Across Iceland, there are dozens of legendary establishments that justify lengthy pilgrimages through the most imposing of driving conditions. The first that comes to mind is the storied Við Fjöruborðið, the lobster restaurant in Stokkseyri that has made a lobster and Brennivín addict out of Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters. Við Fjöruborðið is adored because people throughout southern Iceland know exactly what to expect from the chefs there: good, fresh lobster, prepared in the traditional style. The added bonus is the complete lack of pretension that comes with dining in a working, thriving small town.
In this same league is the Ísafjörður restaurant Tjöruhúsið. Located in the Ísafjörður Maritime Museum, the restaurant does its first job right: it serves traditional local food simply and well. In this case, though, you don’t get lobster, but Iceland’s real staples: haddock and cod, presented best in plokkfiskur, the mashed dish that should be the pride of the Icelandic cooking tradition.
If you want to really enjoy fish, and forget about the fact that you’re eating something healthy and that people tell you to eat, then you have to hit up Tjöruhúsið… oh wait, this recommendation doesn’t work for a place located in the most remote major town in Iceland. Fine. But it’s worth scheduling your visit to northern Iceland around this establishment, just as a visit to Reykjavík should make room for a 45-minute drive to Stokkseyri.
Bezt í Heimi is a recommendation we only give to places that are the best of their type in the friggin world. Honestly, it takes more than just well-prepared fish to earn such a label. The great Ísafjörður summer restaurant has the little extra that the Grapevine staff has to reward: it has a likeable staff, a lack of pretension and an excellent relationship with its community.
Take our visits to Tjöruhúsið in the last week, when we were touring the country. When we first stopped in for plokkfiskur, we walked in on a gang of marauding pop punk rockers hanging from the rafters. The band was called Lack of Talent, and the chef, waitress, and quite a few older clientele were enjoying the show over fish and chilled white wine.
To see such an occasion is to assume that Tjöruhúsið is some kind of product of a gourmet hippie commune. But to see it the next night, for a local saltfish celebration, when we were the only visitors without ties, was to realise the flexibility of the staff, and the genuine cool of the restaurant.
In all, in two days in Ísafjörður, the Grapevine consumed three meals at Tjöruhúsið. After two days of constant fish consumption, a healthy pallor started to come through on our skin, and the omega oils began to make us feel, not giddy, but not so hateful. We came to a shocking realisation that if we had this place in Reykjavík, we would move in.