Lava Restaurant (Blue Lagoon, Grindavík, Iceland)

On our most recent trip to visit my brother and sister-in-law in London, we decided to finally try the Icelandair route, which involves two flights, one from BOS to KEF, and another shorter hop from KEF to LHR. What’s intriguing about this approach is that Icelandair and Keflavik exist primarily on transit passengers (as opposed to people making Iceland their primary destination), and they make it very convenient for you to take an extended layover (nine hours in our case) and there are a number of cheap shuttle buses that will take you around SW Iceland, into Reykjavik, or off to soak in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon Spa.

We opted for the last of these options, feeling that nothing helps work out the kinks from an overseas red-eye flight like a nice long hot soak in some hot springs. $35 each (after currency conversion) for bus and entrance fee, and Carol and I were off to the lagoon.

The lagoon itself (shown here) was quite a novel experience. The blue-ish white water is a mix of fresh and seawater that comes from the nearby geothermal power plan, and it’s pretty much saturated with minerals like silica and sulfur (while you can’t tell from the photo, the majority of the lagoon’s bottom is actually black sand, so the water itself is milky-blue). Bathing in the Blue Lagoon is supposedly very good for the skin (but, as we found, having a somewhat questionable affect on one’s hair), and there is now all sorts of folklore about it’s overall health effects. Big buckets of silica mud are available for slathering over your skin, and the nice warm water (over 100 degrees F in most of the pool) really makes for a pleasant soak. After several hours lounging in the pool, with the occasional break for a Viking beer (the main beer of Iceland, which I can’t say is anything terribly special), I was thoroughly relaxed, and exfoliated to a degree I had not thought possible. My long plane flight and jetlag were long-forgotten memories.

But I was starting to get hungry. Luckily, the Blue Lagoon offers a handful of dining options, including a modest snack bar, as well as a full restaurant (Lava). The day we were there, Lava was running a buffet special featuring “a cross section of traditional Icelandic dishes.” Although somewhat pricey (around $24 each after conversion), we both opted for the buffet.

I’ll have to say, what I’m rather glad we did. Although fully half of the menu involved herring in one form or another (and anyone that knows me knows that most fish, and herring in particular, don’t agree with me very much), I was pleasantly pleased with the selections, with several lamb dishes (open-faced smoked lamb sandwichs, lamb soup, and cold sliced leg of lamb), herring in cream, curried beans, several potato dishes, and salted cod mousse. While the herring was mildly enjoyable, I really liked the lamb dishes; several people had told me of the high reputation of Icelandic lamb, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, the eye opener for me was the last meat item on the buffet, minke whale with pepper sauce.

I’ve never had whale before, but was intrigued by the deep tuna-like rare meat slices, so I grabbed several of them on my first pass. It was an interesting texture and flavor, reminding me mostly of buffalo carpaccio, with some slight gaminess, a hint of tuna-like flavor and texture, and just enough omega fatty acids to make it clear you’re eating a creature of the sea. I’m not sure I’d enjoy a huge plate of minke whale, but it was pleasant enough, especially coupled with the excellent pepper sauce.

Rounding out the meal was one of my favorite parts of the meal, a dessert of Icelandic skyr. Kind of a half-way cross between strained yogurt and a very soft cheese, I don’t really care for skyr straight up, but when served with a nice healthy dollop of not-to-sweet berry preserves, it was a most excellent dessert indeed. Excellent enough that I ended up polishing off four of the little skyr jars.

What also worked here was the view, our table was right up against the glass overlooking the lagoon, which made for a thoroughly pleasant dining experience. The opposite side of the room was a rock wall of solid lava, making for some very interesting environs.

So, while a bit pricey, and the heavy reliance on herring dishes wasn’t my forte, I have plenty of enjoyment out of this meal, and will certainly consider a return trip to both the Blue Lagoon and its Lava Restaurant.

Lava Restaurant
Blue Lagoon

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