While the pandemic shows no sign of abating, Iceland’s food and beverage industry seems to be surging ahead on a combination of hope, optimism and high spirits despite the many challenges posed by COVID. In a year full of uncertainties, restaurants old and new showed us what resilience looks like. Take-away took on a whole new meaning with at-home meal kits being offered up by celebrated chefs, marked-down menus becoming commonplace and spirited underground deliveries brightened many evenings.
Our expert panel of gourmands were hand-picked for their dedication to food—these people eat out way more than one should and can sift the mojo from the mayo with ease. While it has been a difficult year, the winners rose to the challenge, and how! Adversity does bring out the best in some and this year we are delighted to shine light on our out-of-town superstars who often eclipse their Reykjavík counterparts by miles. So sit tight, and let us help you navigate these gastronomic waters, be it the hottest burger in town or the most memorable dining experience of your life.
Best Tasting Menu
Inside Sumac, Laugavegur 28
There is a sense of theatre and intimate dinner party vibe at Óx, Iceland’s only chef’s table experience that seats a mere dozen guests each night. Everything unfolds in full view against a backdrop of chef Þráinn’s grandfather’s restored kitchenette. The old and the new commingle gently here, exploding in bursts of brilliance, be it the deft handling of pristine produce, like sweet morsels of fresh local shrimp over a marigold puree, or the 2-day cured langoustine with a briny broth that carries the scent of the oceans. Techniques and ingredients continue their dance, the experience heightened by the wine pairing. The juice pairing is also a grown up affair, with house made kombuchas brewed from fruit, tea and herbs. “By the time the red wine rolls around, guests are on their way to being friends,” the chefs admit. It is true, mid-way through the 16-course extravaganza, you are now engaged in banter with guests from across the world, all here creating these gastronomic memories together. Once the dust settles, it’s time to leave and you do so a tad bit shaken as you walk out from the tiny timber cabin into bustling Sumac.
In a difficult year, more so for fine dining establishments, Dill has managed to keep expectations high and delivered on them. Chef Gunnar Karl’s new menu may not have the gay abandon of his pre-Agern days, but it is a tasting experience that is brimming with surprises. The courses are well paced, with a focus on vegetables and sustainable seafood. The meat, when it does make an appearance, is portioned to truly enjoy every bite versus the palate fatigue of a full steak. The wine pairing has never been better and we’d even venture to say the kitchen should rise to this challenge and bring back the drama of yore.
Matur og Drykkur’s struggles—caused by the absence of a chef willing to take it by the horns—have often been evident on its plates. Finally those ghosts have been laid to rest, and new chef Helga has switched the restaurant entirely to a tasting menu format. Classic—sometimes forgotten—Icelandic recipes are presented through a modern lens, including childhood favourites like blood sausage. Rice pudding is reinterpreted as a creamy ice cream, and cocktails embody the same spirit of renaissance. This is a makeover of a once-loved favourite which we look forward to experiencing more of.
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