A few people remarked on the last Best of Reykjavík post [Cheap Eats] that we we were focusing only on ethnic food and left out the Icelandic food.
There’s a reason for that.
One, there’s the tricky business of defining Icelandic food. Are we talking traditional Icelandic food — the kind that the tourist brochures really, um, make a meal out of when seeking to exploit the “weird Icelander” image, like singed sheeps’ heads, pickled ram’s testicles, rancid skate, putrid shark …
… or do we define Icelandic food as the more gentrified stuff we like to eat these days: seafood fusion of various types, languistine, lamb filets, skyr cheesecake …?
If you put Icelandic food in the first category, turns out there aren’t many restaurants serving it [surprised?].
If you put it in the second category, turns out it’s not cheap [and therefore does not quality as cheap eats].
Be that as it may, Icelandic food has been enjoying a bit of a revival these days, what with the rise of nationalistic sentiment after the collapse and whathaveyou. A couple of places serving Icelandic food have opened: Íslenski barinn on Austurvöllur and Cafe Loki, across from Hallgrímskirkja church. I have to admit that I don’t know anything about the food at the former [have only been in there once, for coffee], but I have tried the kjötsúpa [traditional lamb soup] at Cafe Loki, and it was pretty good. The atmosphere was nice, too, light and airy, and the service friendly and efficient. [In fact, I think someone made favourable mention of that place in the comments to the last Best of Reykjavík post.]
Of course, if you just want something quick and easy [and, yes, cheap], try the local supermarket or grocery store. Any of those will stock the basics, like Iceland’s ubiquitous skyr [kind of like a thick yogurt, or Quark to the Germans] and harðfiskur — dried fish [haddock, or cod or catfish] which must be eaten with butter. Some supermarkets do hot lunches, and those will include, for example, svið, singed sheep’s heads. Melabúðin, for example, a popular local supermarket in the West End, usually does svið at lunchtime, as do many of the Nóatún shops. The cafeteria at the central bus station [BSÍ] is also famous for their kjammi og kók, i.e. half a head of svið accompanied by a bottle of coke.
As for the more upscale stuff, there are numerous restaurants in Reykjavík that do excellent lamb and seafood. In fact, just about every restaurant does excellent lamb and seafood, by simple virtue of the fact that you really can’t go wrong with lamb and seafood in Iceland. The lamb is outstanding, and fresh seafood is an unwritten law. Any restaurant that serves seafood that is not fresh won’t last a week in this country.
So I can only tell you about my favourite, and my favourite upscale restaurant in Reykjavík is Sjávarkjallarinn, hands down. I’ve been there twice, have had their “Exotic Menu” [taster menu] both times and it was out of this world. Granted, there’s a whole lot of fancy fusion going on there, but there’s plenty in there also that can be classified as “Icelandic”, simply because there’s lots of Icelandic ingredients. And that’s key.
And now, I’m going to cheat a little bit and mention one more upscale restaurant that isn’t in Reykjavík, but which is amazing and well worth the hour or so drive from the city: Fjöruborðið in Stokkseyri, on the south coast. Lobster is their specialty, and lobster [or, actually, linguistine] is what they do best. The setting couldn’t be more lovely, right on the seashore, in a quaint little village with a beautiful coastline. Highly recommended.
And so, over to you. Where, in your opinion, is the best place in Reykjavík [or beyond] to sample some real Icelandic fare?