From Iceland — Industrial Setting, Ambitious Kitchen

Industrial Setting, Ambitious Kitchen

Words by
Photo by
Nanna Dís

Published May 14, 2014


Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík
Monday - Sunday, 11-23
What we think
Nice Beers, Good Eats
From deep-fried bacon to seasonal fresh sorrels
Industrial, kitschy, hipsteresque
Order at the bar, served to the table. Accommodating at that
Price for 2 (no drinks)
6–10,000 ISK

Kex Hostel, Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík

Restaurants and bars have long had a healthy relationship with upscale hotels, pretty much all around the world. This seems to be the case even in remote old Iceland. But what about a restaurant and bar at a hostel? Quite a different combination it would seem, yet at least in the case of KEX hostel, also very successful.

One of the owners of KEX recently said in an interview that the idea for the hostel/bar/restaurant came about when pondering/brainstorming with his friend what he should do with his life. The ex-professional footballer decided, along with some friends, that he wanted to do something that would bring together all the things they are passionate about—namely, craft beers, wine, good food and music. Not bad, huh?

Thus KEX opened in spring 2011 to widespread acclaim. The market for cheap accommodation in Reykjavík was as of yet unfulfilled, and the bar and restaurant proved to be a hit with locals in addition to travellers. Its decor contributes to a relaxing atmosphere, dark wooden floors, kitsch, retro furniture, and walls reflecting the building’s history with its industrial, factory feel. Not to mention the spectacular view of the mountain Esja, the pride of Reykjavík, through the building’s huge windows facing north. Essentially, KEX was transformed from an old biscuit factory and renovated to its current state (“Kex” being the Icelandic word for biscuit). The results are impressive.

The menu is short and concise, and fairly priced. Offering products like sorrel, kale and dried catfish—it is a renegade restaurant in its price range. There are no starters per se, which can easily be rectified with a little imagination: combining salads or side dishes with beer snacks to start off the meal. 

I chose deep fried risotto dumplings, mixed with pancetta and served with chilli-mayo (650 ISK) and my companion chose a red beet salad with Parma ham (1,950 ISK) from the salad menu. The salad was extremely appetising, the red beets baked to perfection, still a bit firm and full of flavour. The dish was sprinkled with a nut mixture and topped with whipped sour cream the blended together into a rich, creamy, savoury mixture. The risotto dumplings were also delicious and surprisingly filling. The crisp deep-fried coating was perfect for soaking up the chilli-mayo, made in-house daily from scratch according to the chef. The risotto had a pinch of the smokiness of pancetta, which made for a very nice combination. 

For the main course, my meaty tooth screamed out for some osso bucco (2,490 ISK). It was falling-of-the-bone tender, which is of course what you would expect. The sauce could have done with a bit more seasoning, needing a bit of that “oomph” factor you crave in meaty, hearty dishes. My companion had the blackened salmon (2,250 ISK), a dish rarely seen in Icelandic restaurants. “Blackened” general means well seasoned and it was indeed that way, fried to give it a spicy crust. It was perfectly cooked: flaky on the inside, as it should be, and full of flavour.

It should be noted that the main courses are usually not served with huge sides, or with sides at all. The sides have to be ordered separately, which was what we did. French “Sæmi” fries with cumin-mayo (850 ISK) and fried kale mixed with capers and mustard seeds (550 ISK). The Sæmi chips were lovely, although perhaps not the perfect accompaniment with either of our dishes. I would recommend them however any day of the week, even on their own with a glass of IPA. The kale left something to be desired, however, as it was a bit too drenched in sauce for the flavour to be properly enjoyed—although the saltiness of the capers was refreshing in its own way. 

All in all, dividing expectations between food and price, KEX is without a doubt an above-average eatery. I am glad to see that the kitchen has not lost any of its ambition since it first opened its doors. Oh, and did I mention that they have several craft beers on tap?

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