A new seafood palace called Skelfiskmarkaðurinn (“Shellfish Market”) opened its doors in late August. With three handsomely appointed dining rooms seating 150 people amongst marble floors, marine blue and gold fittings, HAF Studio-designed furniture, and a wall of illuminated wine bottles, the decor makes a big impression—and that’s before mentioning the food. Skelfiskmarkaðurinn is the first Reykjavík restaurant to put fresh shellfish at the heart of its menu, serving immaculately presented ‘fruits de mer’ platters and—remarkably—the first ever Icelandic oysters.
The face of the new operation is the restaurant’s co-owner Hrefna Rósa Sætran, who can be seen buzzing busily around the kitchen in a crisp white apron. “It’s been crazy,” she says, of the opening week. “We’ve been full since the opening party. It’s an easy going place with quick service, so we have people popping in for an hour or for a cocktail rather than three hour meals. You can come in for a croissant from 11am, then we serve lunch, then high tea from 3 o’clock… we also have a concert menu from 5 o’clock where you can eat, go to the concert, and then come back for dessert.”
Hrefna is also a co-owner of sister restaurants Grillmarkaðurinn (“Grill Market”) and Fiskmarkaðurinn (“Fish Market”). “We’ve been developing this new restaurant for four years now,” she says. “We were sitting in Grill Market thinking about a new restaurant and what ingredients we might use. Maybe some nice beef… but that takes a long time. So we thought instead about seafood. We saw an article about these guys in Húsavík who were working with oysters, and we called them up. They said no in the beginning, but eventually they said yes…. so oysters it was.”
The oysters (six, or a full dozen) are served on ice with optional shallot vinegar, lemon and Tabasco. They’re small—miniature, almost—but they have a meaty, oily texture and a strikingly clean, delicate flavour.
Oysters are notoriously hard to breed—especially in the frigid sub-Arctic waters around Iceland—and previous attempts ended in failure. “These are the first ever Icelandic oysters,” says Hrefna. “Two others have tried to grow them, but it didn’t work. In Húsavík, it works because of the Gulf Stream—the warm, clean water circulates around. So it’s perfect conditions. The guys doing it don’t even like oysters—they were doing it just because it makes sense.”
Made for beginners
The restaurant has a decadent and extensive menu that includes steak tartare, silken cuts of horse steak, escargot, langoustine, trout, and a range of delectable sides—but it’s the arrival of Icelandic oysters that has proven to be the star of the show so far.
“People have been asking me: ‘Why oysters?’” says Hrefna. “I said: ‘because people love them, and they’re popular all around the world!’ Icelandic people were kind of surprised. We’ve had a lot of Icelanders tasting oysters for the first time, and the response has been amazing. And our oysters are kind of small—it’s like they were made for beginners.”