From Iceland — Christmas Is Coming & We Are Getting Fat: A Festive Guide To Reykjavík Restaurants

Christmas Is Coming & We Are Getting Fat: A Festive Guide To Reykjavík Restaurants

Published December 5, 2018

Christmas Is Coming & We Are Getting Fat: A Festive Guide To Reykjavík Restaurants
Ragnar Egilsson
Photo by
Timothée Lambrecq & Art Bicnick

After last year’s tour of easy-going downtown havens like Mat Bar, Snaps and Skál, we decided to broaden the net a little for this year’s Christmas menu review to include some upscale, emerging and tucked-away eateries. Whether you’re planning a hot date or a work do, here’s what we found out.

Aðalstræti 2 (10,990 ISK)
It isn’t just their stellar happy hour that draws the crowds to Matarkjallarinn. The Christmas Secret Menu, with a smattering of dishes both festive and global, is a welcome addition to the clutch of local holiday menus. Wild game is the star of the show—the ptarmigan with cherries and mustard is deliciously seductive; the goose with a Singapore Sling sorbet is a delightful play of texture and temperature. A textbook lamb loin and ham with homemade gravy comes with a hefty hunk of portobello, all drowned with an excellent Rioja. The service is efficient, and live piano music makes it ideal for a date or group outing. Pro tips—wear elasticated pants and skip breakfast. SB

Vesturgata 2a, Grofartorg (Lunch, 5.500 ISK, Dinner, 10.900 ISK)
Fiskfélagið delivers a flawless festive feast. Aptly named a ‘Sleighride around the world,’ this six-course feast kicks off with Icelandic haddock served in teeny timber askurs. Ras el hanout-rubbed cod prances alongside kala chana and pickled rose hips. From Africa, we move swiftly to Japan for miso cod, sweet onion dashi and an eclectic collection of pickles. But it isn’t over yet. Beef tenderloin and peppery beef tongue nestle between charred beets and kale ends the feast with a crescendo. Each dish is carefully considered, the wine pairings are delightful and the service enthusiastic; the bay leaf cornetto and minty mojito are a perfect curtain call for a memorable meal. SB

Haust Restaurant
Fosshótel, Þórunnartún 1 (Sat & Sun brunch: 4,950 ISK; weekday lunch: 3,950 ISK; Dinner Sun-Thurs 7,900 ISK, Thurs-Sat 9,900 ISK)
Homesick Americans need look no further than Haust’s scaled-up, Eurified “Big American Christmas Buffet.” You’ll find pickled cabbage, braised broccolini, buttery lox paté with shredded salmon, brussel sprouts, glazed pecans, sausage and carrot stuffing, potato gratin (or ‘Irish mac & cheese,’ as I like to call it), whole roasted turkey, beef wellington, a make-your-own-donut station (buffet hack: glaze ‘em in the chocolate fountain), mini pecan pies with whipped cream, passion fruit mousse, snow-dusted yule log, and a paaartridge in a pear tree! [gasps for air]. Our server, Amadeus, reached American levels of attentiveness. Add in winter foliage decorations and a two-storey yule hut for kids, and you got yourself the cosiest Christmas atmosphere in town. RE

Radisson Blu Saga Hotel, Hagatorg (15,900 ISK; wine pairings, 12,900 ISK)
Grillið has held the position of best restaurant in Iceland at various periods since its opening in 1962, currently reigning for four years at least—if you disagree, it’s because you haven’t eaten there. Their holiday menu is no exception. Let me paint a picture: you’re in a limited seating suite at the top of the hotel with a 300° view of the city, being regaled with the story behind the wine you’re drinking, taking part in a fully thought-out culinary narrative that assails the senses without collapsing into fussiness or preciousness. Old school glamour meets an innovative, produce-forward, seasonal kitchen—like Mad Men without the institutional misogyny or shrimp cocktails. An engaging experience, the three hours will slip by so effortlessly that you’ll barely remember to Instagram every moment of your existence. RE

Lækjargata 2a (Lunch 6,490 ISK, Dinner 11,400 ISK)
Doing fancy like no one else, Grillmarket’s Christmas menu is a merry blend of their menu superhits, like the salted cod with apples, interspersed with holiday staples like laufabrauð with lamb tartare. The lightly grilled minke whale with Icelandic wasabi is a downright treat and the langoustine tempura alone was a deciding factor in choosing their dinner rather than the Christmas lunch. We suggest you pair it with their off-menu spice-infused citrus mocktail—light and airy, they’re so good we might go back just for another. Efficiently paced and portioned, this is ideal for groups large and small. SB

Harpa (9,900 ISK)
While most establishments seem to have foregone the buffet format for sit-down Christmas courses, Kolabrautin keeps the hlaðborð in the jólahlaðborð. The buffet presents an array of cold and warm courses that run the gamut from pickled herring to a delightful lamb neck terrine, salmon ceviche, and some American-leaning dishes like turkey with stuffing. There’s roast goose, slow-cooked pork belly with crackling, and the dessert buffet is likely the prettiest in town—we recommend the creamy eggnog crème brûlée. Coming in at under 10,000 ISK, it’s served with priceless views of Reykjavík harbour. SB

Public House
Laugavegur 24 (7,990 ISK)
I took my sister for this one, and neither one of us have ever eaten so much in our lives (it turned that the kitchen had accidentally doubled some courses). The menu items are definitely a little off-piste by the usual holiday standards but it kicks off with a traditional Glühwein (“glögg”—the best I’ve tried in Reykjavík). Stand-outs include the stuffed quail dressed up as a bite-sized turkey, a delicious mushroom and ptarmigan soup, and sticky duck wings with marinated orange slices and red cabbage—like less spicy Korean chicken. For fans of fowl and freaky flavours, the warm welcome will leave you in good holiday cheer into the new year. RE

Klapparstígur 30 (Sun–Tue 6,990 ISK, Wed–Sat 8,990 ISK, Lunch 5.990 ISK)
If you’re craving a French-brasserie-style feast, Skelfiskmarkaðurinn is the way to go. Their Christmas menu is a decadent yet fresh gastronomic adventure that leaves your senses and belly satisfied. The appetisers included prawns, mussels and snow crab with cherry vinaigrette, foie gras with fresh red currants, tasty smoked salmon tartare and brioche bread toasted and buttered to perfection. The main was a hefty chunk of beef wellington and vegetables with a red wine glaze. To finish it off, a delicious baked cheesecake with berries and caramel. Be sure to check out the mulled wine and Christmas cocktails. AJF

Laugavegur 59 (13,900 ISK; wine pairings: 12,900 ISK)
A subtly seasonal fine dining experience available as four, six or eight courses with optional (and excellent) wine pairings, Nostra’s Christmas tasting menu is festive, but without delivering that unwelcome all-you-can-eat gut-punch. Winter vegetables are used creatively in a succession of fresh but fulfilling dishes, such as the elevated comfort-food of the Vichy-sauce foam with dehydrated mushrooms, the various iterations of leek served with lighter-than-air poached cod, and the celeriac crisps accompanying the delectable, perfectly medium-rare reindeer thigh. The poached apple was served with salted caramel and toasted cardamom, and the chocolate mousse with nitrogen-frozen cherry granita. The atmosphere was intimate—better for pairs than groups—and the pairings and service flawless. A decadent treat. JR

Skolavörðustígur 40 (Fri & Sat 10,990, 8,990 Sun-Thurs)
With a relaxed steak-house vibe, Kol’s four-course menu kicks off with a delicious ptarmigan soup, poured at the table over croutons, truffle cream and blueberry jam. Next comes the impressively presented Christmas platter, containing bites like hangikjot vol-au-vents, smoked salmon, juicy tiger prawns, and plenty of trimmings. The choice of mains is charred salmon—served a touch on the rare side—and the preferable reindeer fillet option, with rich red wine gravy and a slice of perfect pork belly. The dessert wins points for presentation, squeezing gingerbread, chocolate, mint and caramel flavours under a gold-dusted dome. The wine pairings are serviceable; the cocktails top-notch. A parent-friendly option. JR

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!