Published December 8, 2017
As Christmas approaches, it seems like every restaurant in Reykjavík is posting appetising Instagram pictures of their special seasonal menus. The most common approach is to compile updated versions of reassuring Icelandic Christmas food staples like smoked lamb, pickled herring, cabbage, rye bread and oranges. With so many menus on offer, we went to try some of the most promising options. Several belt-notches wider, and ready for an armchair snooze, here’s what we discovered. (Prices are per person.)
Hverfisgata 22 (7,530 ISK)
Mat Bar has become a firm favourite with locals for their delectable sharing plates and stellar cocktails. Their Christmas menu ups the stakes, serving up no less than 11 courses for a decadent, filling feast. You’ll get the Mat Bar classics—locally produced mozzarella, kale with preserved lemons, and glazed beets—alongside melt-in-the-mouth chilli langoustine, raw lamb heart hangikjót with sunchokes, and porterhouse steak with pimento sauce and parmesan. Pro-tip: leave room for the finale—a mulled prosecco and orange cocktail, and a sumptuous dark chocolate and clementine dessert.
Hverfisgata 12 (5,980 ISK)
H12’s mysterious Christmas menu offers just “Some starters, mains, pizza and dessert, for the whole table only.” Fear not: you’re in safe hands. The opener is a heap of thinly sliced, intensely dung-smoked lamb that’s tender and moreish. Next is the classic pickled herring on rye bread, freshened with avocado slices. There are three Christmas pizza mains, topped respectively with dried hangikjót and grapes, a full Christmas dinner of ham, peas and cabbage, and the standout, topped with juicy pulled duck. A pine creme brûlée finishes things off very nicely. Try the mulled wine, too—it’s on point.
Hlemmur Mathöll, Laugavegur 107 (1,000-2,500 ISK per course)
Located in Hlemmur Mathöll, Skál! offers gourmet tapas-style tasting courses. Modelled after the slow-cooked and locally-sourced philosophy of Slippurinn in Vestmannaeyjar, Skál!’s Christmas menu is light and fresh, whilst still packing a festive punch. Smoky hangikjót is made anew, served as prosciutto-thin crisps; pickled herring is served in sweet, citrusy clementine juice; and the slow-cooked pork with applesauce is revelatory. A glass of mulled prosecco comes with gingerbread crumbs around the rim. It’s an absolute treat from start to finish. Skál!
Marshall House Bar + Restaurant
Grandagarður 20 (8,500 ISK)
At Marshall House, Chef Leifur Kolbeinsson has been quietly whipping up unexpected but stunning surprises and their Christmas menu thrives in the same spirit. Leifur eschews the usual herring-hangikjöt-roast meat trifecta for a refreshing prance around the Mediterranean, welcoming vegetarians along for the ride. For meat-eaters, grilled whole quail is served with roasted grapes, chorizo and red wine jus, with the little bird cooked to perfection. Additional options include a house-made cannelloni, bursting at the seams with ricotta, and a baked squash with scrumptious pesto. For a break from all that hangikjöt, you can’t do better than Marshall’s.
Lækjargata 4 (3,690-6,990 ISK)
Trust Jomfruin to pull out all stops to fully capture that “hygge” feeling. One can choose from the Christmas herring platter or the Christmas platter. After the fifth variant of pickled herring, we stopped counting, and continued to devour chunks of fish in sharp mustard, classic curry, and—a pleasant surprise—tomato a la Bloody Mary. The gin and juniper marinated graflax was inspired, but the star of the show was the slow-cooked roast pork; the “oh-my-God-this-is-so-good” crackling comes with a classic dark sauce that doesn’t lean on sweetening for flavour. Simple, but memorable.
Þórsgata 1 (7,500 ISK, 8,900 ISK)
Reykjavik’s most beloved bistro is offering the most luxurious and decadent Christmas menu in town, hands down. Food arrives on thoughtfully presented platters—and they never stop coming. There are devilled eggs, jostling for space with a lip-smacking port-marinated herring, and possibly the best smoked salmon ever. The waiters are only too happy to offer shots of aquavit, and one must always oblige. But slow down for the lightly smoked beef tongue—it’s velvety smooth yet arresting in its sharpness. The duck thighs and roast pork segue to the ris a l’amande, and the tart cherry sauce and roasted almonds offer a pleasant contrast. To tie it up with a pretty bow, there are petit fours (and more schnapps). One waddles out with a satisfied glow.
Ægisíða 123 (5,490 ISK)
The cosy, family-run Borðið offers Christmas menus for both vegans and carnivores. After a delightful snack of potato bread buns and mustard crackers, the carnivorous menu includes hay-smoked salmon with an egg royale, reindeer tartare on rye bread with smoked egg cream, and duck breast on a bed of fried potatoes with wild thyme. The vegan menu is every bit as festive, featuring honey-baked squash, cardamom-spiced spinach, and salt-baked beet with fried rye-bread crumble and sprouts. Borðið offers an accomplished Christmas menu in an atmosphere to be desired, like a dinner party without your worst relatives.
Laugavegur 28 (8,200 ISK)
North African spices may seem far from your typical Coca Cola Christmas but, come to think of it, they are the Christmas flavours: cinnamon, cloves, aniseed and citrus. Sumac’s seven-course Christmas menu is for carnivores, but the kitchen will make it work for a vegan upon request. Dishes include bread and hummus, coriander char with yoghurt, and baked squash with orange, chili and feta. A chicken liver mousse with “Berbere” flavours is an interesting touch before the main dish of grilled pork belly and dates.
Skúlagata 28 (2,490 ISK)
For a laid back pub atmosphere and unparalleled bang for your buck, Kex is the place to go. A five course Christmas menu is served until 3pm. Unsuitable for vegans, the menu is very acceptable for pescatarians and of course, carnivores. Starters include wild mushroom soup, cured salmon, deviled eggs with spicy mayo and optional pancetta and pickled herring with rye bread and butter. The mains are a choice of delicate yet flaky poached cod or pork loin with apples and prunes. The dessert of ris a l’amande was ridiculously good—not only in this price range, but anywhere.
Ut Í Bláinn
Perlan (Lunch: 4,500-4,900 ISK, Dinner: 7,900-8,500 ISK)
Út I Bláinn offers both the best view in Reykjavík and an upscale culinary adventure for vegans, pescatarians and carnivores alike. Starters include salmon, beetroot with “popped” barley, pickled herring and—the star of the show—a goose liver torchon with red currants and butter-fried brioche. The potato terrine with stout-pickled onions is sublime. The mains include poached cod and a spectacular beurre blanc, slow cooked celeriac with lemon cream, kale and peas, and pork shoulder with crackling, cabbage and wild mushroom sauce. Sherry and coffee-tinged desserts were also a hit. Presentation, service, view and festive atmosphere… this is a grand-slam.