Published August 13, 2019
It’s been en vogue in recent times for Reykjavík restaurants to attach the word “seasonal” to their menu. While in many cases it may be loosely accurate, at elegant downtown eatery Mat Bar, seasonality is something that’s taken more seriously than elsewhere. The creative use of outstandingly fresh produce takes centre-stage, with an ever-rotating menu where old favourites may vanish, only to be replaced by brand new ones.
On our last visit, the attention to detail and seasonality started with our first drink. The pear cocktail was made with an ingenious combination of dry vermouth, mezcal and pear soda, creating a light and summery aperitif that set the tone with tuning fork perfection. The wine list is every bit as good: you can taste everything from Slovakian and Austrian whites, to a “volcanic” pinot gris, and an eye-opening selection of natural wines. Pro-tip: trust your waiter, and go for something unusual.
Fine-dining quality and comfort food appeal
The way to go at Mat Bar is to leave a couple of hours for your meal and put yourself in the chef’s capable hands by ordering the tasting menu, available as three or five courses. When we visit, we begin with a delicious fresh oyster with chilli granita. It’s the very tail end of the lumpfish roe season (referred to as “Icelandic caviar” by our waiter), and here it’s served with house-made ricotta cheese and chives. It’s an opening salvo that combines fine-dining quality with comfort food appeal.
Next is the beef tartare, which is a well-presented and sumptuous dish that’s full of textural play. The soft meat is set against crunchy hazelnuts and fried lentils, and the flavour is rounded out with black garlic, egg yolk cream, and elderflower. We’re still talking about the dish when the next one comes—a plate of Breiðafjörður’s famous scallops. They’re butter-soft and silken, with a tingle of chilli and a garnish of chervil flowers.
Surprising dishes and animated conversation
Herein lies Mat Bar’s appeal. Every dish is remarkable, in one way or another, with bold choices in presentation, flavour combinations, and unusual twists on well-known recipes. Everyone at the table tastes each course, making for animated conversation as you and your fellow diners untangle the complexities of each dish, and form opinions about your favourites.
After some tasty tacos—in fact, Mat Bar will soon open a sister taqueria just up the road on Bergstaðastræti—we’re served a delectable beef ribeye steak. It comes with cabbage and butter, letting the main ingredient speak for itself. (You know you’re at a good steak place when they don’t ask how you want it cooked, serving it how it’s supposed to be done—perfectly medium-rare.)
After a striking dessert of slate-grey licorice ice cream with salted almonds, we’re offered a digestif only available at Mat Bar: a blueberry wine that was accidentally over-fermented at Reykjavík Distillery, resulting in a drink that can only be described as an experimental port. It’s the perfect end to a memorable meal at Mat Bar, and sums up the whole experience—creative, surprising and absolutely delicious.