One of the little details I like about eating in Iceland is that the dairy products are fantastic. On our main visit to Iceland in 2012, we discovered Brynja in Akureyri, which serves up some most splendid and flavorful vanilla soft-serve that’s got a nice, earthy richness of flavor. And probably much to the chagrin of my doctor, most every breakfast had me eating Skyr or schmearing a good half-inch thick layer of Smjor (Iceland’s major brand of butter) over some rye bread. I’m told it’s from the cows eating grass grown on highly volcanic soil that gives the milk and dairy products a lot more flavor. So when we heard that over on the west side of town was a new-ish ice cream place that people were raving out, we had to just set out and find it. Thus, we found ourselves in a weird little industrial area just west of Reykjavik’s harbor, which consists of all sorts of little garage-like bays. Some of these are now art boutiques. A few are restaurants. And one held ice cream: Valdis.
Our next stop for refreshment during our layover in Reykjavik was one of the nicer beer bars to show up since our last visit: Mikkeller and Friends. An offshoot of the Danish brewer, it’s quite a nice little beer bar located right next to one of our other Reykjavik favorites, Grái Kötturinn (where we had breakfast that morning: Grái Kötturinn is a godsend for the international traveler arriving before most of Reykjavik wakes up). They’ve got a rather impressive beer list (indeed, including one of the very last kegs of Jack D’Or in existence, from the closed Pretty Thinks brewery in Somerville, MA), but for food, they recommend that you go downstairs and order a pizza from the pizza place with no name.
Those that have been following a while know that every year I try to go someplace interesting, somewhat obscure, and rather, well, offbeat for at least one vacation, like La Reunion or Iceland. Well, after a few years’ incubation, this summer we were finally able to work out the details and have a trip to the Faroe Islands (stay tuned for some reviews). But like a good number of the obscure travel destinations I’ve done, one doesn’t simply hop on a plane from Boston to Vagar (the airport of the Faroes). Only a few places (primarily Norway, Scotland, Denmark, and Iceland) even have flights to the Faroe Islands, so it’s necessary to take an intermediate stop. In our case, this meant a return trip to Reykjavik for an extended layover. Since our visit in 2012, the formerly obscure vacation destination of Iceland continues to be more popular, and as a result, Reykjavik’s tourist, and dining, scene, continues to evolve. Back when I wrote up my reviews in 2012, I was pretty much the English-language source of reviews for Iceland (and I still get a lot of traffic), but it’s definitely shown up on the radar for adventurous tourists. With that in mind, that’s how we found ourselves having beers and dining in a converted biscuit factory on the north side of Reykjavik: KEX.
Our last meal in Reykjavik was at the Reykjavik branch of Rub 23 (the original is in Akureyri). Rub 23 is basically an Asian Fusion place that pairs Icelandic ingredients with Asian ingredients (the name comes from several specialty rubs, their schtick is that you can pick your own combination of meat and rub). It’s a fairly trendy place, and one of the harder places to get into on a weekend in Reykjavik, but we managed to score a table, and opted for the tasting menu.
Our last full day in Iceland was mostly spent tooling around Reykjavik. In the morning, we spent most of our time in Reykjavik’s heated pool, Laugardalslaug, which was nice (but wasn’t conducive to cameras…) Afterward, we wandered around downtown again. One place we really wanted to check out was Noodle Station. Noodle Station is one of those places I didn’t find from reviews, or from people waiting in long lines, or from signage. Noodle Station is one of those places that we found purely from the smell. Located on Skolavordustigur just down from Hallgrimskirkja, we couldn’t miss Noodle Station on our first day in Reykjavik; they were prepping for the day, and the entire place smelled of star anise and wonderful soup broth. But that first day, we were never in that part of town when they were open. But now that we were back in Reykjavik, and it was lunchtime, we decided that this time we’d check out Noodle Station.
Well, our “Great Circle” tour of Iceland had finished, but we weren’t quite done with Iceland, having another two days in Reykjavik to explore. With our various diversions on our last day of driving (including a return trip to Hveragerði to take a long hike to check out the Varma (“Warm River”), fed by hot springs), we got back into Reykjavik rather late and several places were booked solid for dinner (it was a Friday night), but we didn’t have too much trouble getting Sjávargrillið (“Seafood Grill”) for dinner. Sjávargrillið is one of the up-and-coming trendy restaurants in Reykjavik (the head chef was Iceland’s 2010 chef of the year), but it’s menu is still pretty approachable: the primary theme of Sjávargrillið is “Icelandic Seafood”, with a nice variety of fresh and smoked seafood dishes, but they also offer several “Feasts”, including their “Grill Party” (basically a chef’s choice multi-course special), a lobster feast, and a “Taste of Iceland” feast (puffin, shag, and minke whale). While all of these were very tempting, we ended up settling on the daily special, the perch.
After a day spent touring all around the city, including several walks to/from our hotel, we were more than ready for a good dinner in Reykjavik. We really wanted to try out something novel, and we had noticed that several Reykjavik joints were doing “Icelandic Tapas”, combining the concept of tapas with local ingredients. Actually, since Reykjavik has quite the fishing port, and a lot of fresh fish, this made sense. Walking around town, we settled on trying out Tapas Húsið (Tapas House), which is located adjacent to the harbor in what used to be a processing plant for saltfiskur (bacalao). Looking over the menu at Tapas Húsið, we noticed that they focus on tasting menus, with three main choices: Tapas from the Sea, Tapas from the Land, and Tapas from the Farmer. We ended up doing the Tapas from the Seas tasting menu, which we also supplemented with a few additional courses. We settled back with our pitchers of Sangria (they had a 2 for 1 special going on), and let them start bringing out the food.
Just a block away from the busy harbor of Reykjavik lies a little stand in a modest parking area, next to a taxi stand. If you’re ever in Reykjavik, you can’t really miss the place. Between its opening at 11am, and whenever it closes (sometime after bar closing), this stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, has at least a modest line of people queued up waiting to order, and the line moves quickly. Doing a little bit of research, I also found that Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is actually (by number of annual visitors) the busiest restaurant in Iceland, and that the vast majority of Icelanders, and a good fraction of tourists, have eaten here. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a hot dog stand. The name actually translates to “The best hot dog in town”. And judging from the lines, the name is probably accurate: I saw at least a thousand hot dogs served up from this little stand during my visit here.
We took the red eye to Keyflavik (it’s hard not to, actually), which had us arriving all bleary-eyed at a time which was either 3:30 or 7:30, depending on which clock you are looking at. Attempting to get on local time, we wandering into downtown Reykjavik to find some coffee and breakfast, looking for a nice, solid breakfast to get us going. We ended up finding a couple of good options (Prikið, in particular, looks like a place I need to check out on another visit), but we ended up finding exactly what we needed at the Grái Kötturinn (Gray Cat) in a basement just off of the harbor area…