Published March 15, 2018
It’s been said that receiving a Michelin star can be a blessing and a curse. It puts a restaurant on the map, arousing curiosity and boosting bookings through the roof; it also puts a target on your back, with raised expectations on style, service, and ambition.
In 2017, Dill was the first Icelandic restaurant to be awarded a star. The guide praised the restaurant’s take on New Nordic cuisine—for the unacquainted, that’s dishes using just a few seasonal ingredients, and possibly referencing elements of local culinary history, in refined, creative combinations.
Dill also got a new head chef recently, in the tall shape of Hólmavík-born Kári Þorsteinsson, who stepped up to the main job when Ragnar Eiriksson headed to Holt to start a new venture. So it was with great interest that I took a seat in Dill’s intimate and unpretentious dining room, with its open kitchen, neat tables with carefully folded napkins, and a playlist of ‘80s pop and power ballads in the background.
Rye & rose
The service was slick and speedy, and the seven-course tasting menu and wine pairings flowed seamlessly with an informative preamble each time. First came a glass of dry, zesty champagne, and two rounds of appetisers. A trilogy of subtle fish, malt and rye combinations was followed by four dehydrated root vegetable morsels, including mild and mildly intriguing flavour combinations like radish and rose.
The tasting menu proper shifted up through the gears quickly. Four diminutive mussels came tucked shyly under translucent discs of celeriac, their metallic, briny tang freshened by the chopped cucumber base. A dish comprising of sunchokes done in three ways took a moment to figure out: the creamy skyr purée contained sharp, fermented slices, topped with savoury crisps. Paired with a hibiscus-infused Vermont beer, it was an ingenious and satisfying winter dish, and the first bullseye of the night.
Cod & curveballs
It wouldn’t be the last. The dung-smoked trout came as a surprise, with the pungent, profoundly smoky fish reduced to powdery crumbs, dusted over a bowl of sweet, piping hot glazed carrots, almost like a garnish.
The cod looked initially like a piece of sashimi lain over a bed of rice-noodle-thin cabbage strands, but it turned out to be warm and flaky. Kári came over to satisfy my curiosity about its preparation, revealing that the perfectly salted fillet had been lightly poached in an onion broth. Set off by a bright, sappy chive oil, it was the kind of fully engaging dish that sends you into a silent trance until the last speck is gone.
Dark days & spring scent
The tender beef brisket with parsnips was pleasant, coming paired with a robust, tannic Aglianico, but the next knockout would be the “milk and cookies,” or milk ice cream, curds, and crushed biscuits with a zingy zap of wheatgrass oil as fresh as a lungful of spring air. The final twist came as a dish of unusual creamed swede (rutabaga, in the U.S.) with a sprinkling of crunchy toasted yeast, and a fresh rosé champagne.
Dill’s menu offered surprises and challenges, like the Icelandic winter itself. The menu leaned on preserved and fermented ingredients, creatively used root vegetables, and elements of elevated comfort food, with creative and impressive wine pairings. You could almost envision it as quoting this lean season—sometimes glorious, sometimes uneven, but always with a hint of the spring to follow.
Diners under the impression that every bite will hit a home run are perhaps blinded by the star, but those willing to embark on this curious culinary journey with an open mind and a sense of adventure will have a memorable meal to ponder and talk about until the snow finally thaws.