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Reykjavik Report: Summer 2007

For a city of 160,000, Reykjavik has a thriving chow scene. Choose from among a dozen or more deluxe hotel restaurants, another dozen stellar restaurants with young chefs using local fish and lamb to create innovative dishes and scores of neighborhood joints. But...Reykjavik is also unimaginably expensive. Blame the poor exchange rate of the dollar, blame Iceland's reliance on importing nearly every food product, save fish and lamb or blame Iceland's captive tourism industry (try renting a car for less than $120/day, a hotel room for less than $200 a night or even a cup of coffee for less than $6).

During a recent two and a half day stay, we had three fine meals. Here's the lowdown:

3 Frakkur--located at Baldursgata 14, on a quiet "old-town" street, just a few blocks from the city center. Small, cozy dining room...almost like dining in a townhouse. Fresh seafood (and whale meat) prepared simply. Most fish entrees are presented with a cheese-based sauce, almost a gratin. Before passing judgment, let me say that the sauces were surprisingly light. We had cod, monkfish and plaice. Average entree price was ISK2400 (about $46 at current exchange rates...don't think about price when dining in Iceland). As mediocre wine was about $12 a glass, I opted for a Viking Icelandic beer ($6). Service was attentive and warm. Highly recommended.

Sea Baron (Saegreifinn)--We remembered a recent piece written by Mark Bittman in the New York Times singing the praises of this portside shack. When Thor, our guesthouse owner also recommended it, we made sure to check it out. Reminiscent of a Jersey Shore fish house, Sea Baron is the brainchild of Kjartan Halldorsson, a retired Reykjavik fisherman. Enter the restaurant and you are immediate struck by the family-style seating, the display of fresh seafood brochettes of every imaginable variety, the informality of the place. Order at the counter and wait for your brochettes to be grilled to perfection. The lobster soup (ISK 800) is a must. Piquant with chunks of lobster meat. We tried an assortment of three different brochettes (ISK 1200-1800) and, of course, a Viking. Don't miss Sea Baron.

Icelanding Fish and Chips--almost directly across the street from Sea Baron at Tryggvgata 8, this was a complete surprise. Also recommended by Thor, we checked out the menu and decided we had to try it. Why? First, it bills itself an "Organic Bistro." Second, its fish is battered with a mixture of spelt and barley, giving it a lightness antithetical to the usual British fish and chips. Third, each fish is served with a dipping sauce made from Skyr, the wonderful yogurt-like Icelandic cheese.
Our choices were catfish, haddock and cod. We chose three different "Skyronnaises": basil-garlic, sun-dried tomato and honey-mustard. Each dish was served either with potatoes or salad (the only fresh salad we found on Iceland). The lightness and crispiness of the deep-fried, batter-crusted fish was surprising. The fish remained moist and flavorful on the inside.
Entrees ranged from ISK1250-1600.

Make sure you sample various flavors of Skyr while on Iceland. Just stop into a supermarket, where a container of Skyr is about ISK 90-110. Containers of Skyr come with a plastic spoon, so you can enjoy one for breakfast or a snack as you wander the streets of Reykjavik or watch the ducks on the Pond.

Reykjavik has perhaps more coffee bars per capita than any other city. Try an Icelandic doughnut with your coffee.

 
 
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  1. Thank you for your post. We're leaving in a few days and I can't wait. Do you have any suggestions regarding coffeehouses? We'll be arriving early in the am and I'd like to know a good place to go for breakfast if our hotel room isn't available.

    5 Replies
    1. re: DaisyM

      Reykjavik is filled with coffee houses. We sort of liked Cafe Paris, but there was nothing distinctive about it. You'll find a coffee house on every block.
      As for breakfast, there is a bakery on a main street a block from the pond and city hall that has a few tables, serves very good coffee and has fresh-baked breads and pastries. As compared to the coffee houses, it was very reasonably priced. It is called Kornid Bakery (http://www.kornid.is/) and is very easy to find. They also serve soups and have sandwiches for take-away.

      Again, please be forewarned about how truly expensive everything is in Iceland.

      Enjoy.

      1. re: famdoc

        Thank you so much! That will be perfect for our early arrival.

        1. re: DaisyM

          We absolutely loved Sea Baron. It is a charming dive. Our hotel made reservations for us and indeed there were two seats waiting for us at a long communal table. Delicious lobster soup and very fresh fish brochettes. (we avoided the whale!). A fun place to go and clearly lots of local frequent it. Icelandic Fish Company was good,too. Amazing how much sweeter and fresher the fish tasted in Iceland. Thanks for the suggestions. We had a fantastic and EXPENSIVE time there.

          1. re: DaisyM

            DaisyM: Glad you enjoyed your stay in Reykjavik and your meals at Sea Baron and Icelandic Fish Company. Also glad you were forewarned about the expense of visiting Iceland. Did you have a chance to sample Skyr while you were there? How about any Icelandic doughnuts? Any restaurants you tried that I didn't?

            1. re: famdoc

              We only had two nights in Reykjavik, but did get to try the kleiner twice. It was a little doughy for my taste. We stayed at a sheep farm near Vik named Hotel Brekkur. We were very pleasantly surprised that the breakfasts were very, very good. Every morning a buffet of smoked fish which was outstanding, warm multi grain rolls, delicious jams, fresh fruit, & cheese. Since we were really out in the middle of nowhere we asked if we could have dinner there and it was terrific. A cold buffet of all types of salads and the freshest cold salmon stuffed with vegetables. Then a variety of hot dishes like lamb, baked cod, & vegetarian dishes. It turned out to be about $45 a person and you know that is amazing for Iceland. We ended up speaking to the chef who was very sweet and told us he is a descendent of the King of Norway. Our next trip is to Ecuador and I highly doubt we'll be able to eat with such abandon and no fear of the water!

    2. This is great famdoc! Thank you so much! I am leaving for Iceland in a week to get married there, and we have reservations for our post-ceremony dinner here: www.sjavarkjallarinn.is . Do you know anything about it? It's been recommended to me highly by people who live there...

      4 Replies
      1. re: mudaba

        Our guesthouse was a few hundred meters from the Seafood Cellar, so we checked it out, since it is rated by many as Reyjkavik's best. After viewing the menu, we decided to go to 3 Frakkur, realizing that there was simply no way to get out of the Seafood Cellar for less than $125 per person. The menu certainly looked wonderful, but we couldn't justify the expense, having just come to Reykjavik from ten days in Provence.

        BTW, I just found some photos on my camera from the Sea Baron and from the Icelandic Fish and Chips Shop...will put them here later.

        Getting married in Iceland? Marrying an Icelandic person or is it just possible to marry someone there regardless of background? Mazel Tov!

        1. re: mudaba

          I was in Iceland in late June/early July and took my hostess and friend out to dinner at Sjvarkjallarinn as a special treat. Whilst very expensive, we were quite pleased. The food was very creative in presentation and combination and delicious! My friend is an artist and absolutely loved the way the food was presented. The space is beautiful as well. Looking around at the crowd, it is obvious THE place for conduct high powered business deals.

          Congratulations on the wedding and enjoy yourself.

          1. re: eddieandcleo

            Thank you famdoc and eddieandcleo! After I wrote this I did a search on the site and found the most detailed description of the "exotic menu" meal at the Seafood Cellar I can imagine: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/354538 Since I am not someone who has ever had reindeer before this entire description sounds amazing to me!

          2. re: mudaba

            OOOOH you will be SO happy with that place (sjarvarkallarinn)... though go beforehand to make sure you find it OK.

            i just got back from 10 days in iceland. i suggest renting a garmin GPS with your rental car. yes, like others have said, it is ridiculously expensive by ANYone's standards. i was shocked. to those in the planning stages of trips, i'd really suggest doing it as a 1 to 2 day stopover on your way to another foreign destination. my 10 days was for a meeting, otherwise i would have had to fly home after day 2. we stayed at the hotel nordica a bit out of town. rooms on the top floor are lovely (as are the spa with free massages and the free bar. those are the only 2 "deals" you'll find in reykjavik).

            food was top-notch just so long as i didn't try to do vegetarian (the concept doesn't seem to be very understood there). i AM vegetarian, however flexible enough that i will make exception for fish "when in rome" (i.e. where i am close to a coast where seafood is king). and i am SO glad i did. vegetarian food mostly consisted of a slice of cheese on bread.

            since our meeting was at the nordica, we did many a meal at the hotel's restaurant vox. they are on the slower side especially when busy, but the fish is good. (the fish is good = my general icelandic motto) i don't think i'd pay these prices on my own though.

            sjarvarkallarinn (seafood cellar) - tied for best meal. do yourself the favor, skip lunch to save the money and get the "exotic tasting menu" for dinner. awesome awesome awesome. i won't spoil the surprises you'll get. but one person in my dinner party commented it was the best meal he'd had in his entire life. (i'm an event planner. i was thrilled to hear this.)

            humarhusid (lobster house) - cute old-fashioned atmosphere... extremely expensive lobster. the lobster was good (i had it "three ways" - canadian, icelandic, and one other i cannot recall) but not six-dollar-sign good. this was our most expensive and outlandish meal. unless you are on an expense account i would skip it.

            tvier fiskar - the unassuming place on the water with the cute logo. straight up fresh-catch fish options. very simple. price is "icelandic average." i WOULD pay for this meal on my own dime. i loved my salted cod.

            i saved my favorite for last. geysir, located smack on top of sjarvarkallarinn, was 1/3 the price of anything else and 3 times as tasty! the monkfish (fish of the day) was the best piece of fish i've had in my entire life. the tomato soup was simple and light. the cheese plate (the one with brie) was creamy and heavenly. the restaurant is bright and airy, the polar opposite of its dark, cool cellar neighbor. definitely go to the seafood cellar for a spectacular experience in a beautiful setting, but go upstairs for a light lunch the next day.

            oh, and when you go out clubbing at night, our favorites by far were an irish-looking-pub (name was ~5 letters, a man's name, and started with a "d") where there was a quiet upstairs table and a bar housing the bartender behind bars. very odd. for dancing, sirkus was a riot. super-crowded but there was an excellent DJ on the night we were there. we lost track of time. we left at 4am!!

            have fun in iceland. it was definitely a memorable experience.
            pix: http://picasaweb.google.com/rabidog/1...

          3. Photos of Lobster soup, choice of brochettes (display) and brochettes (served) at the Sea Baron, Reykjavik.

            1. interesting posts - we are planning a trip for thanksgiving and this makes me excited to get to Iceland!

              1. Hello famdoc and eddieandcleo and others,

                We're just back from our wedding trip to Iceland and had the most amazing time, thanks in large part to this post. I can't thank you enough for your wonderful post and everyone's great suggestions. They are what got us through the extraordinarily expensive country. Highlights were Sea Baron, Icelandic Fish and Chips (which I made a video of and want to post as soon as we have user upload video capabilities, something we're working on over here), Seafood Cellar (amazing), Geysir, and so many more. Our wedding was written up on the front page of the newspaper and I'm trying to attach it as a photo here. It was thrilling. Iceland was stunning and very expensive, and we ended up making sandwiches of our hotel's breakfast buffet to sustain us. That and hot dogs got us through our 10 days there. The Hlemmer bus station hot dogs were by far the best of the city, better than the chain's and better than the parking lot hot dogs.

                Thank you again everyone!

                Mudaba

                 
                7 Replies
                1. re: mudaba

                  As we say here in Brooklyn: "Mazel Tov!!!"

                  Looking forward to hearing more about your meals...videos would be great.

                  1. re: famdoc

                    I can't wait to be able to post the video. It shows the chips and Skyronnaise, the setting and menu and look of Icelandic Fish and Chips. We had lamb heart at Vid Tjornina (and I have photos to post from there too, so funny), and that salt cod appetizer with lobster was worth it's pricey $25 pricetag.

                  2. re: mudaba

                    mmmmmm, the hot dogs.
                    I love Iceland.
                    I was reading this through wondering if everyone posting was a pescatarian.
                    The divine Icelandic pylsa are made of lamb, you know . . . and two kinds of onion topping, raw and crispy fried, and some mayo/mustard hybrid that is delicious.

                    Even the cold cod lunch on Icelandair was good!

                    1. re: pitu

                      You are so right Pitu--our Icelandair flights foods were extraordinary. We had meatballs on the way over (I wonder if they were lamb, couldn't tell) and a chicken cordon bleu on the way back, and I was looking forward to the return because I knew how good the one of the way out was. Why are American airlines so very bad/ now non-existent when it comes to food?

                      1. re: mudaba

                        Mudaba: Did you buy any Skyr? What did you think of it?

                        1. re: famdoc

                          The strange thing about the Skyr was that it had changed a lot from my memory of it 18 years ago (the last time I was in Iceland). I remember it being very common plain, in our hotel for breakfast and others, and not pre-packaged the way all of it seems to be now. "Hot dogs are the Skyr of this trip", I announced to my family this time. Because it was the hot dogs that were stunning to me, not the Skyr, which I found less interesting, texture-wise. I need to see the brands (I took photos of them but they're on my home computer) to tell which ones I'm talking about, but I did try plain and with fruit mixed in this time.

                        2. re: mudaba

                          funny, i thought the iceland air food was pretty good, too! they had a very nice cod and some delish salad dressing - very simply oil & balsamic - great with the fresh veggies i ordered! (i just wanted fish with veggie sides)

                          the iceland air menus are created by the same chef who works at vox in the hotel nordica which is where i stayed. i always get bored of my own reading material so i always read all the fine print airlines make available, especially if it's on travel or food!!! :)

                    2. I just want to say thanks on a wonderfully written report.