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Restaurant review: Kjöt og kúnst in Hveragerði

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.

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  • hildigunnur July 16, 2012, 2:40 pm

    ooh, have to try this – sounds fab!

    Have you tried the hot chocolate in Kaffismiðja Reykjavíkur yet. Made of very dark chocolate and they even warn you it’s not very sweet. To die for 🙂

  • alda July 16, 2012, 3:05 pm

    I have not! Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  • Karol W. July 17, 2012, 3:34 am

    Alda,

    How far is Hveragerdi from Reykjavik? And, what about KUNST at this place?

    We will try to get there in 2013.

  • alda July 17, 2012, 11:22 am

    It’s about a 30-minute drive from the Reykjavík city limits. Not sure what your KUNST question refers to – if you’re referring to the German word kunst, it’s not the same meaning as the Icelandic word kúnst, which means to have a knack for something.

  • hildigunnur July 17, 2012, 11:25 am

    Kúnst is also another word for art – I thought, seeing the name, that they probably had art exhibitions on the restaurant walls too.

  • alda July 17, 2012, 11:49 am

    Is kúnst actually in the Icelandic dictionary as “art” – or is it borrowed slang from German?

    Maybe they’re using it as a double meaning. I always assumed they were referring to the Icelandic “kúnst” – i.e. being skillful in the execution of something.

    BUT what seems to be the important thing in all this is: did they have art on the walls, and the answer to that is YES. 🙂

  • hildigunnur July 17, 2012, 11:57 am

    My dictionary says yes – 3 different meanings:

    Kúnst 1 (óþarft eða slæmt) uppátæki, bellibragð, 2 íþrótt, kunnátta, vandaverk, 3 (nú í upphöfnum stíl eða gamansömum) list, myndlist 🙂

    I never heard of the first meaning, let’s hope they’re not using it as triple meaning :þ

  • hildigunnur July 17, 2012, 11:59 am

    and yes, probably comes from German, most likely via Danish where it also means art.

  • alda July 17, 2012, 12:02 pm

    “I never heard of the first meaning, let’s hope they’re not using it as triple meaning”

    Heheh, yes indeed.

  • Karol W. July 17, 2012, 9:43 pm

    Thank you, all linguists!

    I simply assumed that “kunst” is the same in Icelandic as it is in German, and expected the restaurant offers meat (kjot, right?) and art on the walls.

    Interestingly enough, my first language is Polish and “kunszt” means the same as in Icelandic – high level skill.

  • idunn July 20, 2012, 2:10 am

    Enjoyed this restaurant review of Kjöt og kúnst.

  • Mo'a July 21, 2012, 1:04 am

    What a nice surprise. Anna is my cousin…she makes absolutely the best braudsupa in the world. I look forward to trying out some new menu items when I visit Iceland this August. It is always a pleasure to have dinner with them in their restaurant or home.
    Thank you for this…Oli and Anna are hard working and the most innovative restauranteurs that I know and deserve to be acknowledged for what they are doing.

  • rebecca August 19, 2012, 1:13 am

    this looks like a fun place will check it out

  • Kate August 21, 2012, 12:36 pm

    “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…”

    That seems very hot!