Published June 23, 2018
We cruise over the mountain pass into Seyðisfjörður—population 700—on a warm Sunday in May. The town in abuzz with activity—a Japanese artist is performing in the street, there’s an exhibition opening at Heima. Later, we hear, two jazz musicians will interpret Bach in the town church.
But we move on quickly, because today we’re not here for the culture. We’re here to dine at Norð Austur, the summer season sushi restaurant that has Icelandic foodies aflutter. The word is that Norð Austur makes the best sushi in Iceland, combining expertise, authenticity and experimentation using fresh fish pulled straight from the eastern fjords.
Show stopping starters
The restaurant is on the town’s main street. The dining rooms are atmospheric, with olive green walls, framed paper cranes, organic jellyfish-style lampshades, and grey curtains framing the ocean view. Behind the bar, the chefs are preparing and plating orders. The restaurant is busy—word has clearly gotten around that Norð Austur is open again.
The menu consists of a la carte dishes and several tasting menus, from a “Chef’s Choice” (4,500 ISK) to an eight-course “Omakase” menu (7,500 ISK). We opt for the house tasting menu (5,900 ISK), which includes several starters, served as sharing plates.
It’s immediately obvious that this is a no-holds-barred tasting menu. Five immaculately presented dishes roll out of the kitchen in quick succession: first, a remixed version of Icelandic fiskibollur, followed by a vivid cod ceviche with the acidic flavour balanced by sprigs of mint and dill. The salmon tartare is brought to life by tangy sundried tomatoes, and the haddock is served in a subtle sesame broth, peppered with purple chive blossoms.
Finally comes the salmon belly, with generous slices of scored pink salmon lain sizzling over a pile of hot rocks. It’s good enough to silence the table, and we make sure that not a heavenly crumb remains.
A bigger boat
After these memorable opening courses, the founding chef Jonathan comes over to say ‘hi.’ He’s been travelling and cooking outside of Iceland, but he’s excited to be back, and is pleased by our gleeful reaction to the salmon. “We get the fish from Reyðarfjörður, sometimes within four hours,” he says. “Then the local trawler brings us bleikja, and all kinds of things. We were recently given an 80 kilo porbeagle shark that got trapped in the net. I didn’t know what to do with it, but Hideo [another chef] is making all these great dishes.”
The shark, when it comes, is excellent: a bowl of tender, meaty nuggets with a light soy dressing and fresh radish and wakame garnish, a million miles from the familiar fermented hákarl. The soy-glazed Arctic char is smokey and cooked to perfection, with saffron and seaweed flavours; the vegan tempura is light, crisp, and piping hot. Each dish feels carefully crafted—it’s ambitious locally-sourced sushi taken to a fine-dining level.
The fresh and understated desserts of rhubarb sorbet and coconut chia pudding are a perfect end to a wonderful meal. We couldn’t recommend Norð Austur more—catch it while you can, or you’ll have to wait until next summer for another chance.