Lækjarbrekka is in that black tar hut at the end of Bankastræti, next to the Ellis Island of tourist info kiosks.
The building has been part of downtown Reykjavík since before Icelanders knew how to spell “indoor plumbing” and a generous man would date it back to the 1830s. . And it all began with the preservation of what a decade later would be known as the restaurant Lækjarbrekka.
What with all retro swagger, a certain amount of old school glamour is to be expected. The wait staff are suitably suited up, the interiors are bedecked with references to our farming and maritime history. It’s quite charming and the service was as good as it gets.
Icelanders are more likely to seek Lækjarbrekka out for its group menus and banquet halls. Lækjarbrekka is one of the default recommendations at the city hotels, so foreign visitors are more likely to drop in unannounced after a day of excursions keeping the rescue squads busy in the highlands.
When we arrived at Lækjarbrekka, our server was helpfully illustrating what a puffin was to a couple in their late thirties using a taxidermy puffin. They seemed equally concerned about whether the lambs had led a rich, full life in the wild before being butchered. The place was warm and sedated, with a rose on every table.
As a taster we chose the puffin with blueberry chutney (950 ISK). Puffin is not for everyone. My granddad on my mother’s side would hunt the things but otherwise wouldn’t touch the stuff. Lækjarbrekka get their puffin from Grímsey, up north, as puffin hunting has been outlawed in the south. The blueberries are wild Icelandic bilberries (the season just ended). Regrettably, the puffin was too dry for my tastes and the chutney was much closer to a jam, sweet and lacking in acid or spice.
My starter was a very lightly smoked piece of lamb and a dark brown blueberry cured lamb rolled up like a papyrus, with horseradish and spruce sauce and bits of ginger bread so packed with cloves that it numbed the mouth (2,200 ISK). My wife picked what turned out to be a surprisingly large portion of buttery perfect-broiled langoustine, which has been a fixed part of the menu for 20 years (3,650 ISK). Quite pricey for a starter, though.
Lækjarbrekka have two moderately interesting vegetarian choices on the menu, which is more than I can say for many non-vegetarian places in Reykjavík. I chose the orange-marinated yellow beet (tasted like rutabaga), roasted red beets, asparagus and smoked cherry tomatoes (3,300 ISK). The red beets were nice but so salty and intense that they overpowered the flavour of individual vegetable. Asparagus is never great in Iceland, so give that a miss. Still better on the whole than I’d expected and they get points for going the extra mile. My wife had the arctic char with fennel and hollandaise (3,990 ISK). The skin on the char was perfect and fat like pork crackling but the fish was overdone and the fennel not as crisp as it should have been. Good job on the hollandaise.
Lækjarbrekka, more innovative than I’d thought but dishes were lacking that finishing touch. Old school charm and professional service make up the difference. Lækjarbrekka isn’t going anywhere.
Just don’t ask them what a minke whale is—I’d hate to see the poor waiter have to roll a stuffed whale out of the kitchen.
What we think: Whip off that anorak and have that whale and shark like the guy at the hotel said you should.
Flavour: French-Icelandic. Classic, but not boring.
Ambiance: Foreign, 35–75, very calm.
Service: Fast, friendly, well informed, professional.
Price for 2 (with drinks): 17–22,000 ISK