‘Sheep have been roaming free since 874’ says a sign near the doorpost at restaurant Matur og Drykkur, a restaurant housed in an old salt fish factory, a building it shares with the Saga museum in the old harbor area of Reykjavik. Depending on the season lamb is paired with rhubarb or rutabaga on a menu that sees a creative play on Icelandic traditions, featuring local seafood, what’s in season and local ingredients like dulse, dill, lovage, whey butter and, always, skyr.
The former salt fish factory is in the bustling old harbor area. From dry docks where big ships are hauled in for repairs to small fishing boats bringing in the catch of the day, not to mention the expansive views across the bay to distant mountains, Grandi Harbor as it is called is perhaps old Reykjavik at its best, with boutique shops, eateries, museums, and just up from the harbor narrow streets with old painted wooden houses to stroll around.
Just across from Reykjavik’s maritime museum on the harbor is a row of renovated fishing sheds that house a variety of boutiques and stores. The eclectic Coocoo’s Nest beckons with the smell of coffee and fresh bread, baked in house. Using reclaimed woods and keeping the character of the old shed intact, it’s a cosy spot in a row of that also houses an artisan cheese shop and popular ice cream parlor. At the butcher shop, run by a local farm family with a farm north of Reykjavik, the butcher– tattooed arms, full beard and man bun–concentrated on the meat at hand and looked up only briefly.
The boardwalk that follows here meanders along the seashore and out to where the Sun Voyager, a steel sculpture that resembles an old Viking ship and was created as an ode to the sun. It’s a 2K walk but regardless, you may not make it past the Harpa, an eye-catcher of honeycombs of glass and steel and Reykjavik’s cultural center. Open to the public to wander in any time morning to evening, the building’s open views of sky, sea and city transform it into a place to repose, lie down on one of the platforms along the stairs and watch clouds drift by above.
Matur og Drykkur serves classic Icelandic fare for lunch, including plokkfiskur and salted cod fritters. Dinner is a creative affair and includes a tasting menu of Iceland, seafood or vegetarian.
Coocoo’s Nest serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breads are made in house, including the sourdough pizzas.
Other suggested “pitstops”:
Slippbarinn is a great place for handcrafted cocktails and local Icelandic favorites. They also have a great happy hour and regularly feature live music!
The Fish Company serves exquisite seafood creations in the atmospheric ambiance of the old cellar of the Zimsen building that dates back to 1884.
Earlier in February 2017, Dill Restaurant became the first Icelandic restaurant to earn a Michelin star. I can KICK myself for not working harder on a reservation when I was in Reykjavik last summer.
And finally: A stone’s throw from the capital Reykjavik, the roughly 250 miles loop known as the Golden Circle takes you to the scenic land of lava rock and geysers — just don’t literally throw a stone: in case you hit one of Iceland’s Huldufólk — better known as elves. See my post Iceland: Mystical Creatures & Sulphur Smells.