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.