Two evenings ago, EPI headed east to the town of Hveragerði [known to some as "Hurdygurdy"] to check out a restaurant that has been called “Iceland’s best-kept secret” – a place called Kjöt og kúnst. It was so secret, in fact, that I did not know about it until just recently [and I delude myself that I know everything!].
Kjöt og kúnst has been operating in Hveragerði for about nine years, but the proprietors – the extremely genial Óli and Anna – have recently installed a geothermal cooker that is located outside, and on which they bake and cook the food. By this I mean that they’ve stuck a pipe into a nearby hot spring that is a whopping 1,700°C [around 3,900°F] hot, and funneled it into their outdoor stove. Here is Óli at the cooker:
And here’s some stuff cooking [or, rather, baking]:
Confession: I wasn’t blown away by the menu at first glance. It features very basic Icelandic-style home cooking – nothing fancy. So I had my reservations – which were quickly eliminated when the food arrived. I was amazed at how incredibly TASTY it was, so fresh and well prepared!
First we tried the soups – they had three to choose from. The pea and vegetable soup was very good, the cream of mushroom was awesome, and the minestrone [which EPI tried, I gave it a miss for fear of being too full when the main courses arrived] was so-so. However, the bread that came with it – the Icelandic rúgbrauð, a sweet, dark pumpernickel, was fabulous [the area around Hveragerði is renowned for its rúgbrauð, which is normally baked in the hot springs], as were the lighter rolls [pictured baking, above]. This came with a homemade kindakæfa [sheep pate] which was totally yummy, as well as the mouth-wateringly delicious Lebanese “potato pate” [as they call it], which packed enough garlic to kill a horse and then bring it back to life again.
Cream of mushroom soup, yum yum:
Rúgbrauð, rolls, kindakæfa and garlic explosion:
Next came our main courses. I got the fish – baked cod with a phenomenally tasty sauce with loads of shrimp. If there is one thing I could criticize in my whole meal it would be that the fish was a tad overcooked – but then I’m a stickler for these things and really, it was minor. It tasted just as good as if it had been really flaky. See how fresh everything looks? And those croquettes were to die for:
EPI got chicken – breast and leg, which was incredibly tender and very tasty [we switched plates halfway - slightly uncouth, but there you go].
Again, I was amazed at how carefully everything was prepared – it was all so tasty, and obvious that only the freshest ingredients were used.
And finally, dessert. Needless to say we were stuffed by this point, and I only managed about half of mine, but it was amazing, too. Chocolate cake, baked on the steam cooker, which was surprisingly light and not too sweet – just the way I like it. [I should mention that Icelanders tend to go overboard in the sugar department, so getting something that isn't nauseatingly sweet is a welcome change.]
Bottom-line: Kjöt og kúnst is a completely unpretentious restaurant with down-home cooking prepared in an unconventional way. It manages to rise above the rest with its attention to detail and welcoming atmosphere. Bonus points for super-friendly service [the owner told us the wait staff is hired based on their propensity for smiling] and impeccable cleanliness.
ps – tip: Reykjavík Excursions [which sent me to the restaurant to write about it for their website] will be offering a new Northern Lights tour this fall, which incorporates dinner at Kjöt og kúnst beforehand.