Few projects have been awaited with such bated breath as the opening of The Reykjavik Edition—and the wait has been worthwhile.
A combined effort by the Ian Schrager Company and Marriott International, (yes the same Marriott with luxury chains such as the Ritz Carlton in its varied portfolio), Reykjavík’s Edition is the latest outpost of the bold chain that prides itself on bringing together high-quality design and unique dining experiences rooted in the local, but with a global flair. Iceland is a unique travel destination by all accounts. This island—remote until recently—has quickly risen to the top of every list, while continuing to be expensive as heck. The steep prices don’t always translate to luxury and, in a country with a pronounced vacuum in this particular segment, Edition seizes the opportunity and delivers some genuine “aha” moments.
Twinkly winter’s night
Delayed intermittently due to various factors, the hotel quietly opened its doors in ‘preview mode’ in November last year. The construction itself has been a matter of much local debate and discussion, and curiosity has been high. While you can walk to the Edition from Harpa, I recommend the harbourside walk instead. Crossing over from Hafnartorg, the harbour flanks you on the left, making for an enjoyable stroll to the main lobby. The entire building complex oozes newness; I swear I imagined I could smell the shuo sogi ban cladding. Designed by local firm T.ark in partnership with Ian Schrager Company design and the esteemed NY practice Roman and Williams, the design team delivers on its promise of sophistication that embraces you from the start. The atrium’s LED lit awning makes for a twinkly winter’s night welcome, only outshone by the warm reception by the bellhop.
As at other Edition properties, it is best to kick things off with a drink at the Lobby Bar. A staple of the chain, an extended lobby beyond the reception is home to a retro-modern bar. It does feel a bit awkward placed between two main entrances, but hey, it’s called the Lobby Bar for a reason. On my many visits, I have enjoyed well-executed cocktails, although the mocktails are equally pleasing. The bartenders will fix you exactly the drink you have in mind and the regularly replenished bowl of house-made chips warrant a drink … and another and another.
Named after the distinctive gait of the Icelandic horse, Tölt is a speakeasy-inspired, password access only, walnut bubble of plush bar, serving curated spirits and unhurried discreet service. The pandemic has meant that openings have been disrupted but I can see its intimate ambience being quite the draw. The Edition when at full service will also have a rooftop bar, a disco and spa replete with hamams. For now, the Lobby Bar and Tölt are available for guests staying at the hotel and walk-ins.
For early birds, Tides Cafe offers in-house baked goods and house drinks. The kanilsnúður and vínarbrauð are moreish and super-local, but leaving without a cardamom snúður would be inexcusable.
It would be an understatement to say that Tides takes your breath away. While the rest of the hotel is well designed, it is clear that the restaurant is meant to be its crown jewel.
Focused on familiarity
Roman and Williams bring their signature tactile richness, juxtaposing a striking timber coffered ceiling with fluted concrete columns, holding aloft the restaurant in a golden glow of warmth. The restaurant has the most Instagram-friendly lighting, and is a dream to look at no matter where one is seated. Do linger by the bar; the alabaster-bronze Eric Schmitt chandelier alone warrants a visit. Designed to transition from breakfast to lunch and dinner, it is a clever use of space going from night to day without losing any grandeur. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason, of Michelin-starred restaurant Dill, is a consulting chef and has designed the dining experience as a focussed showcase of familiarity for the global traveller, seen through the Icelandic lens. Chef Georg Halldórsson brings this vision to life. The morning quiet, particularly a dark Icelandic winter morning, is an alluring thing. The world is slower and service is quieter, but no less attentive. Immersed amongst all that gentleness, it is only fitting that breakfast also be a tender affair. Expect a superb salmon on rye toast. If smoked fish isn’t your cup of tea, how about a zingy carrot seabuckthorn smoothie to chase down a bowl of fragrant tarragon granola and skyr? There are soft boiled eggs with toast if, like me, you are nostalgic for simple fare that harks back to childhood. Although the English muffin was amiss, I enjoyed the eggs benedict with silken hollandaise, the single egg portion ample enough for one. At about 5000 ISK for two, it’s a luxurious start to the day in a beautiful space, and with exemplary service it’s something I cannot recommend enough.
While breakfast is wonderful, dinner is truly memorable. You are warmly greeted and escorted, and the maitre’d—most likely Alex—is likely to make small talk; a welcome trait for service in Iceland. If you’re a regular, he’ll remember you. A GG Martini, is a must—Gunnar’s own recipe by way of Bombay is a potent, stiff drink that isn’t fooling around. The non-alcoholic drinks are grown up as well, eschewing sugary sweet syrups in lieu of fresh, natural flavours. The wine list straddles old and new worlds with a smattering of natural wines, (be warned of the steep pricing). Choices by the glass may be limited, but what they do have are often hard to find in Iceland such as Samartzis Estate Merlot & Mouhtaro from Greece. I was a little disappointed to find no dessert wines offered by the glass, which can make dining out as a couple or on your own a tad less exciting, (especially when a bottle of Argentinian Vinyes Ocults from Tomás Stahringer is on offer). But as I have come to learn, there is nothing a polite request won’t fix. Wiktoria, the sommelier, is especially good at making such requests happen.
Mind the grilled chicken
The lamb tartare with whimsically small flatkökur is a great start, if you haven’t already had too much of the complimentary milk bread. Celebratory Icelandic produce is centre stage. There is cod; dover sole currently makes an appearance; a superb whole lamb shoulder cooked so tenderly that it fell apart with a sigh; and a very Christmassy Looking stuffed grilled trout with garlic butter, its expert cooking proving the kitchen’s skills with the Josper grill. Beef choices are from the US but their origins are worryingly unclear, a detail I hope the restaurant will redress; knowing the providence of produce does make for a more enjoyable dining experience. Regardless, may I draw your attention to the grilled chicken. Meant to be shared by two, but really it serves four, this dish best encapsulates the spirit of Tides. A familiar dish takes on an edge by being served deboned, whole, with a luscious sauce poured tableside. Were it not for the elegant settings, it’s a dish I would tear into barehanded. The grilled to-share dishes are all served with a side of vegetables. I am particularly fond of the nutty kabocha squash served alongside them, with the seeds also roasted and ground, adding a certain je nai se quoi to the sesame strewn sauce.
What they do, they do well
As with the rest of the menu, desserts are a refined take on homey classics. Like the carrot cake, which takes on a rich fruit cake appearance, or the chocolate ice cream with black pepper and olive oil.
Does some of the fare at Tides scream dated? Sure. It may not be a bold, mould-breaking menu, but what they do they do so very well. What is groundbreaking about The Reykjavík Edition, however, is the sterling service—from the bellhops to the maitre’d to the waiters to the bartendersm, and everyone you encounter from check-in to breakfast service the day after. Not once does it falter. Sure the early days of its opening made for delightful social studies for the observant. The awkwardness of guests unaccustomed to coat checks, and the sometimes stiff reactions to small talk, (which I find absolutely refreshing), have now given way to awed responses— “It’s like you are not in Iceland!” It is disappointingly telling if one thinks of good service as something that only happens abroad. This alone makes Tides and the whole of the hotel a cut above the rest, and I fervently hope they will continue to be so.
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