The world’s northernmost capital is a bastion of creativity and curiosities. Design emporia display haute fish-skin purses, wildly unique jewelry, clothing with textures and colors informed by the lavascape, and even items inspired by the nation’s fascination with elves. And though an odd assortment of creatures and preparations make up the legendary traditional dishes, Reykjavik is a haven for world-class chefs who regularly garner awards at the Culinary Olympics, producing sophisticated fusion cuisine and even a touch of molecular gastronomy. Despite the country’s current economic crisis, Reykjavik’s food and wine scene is vibrant, with an active New Nordic Kitchen style of cuisine, a slow-food movement relying on Scandinavian sourced (especially Icelandic) ingredients.
Housed in a 19th century building, the Fish Company utilizes a multinational array of herbs and spices, like Cuban mint leaf. The Arctic char three ways—smoked, baked and confit—is a favorite dish. (The confit is sealed in a jar with apple smoke, dill cream and fennel, and paired with a creamy Viognier from Lodi, California.)
Another centuries-old dwelling is the setting for the Lobster House whose trademark is the small, succulent Icelandic langoustine. Hints of Asia echo in the lobster tails with goat cheese, papaya and lemongrass. Their wine list favors Old World vintages, but also noteworthy is their fine Armagnac collection.
King crab claws with chili mayonnaise is a signature dish at the Fish Market is a winning pescetarian-centered restaurant with Asian notes, where fish skins drape the banisters. The Chateau Fuisse from Bourgogne goes well with almost everything, including the crab claws. Uniquely, the wine list groups the selections by taste, such as spicy or nutty whites.
A relaxed atmosphere pervades Domo where, among the Icelandic-Asian fusion dishes, the 14 piece sushi/sashimi platter is stellar and may even include a slice of ultra-lightly-smoked lamb. Choose one of their organic wines, such as a South African Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sipping an elegant Barbaresco in Vinbarinn (Kirkjutorg 4; 354.552.4120), you might rub shoulders with a politician or two. No wonder: this relaxed wine bar is set beside the Parliament. Owner Gunnar Runarsson sometimes offers selections that haven’t been reviewed in the wine publications. Considering a $400 bottle? You can first sample a one-ounce glass.
French elements infuse Icelandic ingredients at Silfur, a blackand-white-toned restaurant in the Art Deco Hotel Borg. Depending on the season, you can sample a reindeer carpaccio here. The grilled lamb fillet with foie gras and pureed strawberries is a year-round favorite.
Grillid offers panoramic views of Reykjavik from the top floor of the Radisson SAS Saga Hotel. The French influences in the progressive Icelandic menu are obvious: turbot is served with Jerusalem artichoke and beurre noisette. The mostly European wine list includes a balanced Alsatian Riesling.
You’ll find a steal of a three-course lunch ($26) at the Gallery whose walls are hung with a superb collection of oils painted by Iceland’s masters. In this classic atmosphere, Chef Fridgeir Ingi Eiriksson prepares simple, French-inspired plates. (A veal fillet comes with asparagus and a Chinese radish stuffed with shallots.)
Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason, a pioneer of Nordic-focused cuisine, presides over the newly opened Dill, where this herb grows aplenty in the kitchen garden. The short menu—a mere seven dishes—is awash with surprise elements, (such as skate wing poached in Icelandic tea).
Minimalist-designed Vox relies solely on Scandinavian ingredients obtained directly from native hunters, fishermen and farmers. The slow-cooked seasonal goose breast is served with puréed sunchokes, brambleberry jam and wild hedgehog mushrooms. Their wine cellar is a lesson in diversity, thanks to Iceland’s reigning Sommelier of the Year, Alba Elisabeth Hortense Hough.