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. Here are the restaurants in Reykjavik that capture all of the variety of traditional Scandinavian dishes that include seafood, pickled meat and vegetables, and fresh produce.
Bergsson Mathus was the first of a wave of Icelandic establishments that focused on an atmosphere of slow food and meticulously cared for ingredients to each meal. This cozy place puts great emphasis on local ingredients, slow cooking, and slow eating – basically, a den for food lovers. The typical lunch menu, for example, will consist of a meat dish of the day, a catch of the day and a soup of the day, while always having the ever-present option of a vegetable lasagna and/or a vegan salad. It also has homemade bread available with every dish along with a delicious homemade hummus and pesto dip.
MATUR OG DRYKKUR specializes in classical Icelandic dishes given a modern twist. Taking pride in using only first-class produce, each dinner and lunch menu is accompanied by an equally extensive vegetarian menu. Located in an old Salt Fish Factory by the Grandi harbor area built in 1924, offering an open interior space with great natural lighting.
Bistro, Cafe, North American, Northern European, European, $$$
This charming place is tucked away in the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens, open from May to October. The cafe dining area is actually inside a greenhouse, complete with a goldfish pond and all sorts of flowering plants covering the walls. The chef, Marentza Poulsen, uses ingredients from the surrounding gardens and from local farmers. Her specialty is the Danish open-faced sandwich smørrebrød. The menu is seasonal and hosts a variety of Scandinavian dishes with a very tasteful delivery. Notice the butter served on seashells and the flower petals decorating your plate.
Located in a historic building from 1838, this restaurant combines the best of French and Nordic cuisine. Well known for lobster dishes, The Lobsterhouse offers an elaborate humarveisla or Langoustine Feast in which you have roasted langoustine in lightly whipped cream with dulse salt as well as grilled langoustine with roasted vegetables paired with wine or beer, and créme brúlée for dessert. A simple yet elegant take on the classic lobster soup.
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 flavors 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 their fish soup with langoustine, coconut jelly, and Icelandic seaweed.
Grillmarkaðurinn uses locally sourced, seasonal Icelandic ingredients to serve meals like the 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.
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.
This is the first Icelandic restaurant to receive a Michelin star. The small restaurant, seating 20-30 people, holds 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.
In Reykjavik, traditional Danish Smorrebrod is almost synonymous with Jómfrúin – Scandinavian Kitchen. Modeled after the original restaurant that opened in Copenhagen in 1888, this establishment in Reykjavik is known for following this Scandinavian staple dish. Smorrebrod is essentially an open-faced sandwich with a variety of toppings, the most common of which is a mix of rye bread and seafood with condiments.
Located inside The Nordic House, a cultural center for Scandinavia in Reykjavik with exhibitions, concerts, and conferences throughout the year, its name comes from the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, who designed the building. The chef, Sveinn Kjartansson, is known for his Icelandic television series which shows viewers how to enjoy Iceland´s natural food sources, especially seafood. Dishes at AALTO Bistro follow typical Scandinavian recipes but with a European influence. Enjoy the beautiful view of the surrounding marsh and greenhouses, which hold Sunday concerts during the summer.