There are some privileges in writing about food. One of them is getting assignments that you cannot wait to complete, or at least taste the food in question. One such job was visiting Skál! at Hlemmur Mathöll. A standout place for foodies in Reykjavík, I’ll fully admit to being an existing fan. I was pretty sure I was in for a treat.
Fanney Dóra, the head chef at Skál!, along with her ambitious crew, are plating up some of the most interesting dishes ever seen in Iceland. They are simple, but complex; they offer the freshest tastes, with deep, subtle notes. They have a policy of using the best mostly-local ingredients available, while at the same time pursuing a non-waste policy which is brilliantly executed. Now, to the food.
The standouts are certainly the dishes defined as either “smaller” or “larger”. Now, remember, this is a restaurant within a food hall, but with fine dining qualities. Within the “smaller” category is the best dish in Reykjavík at this moment: smoked carrots with seaweed, soy and angelica. People go to Hlemmur Mathöll for the sole purpose of ordering this dish.
The carrots are delicately peeled and cooked in seaweed salt to give them the perfect texture and a note of smokiness. Served on a grilled sourdough bread with fermented garlic mayo and soy, this comes highly recommended. Priced at 1,350 ISK, it’s a steal.
Other noteworthy smaller courses include gratinated goats cheese with delightful and salty fennel crackers and rhubarb jam (1,450 ISK). The broccolini with sourdough crumbs is a delight, coming perfectly cooked and seasoned. The crumbs give the dish a texture to be enjoyed and remembered.
The larger courses are somehow “homely,” for the lack of a better word. But they’re also original and almost exotic. The sunchokes and almond steak with a celeriac julienne salad and fresh oranges (2,000 ISK) is hearty and delicious. The baked arctic char with mashed potatoes and caper butter (2,200 ISK) is a local staple recreated in a very original manner. It’s something for visitors to Iceland to enjoy; like a home-cooked meal with fine dining flourishes. My carnivorous friends rave about the braised pork cheeks with fermented chilli and crackling (2,000 ISK). As always, simple, but deeply ambitious and flavoursome.
A review of Skál! wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the terrific, attentive service from the young staff, and, of course, Mæja, the sommelier of natural wines who does wine pairings with outstanding results. No fuss—just enjoy.
My companion and I finished our visit on a cold evening in May with a taste of some summer cocktails, whereby the no-waste policy comes into play. Once-fresh herbs and berries are frozen and ground, or made into syrups. The coriander gimlet with touches of fresh angelica will be a summer hit for sure.
In conclusion: Hlemmur Mathöll is a revolution. It’s one of the greatest success stories in the Icelandic food scene, ever. One of the biggest reasons for that is Fanney Dóra and her team at Skál! This food is as good as it gets, and the prices are almost unfairly reasonable. This is a steal. This is a treat. Bon appétit, mahlzeit, gjörið þið svo vel, and amen.
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