a modern but comfortable setting, while its comfortable lounge area offers a range of cocktails and wines. Top Icelandic chefs Hrefna Rosa Saetran and Gudlaugur Frimannsson serve up a range of meat, fish and game grill dishes. Those with an adventurous palate may like to sample the minke whale steak or puffin and reindeer mini burgers.
A trip to Reykjavik wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of Iceland’s world-class seafood. Fiskfelagid, a cozy restaurant in the basement of the Zimsen building, serves not only Icelandic seafood but also fish dishes from across the globe. The historic Zimsen building dates back to 1884 and was originally located a couple of streets away before it was moved to its current location underneath a quaint bridge. While the building was undergoing renovation, part of Reykjavik’s old harbor was unearthed and transformed into a work of art within the restaurant grounds by local artist Hjorleifur Stefansson. Patrons can relax in Fiskfelagid’s comfortable booths while snacking on Icelandic salted cod and burnt langoustines or the Malaysian inspired blackened monkfish with lobster spring roll.
For an affordable, quick and tasty snack, look no further than Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a harborside hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavik. Ever since 1937, the stand has been serving the Icelandic incarnation of the hot dog, made with a combination of pork, beef and lamb. The stand has become a staple feature of runtur, Reykjavik’s weekend revelry. For an authentic Icelandic experience, go for a hot dog with eina med ollu, or ‘the works’, ketchup, sweet mustard, raw and fried onions and remoulade. Famous Baejarins Beztu patrons include former US president Bill Clinton and James Hetfield of Metallica fame.
Just a short walk away from the main square in Reykjavik’s old city and the Icelandic parliament is Skolabru, a contemporary restaurant serving Icelandic cuisine with Mediterranean influences. Skolabru is located in a large, traditional house that was first built in 1907. Try the seawolf with mango, chilli and ginger sauce or the grilled rump of lamb with Bernaise sauce followed by the popular chocolate soufflé.
Snaps Bistro is located in the quiet, picturesque neighborhood of Skolavorduholt, home to many coffeehouses and the soaring spire of the Hallgrimskirkja church, which offers a stunning panoramic view of the city from its observation tower. Snaps offers 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. Cozy and chic, the bistro was recently named one of Reykjavik’s coolest bars by CNN Travel and the ‘Best Goddamn Restaurant’ for two years running by Reykjavik’s Grapevine magazine.
With its quirky coffeehouse atmosphere, The Laundromat Café offers a range of goods including delicious desserts, healthy juices and coffees. The concept for The Laundromat Café originated in Copenhagen in 2006 as an informal space where guests could meet and multitask, eating while doing their laundry. The Reykjavik branch opened in 2011 and was the official caterer of the 2013 Iceland Airwaves music festival. It features an extensive library of around 6,000 books, which customers can enjoy in a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. Food portions are well sized and reasonably priced, with breakfast and brunch items, as well as sandwiches and burgers on offer. Guests rave about the restaurant’s homemade pancakes and chocolate cake.
Located in Reykjavik’s scenic Old Harbor, which is fast becoming a vibrant quarter of the city, MAR Restaurant features a menu inspired by South American and southern European cuisines. Dishes such as the beef tenderloin with truffle Madeira glaze and mushroom risotto with pan fried lobster have proved popular with customers, as has the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Taking its name from the Latin word for ‘sea’, MAR’s interior was conceived by Reykjavik-based designers Hafsteinn Júlíusson and Karitas Sveinsdóttir and features black-treated wood panels, faithful to the décor of old harbor houses in the area. Ceramic designer Guðný Hafsteins created MAR’s custom tableware, while graphic designer Siggi Odds designed marine-inspired artwork for the restaurant. Works by both artists are available for purchase in the neighboring design store, Myrin.
Since it first opened its doors in 1965, the Gallery Restaurant in Hotel Holt has established itself as a mainstay in Reykjavik’s fine-dining scene. Named after the numerous traditional Icelandic paintings that adorn its walls, it won the title of Best Restaurant in Iceland 2012, awarded by The Nordic Prize. Chef Friðgeir Ingi Eiríksson, who has worked at several Michelin starred restaurants, concocts Icelandic fare such as reindeer with fresh cep and truffle honey and Hlidarberg duck with honey glazed melon, as well as dishes with a more international feel like the kangaroo steak, red beetroot dumplings and fried bok choy. Light snacks, including cured salmon tapas, are available from the bar from 4 p.m. each day.
Perlan, the striking glass dome structure situated on Öskjuhlíð hill, is one of the city’s most recognizable buildings. Over 176,000 trees have been planted on the hillside surrounding Perlan, creating a rare woodland setting in urban Reykjavik, complete with bicycle and walking paths. The restaurant itself sits on a revolving floor on top of the city’s hot-water storage tanks and provides breathtaking 360-degree views of Reykjavik. Head chef Stefán Elí Stefánsson and his team serve a seasonal four-course menu as well as varied, buffet-style food featuring local Icelandic delicacies including reindeer meatballs, wild goose breast and Skyr cake.