If you want a really good seafood meal, it’s best to get as close to the source as possible. Short of actually getting on a boat and pulling it right out of the water, you can head down to the old harbour where the former fish storage houses have recently been converted into a wide selection of restaurants, cafés and shops. Amongst these is Höfnin, an elegantly rustic restaurant with a home-style feeling that serves up traditional Icelandic comfort food.
My date and I arrived without reservations and quickly found out that even on an early Tuesday evening this place is packed. We decided to order a drink and spent our 20-minute wait at a table outside with a beautiful view of the harbour. By the time our drinks arrived we were almost immediately given a table inside. We were surprised to find that the patrons were mostly locals and not tourists, despite what the location might entail. The place has only been open for a few weeks but they are very popular – and clearly understaffed.
After half an hour we finally placed our order with our frazzled but very friendly waiter. I picked the marinated guillemot with deep-fried Brie cheese and herbs (1.770 ISK) as a starter, while my date chose the lobster and smoked mackerel on soft malt bread and fried onions (1.980 ISK). I presumed the guillemot would taste a lot like puffin, but the dark, gamey bird was quite unique and had a similar texture to prosciutto. The cold beet purée it was served added a sweetness to the meat that was really nice, and those fried balls of cheese… holy crap, I could eat those all day. My date’s starter was also a hit, especially the smoked mackerel on malt bread, which had a powerful, tangy flavour and grew even bolder with a sprig of the dill sprinkled on the plate.
We had a bit of a wait before our main courses arrived. I tried to have my drink refreshed several times, but by this point the queue for a table was spilling out the front door, so my attempts were in vain. I did finally get a refill with a smile and our plates arrived piping hot. My date went with the steamed mussels with French fries (3.780 ISK), which are actually quite a novelty in Iceland. I decided to go for the lamb cutlet “fricassé” with fried lobster, dill, carrots and a baked potato (3.550) – basically an Icelandic take on surf’n’turf!
My date and I were both really excited about the mussels she ordered, but when she dug in she found them rather bland and underwhelming. They were meaty and well cooked but lacked a defined flavour, while the tarragon sauce they were served with did them no favour whatsoever. My meal, on the other hand, was the kind of delicious food that had us repeatedly questioning just what the hell they did to make it so good. It turns out that “fricassé” is a term for slow-cooking meat in gravy and vegetables, in this case asparagus. Even though I was close to bursting, I mopped up every bit of the sauce with my baked potato and could have licked the plate.
We managed to keep a tiny corner for dessert and it was worth it. As my date kept pointing out, the mark of a good restaurant is their desserts. Our waiter’s recommendation of the chocolate cake was bang on (1.460 ISK). The hockey-puck shaped treat was covered in pecans and came with real caramel sauce and unctuous liquorice ice cream. We also ordered a skyr parfait full of berries, crunchy corn-flakes and vanilla ice cream (same price), which was a fluffy, refreshing delight. It was a truly luxurious ending to a lovely, leisurely meal.
What we think: Step up the service a bit and you got a clear winner
Flavour: Fancy, home-style Icelandic cooking
Ambiance: Leisurely elegance, rustic comfort
Service: Super friendly, but understaffed