From Iceland — Dill: An Icelandic Epicurean Epiphany

Dill: An Icelandic Epicurean Epiphany

Words by
Photo by
Nanna Dís

Published July 22, 2015


Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavik
Wed-Sat 19:00-22:00
What we think
Intelligent food with a deep understanding of local traditions and flavours. This is a class act—their involvement and attention to detail shines through course after course.
New Icelandic, with a focus on traditional.
Industrial barn.
Knowledgeable and efficient.
Price for 2 (no drinks)
16,000 - 25,000 ISK

Just when I was convinced that the traditional food culture in Iceland was at risk of dying out, an establishment like Dill lands a hauntingly beautiful punch and knocks the cynic right out of me. Dill is located in a barn-like space and is both warm and inviting with its open kitchenette. My partner and I managed to get a table at very short notice (thank you guests who cancelled!).

We immediately got settled in with some champagne. There were a series of “snacks” to get us started while we decided on the number of courses we wanted in a fixed menu. The second of the amuse-bouches, the kale and sour cream, stopped me in my tracks. It demanded all of my attention— the kale was shred and stirred into the cheese, along with crisp, young kale stems with just a light smattering of fried onions and grated cheese. This was a very simple, yet complex, dish. This was followed by paper-thin discs of fried mussel “chips” with a roasted paprika sauce and chives. A deceptive dish, as the light chip delivered a smack of mussel flavour, which was intense and lingered long after the wafer dissolved on the tongue. We were intrigued. The pickled beet pouch filled with chicken liver parfait and roasted yeast was a big hit too. The creaminess of the parfait offset the toasted chocolate flavour of the yeast perfectly.

My partner didn’t think it was possible to elevate his beloved harðfiskur but the next course proved him wrong: finely shred dried catfish with burnt butter and dill oil, served in a wooden bowl reminiscent of the traditional “askur” bowls that were once a fixture in every Icelandic home. This was a resolutely Icelandic dish, with strong references to its history, hardships and ingenuity—reimagined to prod even a reluctant convert to the cuisine.

This little preamble had whet our appetite and we decided to go all-in with the seven-course menu. Bacalao in all its salted glory was first, with the salinity cut by the sweetness of an apple and parsnip puree. Yet, an extra dab of the purees would have helped with the portion of the salted cod served.

Next up were plump blue mussels in a creamy and rich sauce, full of the briny sweetness of the ocean. The crunch came from the honeyed root vegetables, carrots and salsify. The salsify’s oystery taste played perfect foil to the mussels themselves. This was a beautiful dish that playfully juxtaposed land and sea. This was definitely a favourite of the night.

Between the leisurely paced courses, we nibbled on home-baked sourdough, with a savoury whipped lamb fat and inhouse salt from Hvalfjörður. Soon a mound of paper-thin radishes arrived with dabs of intensely flavoured mushroom sauce and cream. Slice through to discover the birch butter-cooked arctic char and it all comes together in one sublime bite. You wonder if the fish swam in an ocean of butter and died in a vat of the same. The diners at the next table over exclaimed that this was their favourite course. The main course was a hearty, unctuous braised beef cheek, with skyr-potato mash and pickled roasted onions. We wiped our plates clean with this one and wouldn’t mind a big bowlful of that mash every now and then.

Dessert was no timid affair either and the chef clearly wants to leave you on a high note. A subtle bay leaf ice cream sat on an unexpected throne of prune puree and tangy whey caramel. Such a clever use of the classic Icelandic spread mysingur and once again, a nod to traditions, not just the ingredients. The last course should be a familiar sight for the locals as many of them will recount summers of sneaking into backyards to steal rhubarb and dipping it in granulated sugar. In this case, it is interpreted as a rhubarb sorbet with tarragon meringue, skyr cream and some lovely hundasúrur (sorrel). The result was creamy, crunchy, and delightfully sour.

To say this was one of our most memorable meals would be putting it lightly. What chef Gunnar and his team are doing at Dill is incredible. The dishes are thoughtful and the effort shines through in every detail, be it the resourceful sourcing of ingredients or the ever-so-slightly warmed ceramic ware. It all seems to be part of an elaborate narrative, a story of the island that the chef is telling you with every course. This is simple local fare elevated, not just with excellent produce, but with insight. Many restaurants today pledge allegiance to the standards set by the New Nordic Cuisine, a decade-old movement at this point. Dill is taking it to the next level, playing on memory, on that hard-to-capture fleeting moment, which a bite can conjure up. That night, everything came together like a beautiful symphony.

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