TjöruhúsiðTjöruhúsið

Icelandic author and Nobel laureate, Halldór Laxness, once wrote that “life is above all else saltfish.” A country with a history of deprivation, Icelanders have never been famed for their cooking; the lasting relics of traditional Viking fare can be ‘enjoyed’ every year at the midwinter Þorrablót festival. If you are planning a visit just after New Year and the idea of singed sheep’s head, pickled blood sausage and putrefied shark meat don’t set your taste-buds tingling, then you are in luck because, for the 21st century traveller, standards have improved. Modern Icelandic cooking emphasises the quality of local produce – vegetables are grown in geothermal greenhouses, lamb and beef are free-range and the seafood is sustainably farmed and very fresh. Here are our tips for some great eats:

GRÆNN KOSTUR Skólavörðustígur 8b 101 Reykjavík, +354 552 2028

This is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Iceland, based in Reykjavík’s city centre. It offers a small selection of vegetarian and vegan meals, freshly prepared every morning. Desserts are amazing and all baked onsite, with gluten-free options available. Try the famous ‘Green Wonder’ smoothie, available to take away for a mid-morning pick me up.

PERLAN Oskjuhlio, Reykjavík 125, +354 562 0200

The domed roof of this building, which forms a distinctive part of the Reykjavík skyline, holds Iceland’s sole revolving restaurant. Set in rolling parkland and built on top of a huge tank containing the geothermal heated water supply for much of the city, this centre also contains shops, an exhibition space and a great cocktail bar. Diners in the restaurant can enjoy the best in modern Icelandic cooking while enjoying a spectacular view over the rooftops of the city.

TJÖRUHÚSIÐ Neðstakaupstað,400 Isafiordr Vestur-Isafjardarsysla +354 456 4419

Located in Ísafjorður, the picturesque capital of the Westfjords region of north-western Iceland, local favourite Tjöruhúsið, is rightly touted as the best seafood restaurant in Iceland. Built inside a large wooden fishing hut on the outskirts of the town, all-you-can-eat fish is served in large skillets on a buffet. Choice is dictated by whatever the owner (who, clearly a gifted man, is also the chef) has caught in his boat that morning. Arctic char, whitefish and sustainable cod are regular highlights, and the lobster soup is exquisite and perfectly seasoned. Food is unpretentious, but the freshness and quality of the ingredients really speak for themselves.

TO DRINK

KEX HOSTEL
KEX HOSTEL

Drinking, it might be said, is part of the Icelander’s DNA. The Sagas, some of the earliest examples of literature in the Icelandic language, are filled with accounts of the Vikings’ fearsome drinking exploits. Although mead has since given way in popularity to beer, wine and spirits, the capital remains a hot destination for anything from grabbing a quick cocktail before dinner, to really letting your hair down on a Saturday night.

Brewing beer in Iceland was effectively illegal due to prohibition until 1989, but since then the locals have certainly made up for lost time. Over the past few decades, independent breweries and distilleries have sprung up all over the country producing world-class lagers and ales. Einstök Brewery, located in Akureyri just south of the Arctic Circle, uses pure Icelandic glacial water to produce a range of craft ales, perfect for the drinker who is keen on flavour, but not on air miles.

For those seeking something a little stronger, Reyka Vodka is perfect for taking the edge off the chill on a winter’s evening. Distilled in small batches by a small team of five men and women, Reyka spirits are then filtered through Icelandic lava rock to give them their distinctive flavour.

Reykjavík is filled with trendy bars and clubs where you can enjoy these Icelandic drinks, and many others. Here are our hot picks:

KEX HOSTEL BAR Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík +354 561 6060

Kex hostel, built inside an old biscuit factory downtown, offers fashionable and cheap accommodation in the centre of the capital. The hostel’s first floor bar has become one of Reykjavík’s premier watering holes and live music venues, hosting weekly parties and concerts, while its restaurant offers a wide selection of delicious Icelandic cuisine on seasonal rotation. Kick back with a tankard of local ale and do some people watching, or check out some of Iceland’s best musical talent at an evening concert.

HARPA COCKTAIL BAR Austurbakki 2 101 Reykjavík +354 528 5000

Designed by Icelandic architect Ólafur Elíasson, the Harpa Concert Hall opened its doors in 2011. The hall’s award-winning glass façade, built to mimic the natural form of crystallized basalt columns, allows the building to reduce lighting costs and minimise its electricity usage, while the venue uses only renewable hydroelectric and geothermal power. Harpa’s cocktail bar, located on the top floor, offers a stunning view over Reykjavík’s trendy old harbour, and presents a perfect location for catching up with friends or meeting the locals. With Happy Hour every weekday, it is also one of the more cost-effective drinking options in the capital. Well worth checking out, and definitely the meanest Singapore Sling in town.

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