Everything I ate in Iceland
Last week E and I spent a snowy Christmas vacation in Iceland. After fearing how we were going to last a week of 4 hours of sunlight a day surviving on fermented shark and lamb's head, we came back in one piece, and more well fed than we could ever have imagined. I hereby present you an almost exhaustive list of everything I ate in Iceland! (Well, maybe not the bag of popcorners I brought from NYC.)
1. Sandholt Bakery
This is one of the most recommended breakfast places on the internet if you take the 4am arrival flight into Keflavik airport. And they are so right. Sandholt is an elegant bakery cafe with marble counters and beautiful patisseries encased in display cases. The cafe has a large open kitchen in the back, and features delicious sourdough breads.
I normally don't eat sweets for breakfast, but highly recommend going straight to their sweet selection, which includes mouthwatering Icelandic breads (cinnamon rolls! ) pastries (croissants! pain au chocolate!), cakes and chocolates. I especially love their tahini swirl, a flaky laminated dough with sticky sesame paste topped with a sprinkle of crunchy sesame. While we were there, the kitchen was busy baking up celebratory panettone for Christmas, which came in original and gjanduja flavor.
2. Bergsson Mathus
This no-nonsense food house has a communal feel to it and is very popular among Japanese tourists. They serve three breakfast options at affordable prices: breakfast, brunch and bread plate. We opted for the bread plate which comes with a soft boiled egg, some cheese and three thick slices of hearty grain bread.
While waiting for your meal (it comes very quickly,) help yourself to some orange juice and coffee at the self serving station. Don’t forget to load up on their homemade peanut butter & jam for you bread! They might not have my favorite bread in town (hello Sandholt), but the peanut butter is super crunchy and unsweetened, exactly how I like it.
3. Reykjavik Roasters
Reykjavik Roasters is a corner store across from Hallgrímskirkja serving really good coffee. We stopped by for a cappuccino before heading out to Snaefellsness but sat for a bit just to enjoy the cafe’s cozy interior. Their cappuccinos are extra creamy aka filling and delicious. Paired with a giant cinnamon swirl from Braud down the street and it will last you all morning. (In my case all day because there was pretty much no food to buy on our day trip to Snaefellsness)
Braud bakes up bread way before the break of dawn and you can smell it from blocks away. In the dark mornings, the owner lights up a candle in a tin can, which is a lot more heart warming than you think in the coldest of months. The store is small and covered in graffiti, and resembles more of a low key neighborhood bakery than a cafe. Gritty but cool, with rustic upholstery and bearded bakers.
5. Matur og Dykkur
Literally meaning “food and drink”, M&D is an instant hit for us. Located inside the Saga Museum near the downtown area, this cozy barn style restaurant prides itself on modern Icelandic cooking. The manager Hawk is a friendly local and offered us many tips in and around Iceland. His wife apparently is one of the 40 Vietnameses in the city, and we quickly bonded over our interracial relationships. They offer 3 tasting menus: Christmas special, seafood and vegetarian. We got the Christmas and seafood, which gave us a great selection of surf and turf dishes the country has to offer. We started with lamb smoked with sheep dung, which tastes somewhat like jerky which you dip in mayo. Other local inspired dishes such as herring smorrebrod, skate, fried langoustine and scallops, and my favourite, a creamy fish soup dotted with bright green herb oil.
Just as we thought it was time for dessert, we were presented with our main course – a humongous cod fish head. It was literally a foot and a half in diameter, so big E thought that was the size of the entire fish. After dinner our server presented us with two pieces of chiseled bone from the nape of the fish head as a memorabilia. According to the number of ridges on the bone (much like counting tree rings) our fish Ryan was 18 years old! We ended the night with the quintessential Icelandic skyr layered with wine poached fruits and gingerbread crumbs. It was easily the best dessert I had in Iceland.
6. Fish Company
I was quite skeptical of the high ratings Trip Advisor, which screams tourist spot, but was pleasantly surprised. Fish Company (not Fiskmarkadurinn down the street) is located in the cellar of the Zimsen building on Vesturgata. The cooking borrows flavors and techniques from international cuisines, all using super fresh local ingredients. For best value, try their Around Iceland tasting menu, which allows you to sample four dishes including a dessert, all in full portion. One of my favourite dishes was the Truffle, a complex and textured dish with a ring of crispy potato hash sitting on top of an asparagus mash, dotted with truffle piece and a perfectly runny soft boiled egg. E also raved about his Icelandic lamb dish, which he later claimed was the most succulent and fresh lamb he had on the trip.
Grillmarkaðurinn is one of those restaurants you would expect a birthday cake arriving at each table at the end of the meal. The large two-story dining space is organized around a Japanese inspired hibachi grill on the ground floor, and a full bar in the basement. The interior décor is ultra chic, with a juxtaposition of wood slat walls, copper tubes and onyx-like translucent catfish skin upholstery. The food is seafood-centric, local fairs served with a twist of Japanese zen.
We both ordered the 8 course tasting menu which is served to share. The portions are smaller for Icelandic standards, but the meticulous plating and beautiful serveware made up for it.
Even though I pretty much threw up my entire meal at Snaps, I still really liked the restaurant. Snaps is the quintessential French bistro – bustling good vibes, constant flow of alcohol and chatty diverse crowds. It’s also one of the few restaurants in Reykavik where we saw a good mix of locals and tourists. Here, portions are BIG, no jokes, they’re even bigger than American portions. We ordered the charcuterie plate to share (one of the Icelandic cheese is very stinky btw), and E & I got the baccala and duck salad (loaded with shredded duck, sweet potato, olive, radish sprout, pumpkin seed and pomegranate!) respectively. The food was generous and delicious, and very inductive to drinking.
We stayed at an aurora hotel and still didn’t catch any northern lights. How ironic, I know. They even offer an “aurora wake up call” service so guests can hurry to the hotel patio for a panoramic view of the dancing lights. I blame it on the weather. Anyway, Christmas was all in all very peaceful and quiet in Iceland. Thankfully our hotel was one of the few places that still serves dinner on Christmas day. The food is decent, including a beautiful hot/cold dish with cold cod slices and and seared langoustine, and a sous vide salmon main served with leek, couscous and cream foam.
10. Efstidalur II
We stopped by this farm stay on our Golden Circle trip. I was starving after a day of touring, and at around 3:30pm decided to stop chasing the sun and nurse our stomachs. We caught Efstidalur's cute signs on the road, and made our way up a small hill to their adorable farm stay + restaurant.
We had the Mom's burger, a farm fresh patty topped with Icelandic cheese and an herby skyr sauce. The dining space is quite large, but try getting the tables overlooking the cattle shed...it that's your thing. If you're into ice cream in the winter, definitely give their famous ice cream a try!