Where to eat in Reykjavik, Iceland
Cool, colourful and creative, Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is a fabulous place for a culinary adventure. Forget horror stories about fermented shark and vegetable-free living – the cuisine is fresh, interesting and worth spending some time over.
If you must, taste the fermented shark just once but it’s really a sideshow to other, much more worthwhile, Icelandic offerings.
It’s worth checking out this café partly for its location, overlooking the extraordinary Hallgrimskyrkja cathedral, partly for the brightly-painted mural depicting scenes from Valhalla that stretches across one wall, and partly for the Icelandic specialities (including the dreaded shark) that are its trademark.
It serves a variety of traditional Icelandic platters featuring dishes such as smoked trout on rye bread, smoked lamb on dark, sweet flatbread and dried fish (a kind of fish jerky which is surprisingly good). Iceland is justly proud of its yogurt, Skyr, and at Loki they make it into a moreish cheesecake. If you’re going for pudding, though, the highlight is the sublime rye bread ice cream.
Brauð & Co.
This artisanal bakery — where the breads and pastries are made in-store — was a perfect choice for breakfast. Instead of an authentic sourdough I chose a freshly-baked pain au chocolat which was admirably crisp, fresh and buttery.
There’s nowhere to sit at Brauð so we sauntered down to the harbour and ate our pastries by the magnificent Solfará sculpture, resplendent in the autumn sunshine. Be aware that the bakery doesn’t have formal opening hours, so you might need a plan B.
I’d been warned you couldn’t find vegetables in Iceland. How wrong I was. Iceland produces abundant produce (even bananas) in greenhouses powered by geothermal energy. Gló is a wholefood café serving fresh, locally-grown food that always includes a vegetarian and a raw dish. Its head chef, Sólveig Eiríksdóttir, is a pioneer of raw food in Iceland and was, I’m told, Ben Stiller’s personal chef when he visited the island.
My raw lasagne was delicately flavoured and pretty, and the colourful side-salads must have taken me well over my five-a-day.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
At the other end of the healthy eating spectrum is a hot dog stand easily located by the queue snaking around the block. Its name means “the best hot dog in town” and it attracts both locals and tourists – and in droves.
The hot dog itself was pretty good, though I found the mustard and mayo on the sweet side. My companion, from New Orleans, declared that you could find much better in her home town. The very next day a crane came crashing down, missing the stall by inches. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Norse Gods had taken offence at our lack of respect.
If you want to combine fine dining, authentic Icelandic food and cool surroundings, Grillmarkaðurinn is the place to go. The restaurant works closely with local suppliers and takes the provenance of its food seriously. It has a gorgeously tactile décor, all stone, moss, wood and tartan — think mountain lodge meets industrial chic.
As all the dishes sounded amazing we went for the tasting menu. To our shame, the highlights were the cuter animals. The puffin burgers (tiny slivers of puffin meat in a mini-bun with truffle mayo and red onion jam) were sensationally good — “guilt slathered in truffle mayo”, as my friend put it — and the minke whale steak was tenderly perfect. For the record, none of the dishes on the menu featured endangered species. We did check.
If this all makes you shudder, there are vegetarian options, too, including a beautifully-assembled five course vegetarian tasting menu.
My stay in Reykjavik was just a whirlwind trip, but my friend stayed on longer and warmly recommended Dill, raving about the beetroot with shaved reindeer heart (her heart was fully hardened by now) and the baked tusk fish, plus the quirky Café Babalú, great for a coffee and a visit to the Star Wars-themed bathroom.
You’ll find the food more expensive in Iceland than at home, but balance that against cheap flights (I flew with Wowair) and stay at an AirBnB, and there’s every reason to make Reykjavik your next foodie stop.