Matur og Drykkur is a brand spanking new restaurant from the people who gave us renowned Westmann Islands restaurant Slippurinn. The restaurant opened for business in mid-January at Grandagarður 2 in the old Allianz house, a 90-year-old building where they used to process salt, but which now houses the Saga Museum and the Northern Lights Museum.
Fittingly, the building is located in the achingly trendy Grandi area, which, in a few short years, has blossomed into a sort of main hub for Reykjavík’s food scene.
The restaurant is owned by Gísli Matthías Auðunsson, Elma Backman, Ágústa Backman, Inga María Backman, and Albert Munoz. Despite sharing facilities with a pair of tourist traps, the group seems adamant about appealing to a different crowd.
The decor does highlight Icelandic culture and history to a point where it could be said to share atmosphere with the Saga Museum, but according to owner and head chef Gísli, that’s far from their intention.
Black pepper with everything
“The restaurant and all of our marketing is geared towards the locals. The tourists will of course follow, but we specifically set out to make Icelanders proud of Icelandic cuisine.”
This may seem alien to anyone who’s shared a meal with a patriotic Icelander as he proudly bellows the wonders of the Icelandic lamb and the world’s greatest butter. However, Gísli’s eye is not on the ingredients, but rather their traditional methods of preparation. Something which even the proudest locals have a hard time celebrating.
“The place was born out of research. We’ve been digging into old cookbooks to find classic Icelandic recipes that go beyond the ‘Þorramatur’ tradition, with pickled shark and ram’s testicles. The intention is not to shock people or to resort to gimmicks but to serve quality dishes.”
“For example, we were lucky enough to get our hands on a lost manuscript through [prolific food writer] Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir. It contains recipes with ingredients that are routinely excluded in the New Nordic kitchens, like pepper. In fact the title of the lost manuscript is ‘Black Pepper with Everything'”.
Any movement to establish or re-establish a national culinary identity is bound to involve some creative editing of historical sources due to the chaotic cross-pollination involved in the development of a nation’s culinary habits. Gísli points out how this research has forced them to fundamentally rethink their approach in many ways.
“It’s fun to see some of the stuff they were importing into Iceland back in the 13th century, such as curry, ginger, and raisins. Meanwhile, the tomato didn’t get to Iceland until the mid-20th century. It makes you wonder what’s to be considered a traditional ingredient.”
For Gísli, Matur og Drykkur is an ongoing journey of discovery and already the restaurant has ploughed through three menus, despite only having been open for six consecutive nights when we spoke.
“The way I see it we are still exploring, although I’m hoping we’ve stumbled on a menu we’ll be keeping around for a little while.”
“I am still trying to convince people to let me add kálbögglar to the lunch menu, but it’s been a hard sell so far [kálbögglar are traditional Icelandic cabbage rolls made by boiling salty sausage meat in cabbage leaves”].”
Matur og Drykkur shares unusual opening hours with Gísli’s other restaurant, Slippurinn. Slippurinn was strictly seasonal, closed during the winter months. Matur og Drykkur, to begin with, will be open for dinner service Thursday through Saturday, while working-class dishes like fish stew and cod cheeks will feature heavily during lunch hour six days out of the week.
Matur og drykkur
Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík
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