Published March 14, 2018
It’s not easy for someone like me to go out to eat and thoroughly enjoy myself. I’m not a fussy eater and I love trying out new things, but living in Iceland with an intolerance to dairy proteins can sometimes be daunting. Luckily there are restaurants like Haust Restaurant that are more than willing to cater to personal needs without making sacrifices in the flavour department.
A cosy atmosphere
I drop by this dimly-lit restaurant in the heart of the downtown Fosshotel Reykjavík on a quiet Thursday evening. I wanted to take with me someone who regularly deals with intricate flavours and the delicate balance of textures, so I invited my good friend Tom who is the manager of specialty coffee shop Reykjavík Roasters.
As we step in, the subtle lighting catches our eye. Its dark green interiors are muted by metallic accents and inlaid wooden panels, with single lights descending from the ceiling onto each table and a cascade of rose-gold baubles radiating their soft light from the centre of the room. The cosy atmosphere of the place is relaxing immediately puts us at ease. Haust Restaurant seems versatile so far, with romantic, private corners for couples, long tables set under lively lights for bigger groups, and comfortable seats for families with children.
Precision and knowledge
The food is set up buffet-style on a long, pristine counter, from soups and cold dishes, to salads, meat, fish and finally desserts. With a never-ending fine-dining offer priced 6900 ISK (70 USD) or a brunch/lunch offer for 3950 ISK (39 USD), Haust’s menus are a rare deal. It also bears mentioning that children five and under eat free, and kids from six to 12 years old get half off.
As Tom and I approach the plates we are unsure on where to start, but the chefs who are buzzing about the counter help us choose with passion and precision.
Buffets can host such a cacophony of flavours that it’s often difficult to makes sense of what you have on the plate. Haust’s chefs, however, are kind enough to recommend what goes with what, thus avoiding me the embarrassment of going back to the table with a plate full of clashing flavours that are most likely going to get lost in the mix.
A sea of greens and the juiciest salmon
On my first round I try their cold dishes. I slather a generous layer of homemade honey mustard sauce on a thick slice of black rye bread, before placing on top a slice of salmon cured in the house. Sweet but not sickly, the mustard sauce is delicate enough to allow the salmon to shine through, creating a combo that I happily go back to time and time again. I notice straight away how much effort the chefs put into the small details: a plate of bright yellow curried cabbage dominates the sea of greens; the small duck slices in a rich salad are flavourful and tender; the sweet taste of a mango enhances the delicacy of a fish salad.
After a little break, we move down to the hot food. Chicken and lamb are grilled and roasted before our eyes, while rows of salmon fillets and langoustines as big as my face sit on the side. Neither of us is disappointed. Tom’s salmon is well-cooked but still juicy, and while I break the shell of my langoustines a wave of smoky flavours takes over my senses. I wash the pulp down with a sip of lovely Italian white and I can’t help but smile.
As we eat, the room begins to fill up but somehow it’s still quiet enough to enjoy the private atmosphere of our table. The waiters walk around the hall briskly, lingering at every table, dispensing advices on drinks and food, asking how people are doing, being attentive without invading anyone’s space.
When we finally decide to tackle the desserts, we are overwhelmed by the mouth-watering assortment of sweets stretching out on the furthest end of the counter, from crispy chocolate balls and raspberry-tinged cheesecakes, to vegan date and almond bars, coconut-topped cakes, crunchy apple crumbles and more macarons that I could eat in a lifetime. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are scattered between the cakes, while the ice-cream stand (which include a lovely strawberry sorbet) stands a little further. I tend to have little choice when it comes to desserts due to my intolerance so I go straight to the raw cakes. However, I also make an exception for a pistachio macaroon. Sneakily, I take a small corner of the apple crumble which instantly melts in my mouth in a mix of cinnamon apples and buttery goodness.
A true Italian espresso
The final test for the two of us is coffee: we are used to precisely brewed, light/medium-roasted coffee so we tend to scoff at the burnt mess that Icelandic restaurants mistakenly call Italian espresso. More often than not, no matter how good the meal was, the espresso ruins the entire experience. However, we are pleasantly surprised when our waiter, who seems to be a coffee aficionado, delivers a hand-pulled shot that is tasty, well balanced and masterfully dark-roasted. The espresso leaves a lovely aftertaste of chocolate in our mouths—the perfect ending to this evening.
We walk out of Haust Restaurant two hours later with a full belly, completely satisfied. It’s strange to go back out into the city. The comfort of the restaurant had made us forget where we were or what time it was. We agree Haust Restaurant is a great place to escape to when the downtown crowd gets too overwhelming, as even when the restaurant is full you can still manage to feel separated from the rest of the world if you want to. With such a delicious selection, you’re bound to come back time and time again.