Never heard of it? I hadn’t either. Although it’s been around over ten years, attached to the Foss Hotel on Rauðarárstígur, the place hasn’t generated enough chatter for it to appear on people’s dinner radars.
That’s quite understandable. Several slick eateries have opened in the last few years that have dramatically raised the standard of a good meal out in Reykjavík. The older establishments have had to catch up or lose out. Carpe Diem still has some catching up to do.
It’s fighting an uphill battle just from its location. Sure, it’s actually only a 10-minute walk from downtown, but that can seem like 10 minutes too many for the lazy youth of today (myself included) and not quite sophisticated enough for the suburbanites who have made the big decision to journey into “downtown” for a big night out. To go to the wastelands east of Barónsstígur, it better be good.
So what is good about Carpe Diem? Well, the service is fast, helpful and friendly. With the glaring exception of a bad “Lady in Red” cover, the music was perfect and the ivory linens and beige chairs made the restaurant bright. It’s even non-smoking.
On the culinary side, the menu was in typical “Fire and Ice” style, i.e. Well suited for tourists to Iceland and of good value in that they didn’t offer a dressed-up plokkfiskur for ISK 3000. In addition to the requisite lamb and fish dishes, they did have a good selection of slightly more “exotic” Icelandic offerings, including smoked puffin and guillemot (which my companion assured me was delicious).
The news is even better for vegetarians. This is the first upscale restaurant I can remember eating at in Reykjavík that actually had multiple vegetarian options, from spinach cannelloni to cous cous and stuffed zucchini (ISK 1750 – 2100). They also use barley very creatively here, and you can’t say that about many places.
But while the meal and the evening were perfectly acceptable, I can’t say that Carpe Diem is at the same level as some of the newer Reykjavík establishments in the same price range, particularly in the area of food presentation. If you eat here, you will no doubt enjoy your evening. If you are vegetarian or want more hard-to-find meats/birds, I would recommend it. For those who save up to eat in a nice restaurant on a rare occasion, you could probably do better.