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.
Norðurgata 2, Seyðisfjörður
When a seasonal sushi-only restaurant consistently dishes out roll after sushi roll with an eye for meticulous detail—the just right balance of vinegar in the rice cooked to delicate perfection held together by lightness and hope it banishes the ghosts of pre-made cold rolls of claggy, overcooked rice often peddled as sushi. Eating at Norð Austur is a sublime experience of just how good sushi can be. Using local fish, this East Iceland gem is worth the travel. This is sushi that will please the ultraconservative and turn pylsu-sushi lovers to appreciate the culinary beauty of shima saba, salmon belly cooked on hot rocks, and the joys of raw fresh shrimp, scallops and uni, sweet as fruit. Norð Austur rightly deserves the accolades and is the only sushi restaurant from Iceland to be recognised by the White Guide.
Hafnarstræti 1, 400 Ísafjörður
This restaurant’s claim to deserved fame is their signature fish-in-a-pan buffet offering that is more than a buffet and, as you learn once you taste the food, it is more than just fish in a pan. Quiveringly fresh seafood is cooked to perfection, often in copious amounts of butter in a variety of ways. There’s the classic lightly salted cod in a creamy mushroom sauce and grapes (yes, it works!), plaice with caramelised onions, lemons and capers, a peppery plokkfiskur that puts the rest to shame and the legendary ‘fried gellur’—if there is only one dish you try here, make it these cod throats: they arrive blisteringly hot, and disappear almost instantaneously, such is their popularity. They also do a lunch service sans the theatre, and gellur. Covid has also meant that there is a tureen of fish soup on each table, a measure we hope they retain.
Best Goddamn Restaurant
Strandvegur 76, Vestmannaeyjar
If your plan to drive around Iceland does not include a meal at Slippurinn in Vestmannaeyjar, why bother visiting Iceland at all, our panel quipped. They’re not exaggerating. The experience of dining at this summer-only family restaurant, helmed by celebrated chef Gisli Matthias, starts even before you enter the dining room. The ferry to the volcanic archipelago sets the tone for everything to follow—briny sea air, cawing seagulls overhead that rise to a frenzy as you get closer to the main island, the mountainous shards of rocky outcrops heralding the beginning of your gastronomic adventure; it is all very dramatic and fittingly so. New Nordic may be what most associate with Icelandic cuisine, but Gísli ushered in the ‘Slow Food’ ethos centered around local, hero ingredients and produce that weren’t just new to the travelling diner but to Icelanders as well. The langoustine soup screams shellfish richness, the cod wings are, by now, iconic, the foraged beach herb salad, seasonal guillemot eggs, cocktails and drinks that celebrate stolen backyard rhubarb, wild chervil, beach mustard, oyster leaves recreate the island of Vestmannaeyjar on your plate and leave an indelible memory. The White Guide recognises this, but so do those who’ve dined here. So what are you waiting for?
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