When you think of Spain your mind immediately goes to tapas, in Denmark it’s smørrebrød and when in Japan it’s all about the sake, miso soup and sushi. It’s ingrained into the culture of the country and can be found on every corner. In Iceland however, being a relatively young country whose culinary background was influenced not by abundance, but by hardship in it’s earlier years, relied on salted, fermented and preserved meats and seafood to get through the harsh winters.
You’ve probably heard about the classics; sheep’s head, fermented shark and dried fish. Nothing went to waste, really! Resources were few and it was long time between seasons, resulting in a simple diet clearly reflecting the harsh natural circumstances in which we lived. It was a sign of spring when the birds came to the tall cliffs. Icelanders would go to climb the cliffs and collect the eggs. With autumn came abundance of blueberries in the vast open fields.
Advances in technology and the utilisation of geothermal energy in greenhouses, which boomed in the 1930’s, gave us Icelanders the opportunity to grow tomatoes and cucumbers then later capsicums, strawberries, lettuce and mushrooms. Then there is the Icelandic lamb; free range and just about as sustainable it can get. The fish is also always fresh, with cod and arctic char being abundant and very popular.
Icelands restaurant scene is at an all time high, where the delicious Icelandic ingredients are highlighted in a wonderful way, often influenced by our neighbouring culinary traditions. Diners from far and wide have plenty to choose from. Listed are our go to favourite restaurants for dinner!
ÓX RESTAURANT | Laugavegur 28
Like a breath of fresh air, this recently opened gem is one to try if you’re looking for a real treat, for truly special occasions. The 11 seat restaurant is hidden in the far end of Sumac Restaurant. While Sumac Restaurant touches on Moroccan – Lebanese tones, Óx looks closer to home and takes you on an adventure of Iceland that you’ve never imagined. Aided by free flowing wine, the eleven dinner guests bridge their familiarities and are no longer strangers by the third course discussing recent news headlines, experiences and of course food. Dining at Óx is an experience that’ll linger on your palate for days to come and in your memory for years. A truly unique dining experience, unlike any other.
SNAPS BISTRO | Þórsgata 1
It’s the Reykjavík classic and our most beloved atmospheric bistro, that’s about all that has to be said for the restaurant. It’s a true keeper where we visit for birthdays, anniversaries and 8th dates. Their fish of the day continues to amaze as do their steaks. Not to mention their crème brulée, which is absolutely stellar!
COOCOO’S NEST | Grandagarður 23
It’s one of those places we find ourselves repeatedly popping into for any occasion; be it a weekend brunch, mid week happy hour, date nights and work lunches. Lucky for us, our office is right around the corner so it’s made it all that easier for us! It’s a lovely little family owned and run restaurant nestled in the old harbour area of Grandi. The restaurant is casual and cozy, and the food is always top notch. The restaurant has a rotating dinner menu depending on the day of the week consisting of Taco Tuesdays, delicious sourdough pizzas and Italian delights.
MAKAKE RESTAURANT | Grandagarður 101
Voted as Best Newcomer of 2020 by Reykjavík Grapevine, it’s easy to understand how Makake Restaurant has become a beloved neighbour to Hidden Iceland in the up and coming Grandi Harbour Area. Their good, clean and fair philosophy and emphasis on handmade slow food ensures that they have the best and freshest available ingredients, and use at least 40% of their ingredients from local producers, produced within 100 km away. Makake serves different menus depending on what day of the week; Thursday nights are dumpling nights, Sando brunches on Fridays and bottomless brunches on Sundays.
PUBLIC HOUSE GASTROPUB | Laugarvegur 24
This restaurant offers smaller dishes designed to share amongst couples or group of friends. Here they showcase traditional Icelandic ingredients with a Japanese flair resulting in really delicious, reasonably priced dinner option that we visit over and over again. Do not let the So Not Pizza and JFC Chicken pass you by.
BURRO TAPAS + STEAKS | Veltusund 1
Needless to say, we are all very excited for this newcomer with it’s south American menu. Their 5 course ‘Burro experience’ is one to try, followed by a tropical delight with Pablo Discobar’s famous cocktails on the floor above.
MATARKJALLARINN | Aðalstræti 2
It’s name translates to the food cellar, tucked away in a 160 year old building in the dead centre of downtown Reykjavík, charming their visitors with their delicious brasserie style menu. On late weekend evenings the restaurant transitions into a cocktail lounge where their team of bartenders whisk up the most amazing drinks.
MESSINN | Lækjargata 6b & Grandagarður 8
Make a beeline to Messin for delicious seafood for lunch or dinner. The name Messinn is the Icelandic word for the food hall on ships were sailers and fishermen were served dinners. Their speciality is their pan-fry dishes making the best out of the catch of the day, served up in a sizzling cast-iron skillet accompanied by buttery potatoes and fresh salad.
HLEMMUR MATHÖLL | Laugavegur 105
They offer delicious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even something with the coffee. Brauð & Co is located in one of the corners with their freshly made cinnamon buns no matter what time of day you visit. In the opposite corner there is Rabbar Barinn with soups and bullet proof lobster and bacon sandwiches. In the midst of it all, there is Skál! a restaurant that definitely one for a nicer lunch or dinner option that recently received the Michelin Bib-gourmand!
There are abundance of restaurants to choose from in Reykjavík these days ranging from casual and cheap take away, to extravagant treat-yourself kind of dinners. It’s an exciting time to be a foodie in Reykjavík! One way to get a quick introduction into the classics and the culture around food is to join a Reykjavík Food Walk or simply to walk your way between the amazing restaurants located in the downtown area.
Hi, I’m Dagný Björg, Reykjavík-dweller, mother, designer and freelance journalist who loves getting lost in nature, coffee and easy Sunday mornings.