From Iceland — Matur Og Drykkur: Whole Cod Heads And Licorice Pancakes

Matur Og Drykkur: Whole Cod Heads And Licorice Pancakes

Ragnar Egilsson
Words by
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published August 21, 2015

Matur og Drykkur

Grandagarður 2, Reykjavík, Capital Region, Iceland
What we think
Casual and quirky approaches to Icelandic classics.
Icelandic / Fish
Good start for a night out, with interesting drinks, finger food and shared courses.
Price for 2
18,000–22,000 ISK

If you have your heart set on traditional Icelandic food with some creative flourishes, then there are three places worth exploring. In the lowest budget tier (still not all that low, this is Iceland we’re talking about), we have Café Loki serving up flatbread with all fixings; on the high-end we have the take-no-prisoners gastronomic berserkers at Dill; and somewhere in the middle price tier we have Matur og drykkur.

Matur og drykkur are definitely going for that fancy-homey sweet spot. The dishes, the portions and their presentation fall on the fancier side of things. But the wooden tables, cutlery in a cup, and mismatched plates seem to be intended to offset that.

My first visit to Matur og drykkur was for their soft opening where they were seeking out creative input to shape their approach. These types of events, where they’ll invite the haute society and hoi polloi for a tasting menu and comments, seem to be getting more common in Reykjavík and, personally, I think it speaks to rising ambition in the scene. I’ve visited the place twice since then and had a chat with the owner about the philosophy underlying Matur og drykkur—one informed by equal parts resurrection of the Icelandic culinary heritage and a response to some of the established local interpretations of New Nordic food.

At Matur og drykkur they have continuously modified and refined their menu since that soft opening, although certain offerings, like the honeyed tea ale and the whole cod heads cooked in chicken stock (3690 ISK), seem to be there to stay. We didn’t end up ordering the cod head on this visit, but I recommend it for a date night if only as fodder for cheesy lines like “I hope you like head.”

Let’s start with the end and note that their desserts are worth the visit alone. The licorice pancakes with chocolate from local producers Om Nom and candied barley (1490 ISK) are particularly surprising. The licorice taste is subtle and transformed by the cooking process, and the frying of the pancake gives it more of a coffee aroma in addition to roasted nuts and chocolate. Licorice-phobes should give this one a shot.

The creamy skyr with blueberries, oats and whey granita (1490 ISK) was another great twist on an Icelandic classic. The dish was herbal, creamy, and tart—more light and refreshing than the usual stomach ballast you’d recognise as creamed skyr.

The cocktails were another pleasant surprise, with the gin and lovage cocktail being an absolute standout.

The menu at Matur og drykkur is pretty quirky and confusing at times. For instance, there’s “Halibut” soup (quotation marks are theirs), although fishing of halibut in Icelandic waters has been banned since January 2012. So this is either a quirky joke or an odd bit of theatre on their part, to tell each diner that the halibut had to be substituted by another flatfish. On this particular night, the substitute was plaice, joined by mussels, apples and raisins (1990 ISK). This light and slightly sweet soup with the swirl of apples and raisins sent me to a happy place.

Matur og drykkur excels at this kind of gentle nostalgia. The classic Sunday leg of lamb with mashed rutabaga, potatoes and green peas (4190 ISK) is presented about as simply as a restaurant like this can hope to get away with. And apparently one of the owners wanted to push it even further by using the traditional canned green peas, but the chef refused. The portion could have been slightly more generous to go with the Sunday dinner vibe, but the flavour was a spot-on upgrade of a familiar dish.

The only downside to an otherwise stellar evening was the service. We have had no complaints on previous visits, but it seems this time we got saddled with a brand-new staff member who couldn’t decide where to seat us and promptly forgot to furnish us with menus, bread, or water for a good twenty minutes, and then forgot to bring us our beers. The surrounding tables seemed to be having none of these problems and I’m willing to chalk this one up to a bad turn thanks to a consistently impressive show from the kitchen.

Matur og drykkur is a little bit of a detour from the main shopping vein but it’s worth braving the storm.

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