From Iceland — Food & Fun 2019: A Fine-Dining Masterclass That Took Over Reykjavík

Food & Fun 2019: A Fine-Dining Masterclass That Took Over Reykjavík

Published March 8, 2019

Food & Fun 2019: A Fine-Dining Masterclass That Took Over Reykjavík
Photo by
Art Bicnick
John Rogers
Antonía Lárusdóttir

The annual Food & Fun festival is always a special week for Reykjavík’s foodies, and this year was a particularly fine vintage. With 21 acclaimed international guest chefs taking over the kitchens of 19 restaurants for five nights only, festivalgoers hastily researched where they’d treat themselves to a special tasting menu (all priced at 8,990 ISK per person). A panel appointed by the festival was also at large, sampling the cuisine presented by each restaurant. The final four went head-to-head in a cook-off for the best menu award, which was eventually won by the fine Italian cuisine of Nicola Fanetti at Essensia. This year, there was also a new “off-menu” programme for gourmet snacks, including much talked-about Korean street food at KORE. With only so many meals in a day, our reviewers didn’t make it to every restaurant, but here’s what the deeply satisfied and slightly misty-eyed crew made of this memorable weekend of feasting and fun times.

Guest chef: Nicola Fanetti (IT)
Nicola Fanetti applied luscious and decadent Italian style cooking to Icelandic ingredients. After a melt-in-the-mouth char carpaccio with pistachio sauce came a conversation-stopping handmade cod ravioli. Each bundle came with a thick wafer of truffle, and a whorl of pecorino cream speckled with seaside-scented dulse. We lingered over each heavenly parcel, not wanting it to end. At Food & Fun, the battle for “best lamb” is as fierce as the battle for Westeros; Nicola’s iteration was studded with dried blueberries, marrying well with the meat. The bitter Szechuan pepper caramel dessert was the only misstep. A high level display, and a worthy winner. JR

Geiri Smart
Guest chef: Sasu Laukonnen (FI)
A zero-waste cook, Chef Sasu’s opening volley was smoked char and red pepper on a potato crisp, rutabaga skewered on a twig, and a tomato with jolts of wasabi and strawberry juice. He came into his own, however, with the cod courses. From sashimi-style fillet with cod-head broth to crispy fish skin with bone/roe sauce and an oily medallion of cheek, it was an intimate and holistic experience of Iceland’s premiere catch. My companion—not a fish lover—was re-engaged by the lamb entrée, dubbing it “the lambshank redemption.” Cooked to perfection, the succulent meat flaked beautifully into the coffee gravy. An engaging journey. JR

Guest chef: David Varley (US)
US chef David Varley squared up to his Icelandic ingredients with “pounded” cod, “smothered” cabbage and “crushed” rutabaga. Less manhandled was his delectable first entrée: a single scallop with each slice dressed with a razor-thin tissue of tangy rhubarb and a precise comma of wasabi. An improbable combination, but an emphatic hit. The slow-cooked, algae-coated char was gorgeous, like silk on the tongue; the bitter leaf garnish, however, contained twiggy stems that I had to extricate from my mouth. The plate principal was a gamey, smoky lamb, but the promised liquorice flavour was AWOL; the berry tart was plain. Gutters and strikes. JR

Guest chef: Kobe Desramaults (BE)
Chef Kobe—the youngest Belgian ever to receive a Michelin Star—has a reputation for refined, creative cuisine, and we got the best seats in the house at Kopar to enjoy it. Our bright and fresh-faced waitress Malin presented the absorbing five-course journey, from lobster in miso cream and wasabi to a stunning snow crab dish with Geuze beer and bergamot, and a vividly hay-smoked leek broth cradling delicious splayed scallops. The rack of hogget was gamey and immaculate, and the sunchoke ice cream in dark beer, malt and chocolate eye-opening. The vegetarian menu was every bit as well-conceived. A masterclass. JR

Guest Chef: Deuki Hong
Deuki Hong brought Korean-American street food to Grandi Mathöll. The chicken bites were juicy, tender, and—in keeping with Deuki’s style—Southern, rather than Korean. Next came kimchi fried rice with crispy chicken skin, which, along with a sweet and spicy tteokbokki fried rice cake, was reminiscent enough of Seoul street food to satisfy any Korean cuisine lover. The fried chicken sandwich with kimchi mayo was the star of the menu—spicy and satisfying, in a perfectly soft but sturdy-to-hold bao bun with a cheese and corn melt and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos smuggled in from the US. “A perfect hangover cure,” says the chef. AU

Grand Hotel
Guest Chef: Michael Ginor (US)
Chef Ginor’s menu slid in Icelandic ingredients covertly. The delectable oily broth surrounding the arctic char contained Brennivín; the wasabi was made locally. While his courses referenced Icelandic traditions—an octopus pylsur; traditional sweet bread—the nods were subtle. The butter-soft char fought valiantly, but it was a starter of scallops in a sea of miso and foie gras snow that became the conversation piece of the night. The perfect blend of sweet, sour, salty, and umami, it cemented miso and foie gras as a duo made in heaven—we mopped up every drop of the sauce with bread. A truly memorable meal. HJC

Mathús Garðabær
Guest chef: Richard Falk (UK)
We received a hurried but warm welcome at this low-lit suburban eatery. Delivering a five-course menu to several seatings a night seemed to be taking its toll on an evening with a noticeable sense of something gone awry. I didn’t discover the smear of miso under my salad starter until it was half-eaten; the celeriac dish featured dates and garlic jostling discordantly. Things picked up with a juicy roast cod, and the lamb with seaweed and chopped mussels was almost enough to recover the mood—alas, my vegetarian companion’s main of “consolation pasta” deflated it again. A bad day at the office for Chef Falk. JR

Guest chefs: Ismo Sipeläinen & Pekka Terävä (FI)
This Suomi chef duo brought a welcome sense of creativity and mischief to Mímir. Their love of texture play was clear from the “semolina porridge” starter—a light foam with crunchy rye crumble and onion broth. A fragrant hunk of winter truffle was grated generously over the cured halibut at the table; browned scallops were served with “soy pearls”—roe-like droplets of salty soy. The lamb fillet was ingeniously rendered as a delicious herb sausage; the dessert of ash-grey liquorice ice-cream was set alight with chunks of orange and lemon, garnished with petals, “liquorice herb” sprigs and a twirl of white chocolate. Well-conceived fun. JR

Guest Chef: Brian Canipelli (US)
An evening spent in Nostra’s sleek dining room is a true pleasure. The feast began with a fine-dining take on tacos—sharp, marinated Icelandic cheese spooned onto a crisp endive leaf—and a trio of salmon-topped flatbrauð, slow roasted carrots, and beautiful celery-crowned blue mussels. The star of the production was Chef Brian’s risi e bisi—a masterclass in self-control and the power of simplicity. The gentle umami miso butter sang while the textures of Arborio, yellow peas and puffed rice delighted. The slow cooked lamb parted at the very sight of a serrated edge and melted on the tongue. The impeccable service further elevated a top notch evening. CF

Reykjavík Meat
Guest chef: Hamilton Johnson (US)
The shaven-headed, heavily tattooed bulk of Chef Hamilton was an unmissable presence at Food & Fun 2019, and his charisma also erupted onto the plate. The tuna entrée was like a firework of flavour exploding in the mouth, the buttery crumble carrying an eye-opening citrus kick; the langoustine tail a creamy, juicy, smokey masterclass in how this ingredient should be handled. The beef tenderloin was left to speak for itself—a generous hunk of meat, cooked perfectly medium-rare. The vegetarian courses—taken, as it turns out, from the house menu—were amongst the best on offer this year. Joyful, vivid, hearty cuisine. JR

Guest Chef: Calum Franklin (UK)
A revival of Britain’s food may not sound as sexy as their accents, but one look at Chef Calum’s stunning British pies quickly taught us that pining for pies is a real condition. Gleaning recipes and methods from as far back as the 1600s, Calum wowed us with a lamb pie that deserves reams of praise for its looks alone. Picture a delicately scored, bronzed dome of buttery beauty, sitting in a whirl of fresh mint sauce; now cut into the steaming pithivier (that’s high-street for pie)—skillfully stuffed with lamb shoulder and Pomme Anna. The yawn-inducing menu was lifted by this course alone. SB

Guest Chefs: Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan (US)
Chefs Addison and Morgan transformed Icelandic ingredients with techniques, tastes and textures from the MENA region. With grilled flatbread and a trio of spreads—including shanklish skyr masquerading as goats cheese and an eggplant hummus best described as a sucker punch to the taste buds—the meal got off to a roaring start. The wolffish could have benefitted from two fewer minutes over the heat, but the lamb kebabs that followed were succulent, their gaminess offset by a bright cabbage salad. The vegan equivalents—not simply dishes minus the star protein—were divine, including deceptively spicy carrots and a roasted half head of cauliflower with falafel. An exotic culinary trip. CF

Guest Chef: Ryan Rodgers (Denmark)
Chef Ryan Rodgers from Mielcke & Hurtigkarl brought high-level technical precision and distinguished flavours. We started with fried chicken and silky pâté, then delicately smoked percheach jostling for attention with pristine plating. The confit cod was deceptively simple—perfect roundels of cod, elevated to memorability with velvety butternut squash and black garlic puree. The chef’s homage to Asian flavours was a thread running throughout, without screaming appropriation, as seen in the use of the umeboshi-like plums, Nuoc cham notes, and a tsukemen style sauce with the lamb. Rodgers deserved his place as a finalist in the Food and Fun finale. SB

Thanks to Food & Fun, and to the participating restaurants and chefs who welcomed us along to review. Follow the festival on Facebook and Instagram.

Writers: JR – John Rogers, SB – Shruthi Basappa, CF – Catherine Fulton, AU – Aliya Uteuova, HJC – Hannah Jane Cohen

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

Show Me More!