A Gourmet Guide to Icelandic Food
Fish doesn’t have to travel far to get from sea to plate Reykjavik, located as it is on the coast of a small island surrounded by icy cool waters. “Arctic, char, halibut, haddock, monkfish – everything is fresh,” says Fridgeir Ingi Eiriksson, head chef at the city’s Gallery Restaurant. “Lobster and langoustine taste better than anywhere else because this part of the Northern Atlantic is so cold.”
At the restaurant, Fridgeir serves starry ray with butternut squash, lobster soup with roasted chocolate cream, and salted cod tartar with rye bread ice cream. This is New Nordic Cuisine – influenced by traditions of the past, yet informed by a landscape where expanses of mud bubble, steam rises from the ground and geysers hiss and pop.
Even Iceland’s beers – illegal in the country until 1989 – and spirits are extraordinary, thanks to the island’s super-pure water and exciting local flavours. Reyka vodka is made with water from an Arctic spring that runs through a 4,000-year-old lava field; Brennivin aquavit is spiced with caraway and angelica.
Mineral-rich volcanic soil, lush farmland and crisp, clean air is an outrageously good combination for wild foraging – and here this begins in childhood. Vegetables are sourced from neighbouring farms and if something doesn’t grow in a season, it isn’t forced to. “ We have deep traditions of smoking, fermenting, drying and curing fish and meat,” explains Fridgeir.
Iceland is home to 60% of the world’s Atlantic puffins, and you can’t come to Reykjavik without trying the delicacy. Eat it smoked, like the locals do. “It encapsulates everything about Iceland. It’s beautiful, and tastes both of land and sea,” says Fridfgeir. “Forget about fermented shark. No one eats that apart from tourists.”
Free-roaming Icelandic lamb feeds on wild herbs and berries. And try skyr, a low-fat protein-rich soft cheese – an ideal boost of chilly days. “Fiskfelagid restaurants serves caraway-cured salmon and cumin cheese, glazed carrot and skyr foam, Thornberry gel and smoked almonds,” says Fridgeir.
Head to Slippurinn, set in an old shipyard on the tiny volcanic island of Heimaey, for seasonal creations. Chefs forage for Arctic thyme, wild chervil, kelp and seaweed, grow lovage, parsley and dill, buy vegetables from local farms, and serve lamb and lemon sole.
“It’s my favourite season because we get the best game: reindeer, wild duck and wild goose,” says Fridgeir. “Icelandic reindeer is high quality, and our most popular dish, served with fresh ceps and truffled honey.”
Warm your cockles at Saegreifinn, an unassuming former fisherman’s hut serving lobster soup and unlimited bread; savour steaming hot chocolate and waffles alongside live music at Mokka, Reykjavik’s oldest coffee house; or try a drop of Brennivin at Boston, a darkened bar with gold-leaf wallpaper.