Halló! Welcome to Iceland food travel, part 2! If you missed the first half of my recap, you can find it here.
When we last left off, Rob and I had driven all around the Golden Circle on Monday, stopping for soft serve ice cream cones and lamb soup. That took us most of the day. Afterward…
Once we returned from the Golden Circle, we headed out of Reykjavik again to the Blue Lagoon to soak in its geothermal hot springs. It was definitely a unique and awesome experience. It feels like kind of a rip off at 40 Euro, but once we were actually inside the pool, it was totally worth it. Cold air, steamy hot water, black lava sand… it was such a trip, we loved it. Plus they even have a swim-up bar for you to order champagne! I mean, come on now. No pictures of that, because I was afraid I’d drop my phone in the water.
By the time we got back from the Blue Lagoon and got showered, we wanted dinner but we realized it was almost midnight. Oops… that’s what constant daylight will do to you! We decided it was bar time instead, so we hit up a little sandwich stand in the middle of the city centre then headed to check out Micro Bar, which, as the name would suggest, offers a TON of micro brews from all over Europe. It specializes in Icelandic brews, which is great. A lot of the time you’ll see Viking beer at bars there, and the ultra-cool bartender (and I think owner?) explained to us that lots of bars just serve the 2% Viking. 2%?! That’s basically water. Micro Bar, on the other hand, had tons of strong beers. Rob’s favorite Icelandic brewery was Gæðingur Brugghús, we tried a couple of their brews and they were all excellent. If you’re a craft beer lover, you should definitely make a pitstop in Micro Bar when you visit Reykjavik.
After that, we stumbled upon a cool-seeming bar and lounge just around the corner. There were tons of sophisticated patrons sitting on its patio laughing and drinking out of mason jars around 1am, so we knew it was probably a sweet spot, and we were right. It’s called Nora Magasin (first bar pic, above Micro Bar) and I wanted to steal its entire design scheme for my future home. Ugh!!! We loved it so much we ended up going back every subsequent night until we had to leave for Scotland. The same bartender was working every night too, and I’m sure she thought we were huge creepers, but whatever. Besides its hip and adorable interior design, Nora Magasin has surprisingly cheap (ish) liquor and Hoegaarden pints that were literally the size of my head.
On Tuesday morning we were spending the morning relaxing in Reykjavik before a horseback ride in the afternoon. Somehow both of the places I had in mind for brunch/early lunch were closed (which we found out by taking some nice loooong walks to each of them since we didn’t have phone access to call and check hours) so we said “screw it” and headed back towards the city centre where we knew things would be open. I was looking forward to sitting outside somewhere since it was perfect sunny day. We ended up at Laundromat Café, a small Danish chain that somewhat recently opened their first output in Iceland. Every time we’d walked by we’d seen happy couples and laughing groups of friends lounging and drinking at their sidewalk tables, so we figured it must be a pretty good place, plus we were so starved by this point that I don’t think we’d have cared if they fed us gruel. We went for some beers and chicken salad sandwiches, which came with perfect wedge fries and decadent mayo for dipping. Mmm… dipping mayo… anyway, the sandwiches were huge and the chicken salad was really good, with a different kind of relish topping than you’d find in the states. I’m glad it was good, because this fairly simple lunch set us back the equivalent of $50! I’m telling you, man. Iceland. Expensive, but you just have to suck it up.
After a beautiful and exciting afternoon of horseback riding in the hills and pseudocrater fields outside the city, we headed back to our hostel, KEX, for a few drinks and snacks at their bar before heading out for the night. I can’t get over how cute and hipster and gastropubby KEX is. We shared parmesan chips with dipping sauce and fried rice balls with another dipping sauce. They love their mayonnaise-based dipping sauces over there, and far be it from me to deny them! Everyone was sitting on the back patio of KEX with their tanktops and shorts like it was a sizzlin’ hot summer day, and I guess for Iceland it was, but it was probably the equivalent of 70° which is basically freezing in Texas. It’s all about perspective!
We finished happy hour at the hostel and decided it was time for real dinner, so I took my burger-lovin’ Rob on a special trip to Vitabar, which is said to have the best burgers in Reykjavik. It’s a pretty divey restaurant/bar and I mean that in a good way. I heard people call it “fast food” but it’s nothing like American fast food restaurants – there’s no drive thru, no neon logos, no franchises. But it is really cheap! You go up to the register, order your beers, burgers, and whatever sides you want (basically french fries or onion rings) and then they’ll bring it to your table. It’s very no-frills but hey, it’s a greasy burger joint, what did you expect? Vitabar is especially known for its Forget-Me-Not Burger, which is absolutely slathered in melty blue cheese and stinky garlic. Your breath will definitely not be forgotten after one of these bad boys. Just look at it. Woof. They were really good though! Rob and I are both huge blue cheese lovers so that probably helps.
Oh, you thought we were done eating for the night? NOPE. After knocking a few back at Nora Magasin again (I told you, we were really into that place!) we ventured out into the night to find Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, Reykjavik’s most popular hot dog stand. It’s pretty famous, apparently Bill Clinton is a fan. Icelanders love their hot dogs and I was determined to see why. For best results, get one “ein með öllu” (one with everything): crispy fried onions and raw onions on the bottom of the bun, topped with hot dog, then topped with three sauces: ketchup, sweet mustard, and remoulade. It was GOOD. I’ve read rumors that BBP boils their dogs in beer, which helps to give them their distinctive taste. Either way, you have to find one of these stands after a night of drinking in Reykjavik and you, too, will understand the magic.
Unsurprisingly, we weren’t too starving on Wednesday morning. Eating bar food, plus giant burgers, plus hot dogs will do that to you. We headed up to Kaffismiðja íslands, said to be some of Reykjavik’s best coffee, for cappuccinos and croissants. Both were really, really good. Croissants in Europe are so much better – softer, butterier, flakier, fresher – than the average ones you find here in the states. I inhaled mine. Kaffismiðja is kind of easy to miss (it’s that door in the white building on the corner of the block) and the cute seating area was packed, so we sat on a bench in the colorful neighborhood square.
We made our way down to the city centre again, because we were taking a whale watching tour departing from the Old Harbor in the afternoon. We had just enough time for lunch and opted for an interesting choice: sushi! I’d kept hearing that Icelandic sushi was really good, and while at first it seemed like a strange idea, it did make sense; Reykjavik is right on the water and has some of the freshest seafood ever. It was worth a shot. We found our way to Fish Market, which has a casual name but ended up being a pretty fancy establishment. I felt a little out of place in this swanky seafood restaurant in my pre-boating gear, but oh well.
Anyway, I’m just gonna call it: this was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. We had the chef’s choice platter of sashimi, nigiri, and daily maki along with some edamame, seaweed salad, and a volcano maki (not pictured, but it was a decadent lobster and salmon roll with fresh fish roe). Considering the quality of seafood plus the upscale atmosphere, it was a shockingly affordable lunch (about $50 – same as sandwiches and beers at Laundromat Café!) and next time I’m in Iceland I plan on eating a lot more sushi.
And finally… the crème de la crème of our Icelandic culinary experience… Grill Market. After the whale watching (and yes, we did see minke whales, dolphins, and porpoises!) we went back to KEX, got dolled up, and made our last walk to the city centre (sob!) for a very nice dinner to cap off our time in Reykjavik. Grill Market is the darling of Reykjavik right now. It’s been named the hippest new restaurant by all sorts of websites and has a lot of word-of-mouth going for it. The ambiance was trendy, elegant, and cozy all at once. I fell in love immediately. We flipped through the menu for a few minutes and decided, who are we kidding here? We’re definitely going to do the eight-course chef tasting menu of the day. It wasn’t cheap – a little over $100 per person including drinks – but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Before the real supper started, we were treated to freshly baked bread with soft Icelandic butter and black lava salt to sprinkle on top. Iceland has ruined run-of-the-mill table salt for me. From now on, if it’s not black lava salt, I don’t want to hear about it.
Now onto the main event:
First Course: Deep fried salt fish and squid. As you can probably guess, it was indeed super salty, in a good way.
Second Course: Grilled minke whale. The sweet taste of controversy strikes again. This was more tender and flavorful than any beef steak.
Third Course: Duck confit salad with roasted sweet potatoes and fresh mozzarella – while the most simple, this might have been our favorite course out of the whole decadent meal! I’ve never thought to combine mozzarella with duck and sweet potato but it’s a real winner.
Fourth Course: BBQ pork ribs. Just as good (or better) as any ribs I’ve had in Texas. Different, but definitely just as good.
Fifth Course: Fresh salmon with broccoli. I’m not sure how to explain this besides, well, fresh. Iceland’s seafood is just amazing.
Sixth Course: Roast lamb with sesame-carrot slaw and crispy roasted potatoes. The textures were perfect together.
Seventh Course: Rare steak (I believe a ribeye?) with a whole roasted garlic, coarse black lava salt, and greens. This was the richest meat dish, so fatty and savory in the best way possible.
Eighth Course: GIANT PLATTER OF DESSERTS! This was, frankly, ridic. Mug of chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream with a hot caramel sauce poured over it in a tableside presentation, creme brulee, and sour sorbets over crispy cookie crumbs topped with dark chocolate. Oh, and a few slices of fresh fruit to lighten things up, of course.
And so concludes my enormous account of Icelandic culinary delights! I wish I could’ve tried shark, but I guess that’s an adventure for the next time we visit. Of course, there’s so much more to Iceland than rich meals and hip bars, but I think one of the best ways to experience a place is by eating everything in sight. I’ll always remember our Icelandic tapas, chef tasting extravaganza at Grill Market, late night hot dogs, stank blue cheese burgers at Vitabar… Ég elska þig Ísland!