Iceland For Foodies?
January 16, 2013 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to Iceland, probably for May, and a friend has expressed interest in coming along. I'm a bit worried ...

because said friend generally likes the following things:

fancy food
fancy booze
fancy hotels

...And since the first 3 are obviously Not in abundance in Reykjavik, early spring, I'm wondering what our odds are for the last three. Personally, I'm dying to visit, and will go solo if need be. But this friend is generally a blast to travel with, so if a convincing argument can be made, I'd like to make it.

I've done some googling, but my unfamiliarity with Icelandic cuisine means I can't really tell how fancy/excellent these menus really are. Personal recommendations would be WAY welcome.
posted by like_a_friend to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
...And since the first 3 are obviously Not in abundance in Reykjavik, early spring,

I don't know about #2 & 3 (ok, I doubt it's very warm), but why would you think it's not sunny in May? 17 hours of sunlight aren't enough?

Climate/Daylight charts and more charts
posted by leahwrenn at 11:24 AM on January 16, 2013

There is plenty of sunlight- perhaps TOOO MUCH SUNLIGHT! in May. (The first time I went over Memorial Day weekend, it was still felt like dusk at 4 am). There is fancy food, booze and hotels but with a smaller variety (if you're from NYC it's NYC prices, if you're from anyplace else, you'll consider it expensive); I didn't see a real beach while there, but they do have the Blue Lagoon (geothermal hotsprings) which I think is better than a beach.

The weather is variable (and pretty awesome), so while you may get a sunny weather in the morning, by lunch it may be overcast and drizzly. and then evening may see insanely clear skies with a "sunset" at 10pm.
posted by larthegreat at 11:34 AM on January 16, 2013

Also, heat can be found in one of the many hot springs found throughout Iceland.
posted by Grither at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Anecdata: I love food-vacations and while I enjoyed some time in Iceland in 2009, I did not have a lot of food success. My tastes do run more towards street-food, so they may be different than your friend's.

My observations were that unless you want to eat a delicacy like puffin breast, the things that were "indigenous foodstuffs" were: made of oddly processed licorice, made in "Shenzenh Industrial Park 4, Space 32", or both. And that hot dog stand that Bill Clinton famously ate at? We don't talk about those hot dogs any more.

As far as booze goes, the primary native drink is pretty unappetizing unless you like aquavit. It is intentionally labeled to be unappealing and probably could have skipped the label and still made it into the realm of gross drinks.

In defense of 2&3, you can just spend a whole lot of time at the Blue Lagoon, which is a large geothermal pool with a rich blue color. It is a decent simulation of a warm beach.
posted by andorphin at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2013

And Iceland certainly has fancy food, booze, and hotels--but be forewarned that they are stunningly expensive. It's very easy to spend US$100+ on an entirely unremarkable dinner (like, say, a pizza with a bottle of wine).

The smart money is on buying booze in the duty free at Keflavik (sp?) on arrival and taking it to your hotel.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:37 AM on January 16, 2013

I highly recommend the Icelandic tasting menu at Tapas Barinn. It's in a slinky basement restaurant with a lounge-y cocktail area, so you can make an evening of it. The menu does include both whale and puffin, but if you're opposed they have other tasting menu options as well as regular entrees.

Not fancy, but I also loved Icelandic Fish & Chips.
posted by superfluousm at 11:39 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like all of those things on your list, and I still want to visit Iceland someday. I don't have any recommendations for fancy anything in Iceland, but I would be totally okay with "roughing it." Chances are your friend might be, too.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:43 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Apologies for not doing daylight research first -- reports from friends who visited in spring merely said, "sure, it's great, as long as you don't mind all the darkness," but possibly they were there much earlier in the season? (Or possibly the volcano was to blame...most of them somehow managed to travel mid-eruption...)
posted by like_a_friend at 11:49 AM on January 16, 2013

I went to Iceland with my boyfriend in mid-November and even then it was quite sunny, albeit for a limited number of hours. I'm sure May would have been about as much sunshine as I could handle.

We had quite a few amazing meals. I especially enjoyed Grillmarket, Snaps Bistro and the aforementioned Icelandic Fish and Chips. Be prepared to spend a ridiculous amount of money on food. I don't think we had a single dinner that cost less than $75 for the two of us. Luckily we had gotten a very good deal on airfare and hotel and were able to splurge a bit on good food.

We found the English language publication Reykjavik Grapevine very helpful for figuring out where to eat and drink. Have a great trip! It's an incredible country.
posted by fancypants at 12:11 PM on January 16, 2013

The NYTimes love Iceland:
36 Hours
41 Places to go in 2011
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 1:10 PM on January 16, 2013

If you eat fish, Iceland will be full of great food. If you don't, it will suck hard. Especially if you also don't eat lamb.
As a vegetarian I had luck in Reykjavik but outside of that, the restaurants were not so hot. DON'T be tempted to eat "pizza" there. Just forget you saw it on the menu. It will not end well if you have ever had a piece of pizza before.
My omnivore fiance loved the ubiquitous lobster bisque and fish, but he said the restaurants for that were better in R. than outside as well. (With one exception, a tiny place in the Westfjords that I don't know the name of)
posted by rmless at 2:20 PM on January 16, 2013

I went on a trip to Iceland in October. Had a great time. One place I will call out is Fiskfelagið—literally "fish market". They have food other than fish. They also served one of the best meals I've had in a very long time. Expensive, yes.

I was surprised at how very expensive booze is there. All the liquor stores are state-run, and a bottle of wine that would be $8 in the USA was more like $30 at a liquor store there.
posted by adamrice at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2013

If you're familiar with the Scandinavian lack of table service and like good vegetarian food, there is a place called something like "Mother's Restaurant" on Klapparstigur, about 50 feet south of Laugavegur, on the west side of the street. You go in a door and the place is on the second floor. I think the last time we were there it seemed that there was no sign for it any more and it looked closed but it was quite open and quite good.

Also do NOT buy "MaltExtract" at the supermarket. They put it in the beer section but good lord it is not beer at all.
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:38 PM on January 16, 2013

Iceland is not a destination for foodies. There's some interesting local food, whale for instance, but in general the dining experience there is not, um, up to international standards. And both food and alcohol are terribly expensive, not just by American pricing but compared to most of Europe. Seriously, don't go to Iceland for fancy food, hotels, or booze. Go for the beauty and oddness of the place.

By far the best meal I had in Reykjavik was Sjavarkjallarinn. I've heard it's now closed, but I think there are some related restaurants that might be up to the same standard. I also had a decent dinner at Humarhúsið (aka Lobster House), the food and service were good but the place is very touristy (for good and bad). We stayed at the Hotel Borg which was a high quality standard European hotel in a good central location. I'd gladly stay there again.

If you are looking for a truly exotic and remote trip I can recommend a visit also to the Faroe Islands. Even less of a food and hotel destination, but there's one very good place: the Koks Restaurant at the Hotel Føroyar.The Faroes are a remarkably unusual place. It's like a 90 minute flight from Reykjavik.
posted by Nelson at 3:40 PM on January 16, 2013

Grillmarket, mentioned above, is wonderful. The Lobster House, also mentioned above, was also good, and I heard from locals that other lobster restaurants in that area are good, too. If you get out of Rekjavik, the other two places I can recommend for really great food are The Cow Shed in Myvatn and Hotel Anna in the south. The warnings above about price are true; everything is exorbitant. However, it is enchanting there that I didn't care what I ate.
posted by TrarNoir at 4:34 PM on January 16, 2013

I can also recommend the Icelandic fish and chips. Really very tasty.

The Mexican food spot in the middle of the center is to be avoided. At. All Cost - if it's still there.

Somewhere not too far from the Volcano show is a side street in which a guy from Brooklyn runs a creperie.

Saegreifinn has very good lobster bisque and whale kabob.

Grai Kotturinn is nice and cozy, I had a good breakfast there.
posted by bunderful at 7:04 PM on January 16, 2013

fancy food
fancy booze
fancy hotels

It's the combination of these things together that makes me concerned. Because while Iceland has some of these things in varying degrees, when listed together they sum up what a trip to Iceland is not about.

Everyone should go, but I would be hesitant to recommend your friend joins you unless they are prepared for something a bit more adventurous. One way to broach this might be to lay out your itinerary and see how they react (e.g. 'I'm staying at Kex, and visiting this waterfall on this day, whalewatching this day' etc etc.

Have fun anyway, it's one of the best places I've been.
posted by pink_gorilla at 11:58 PM on January 16, 2013

Saegreifinn was not somewhere I would ever go again. The service was atrocious and the grilled sea-meats were served on styrofoam plates that melted around the meats. Disgusting.
posted by MonsieurBon at 1:06 PM on January 17, 2013

And since the first 3 are obviously Not in abundance in Reykjavik, early spring, I'm wondering what our odds are for the last three. Personally, I'm dying to visit, and will go solo if need be. But this friend is generally a blast to travel with, so if a convincing argument can be made, I'd like to make it.

My memories of Iceland involve hiking on a glacier, hanging out at a coffee place, going to the heated pools, and a failed attempt to go to the Blue Lagoon. I hear the nightlife is *awesome* in the spring and summer, but I visited there in November, and that was not a good nightlife time to go. (I also don't really need a lot of natural light, so this is not that important to me)

If your friend's idea of a good time involves outdoor adventures and hiking, and maybe some nightlife punctuated with a volcanic spa, then Iceland is a great idea. Take a raincheck on your friend's request and take him/her with you when you visit southern France or the coast of Italy or Croatia.

The food was enjoyable. It was a novelty to eat puffin and a few variations of fish-ball soup. But if I were your friend, I would be thinking of more of a mediterranean vacation than an outdoor-adventure trip to Iceland.
posted by deanc at 8:28 AM on February 4, 2013

I went to Icelandic Fish and Chips last week. The fish was good, but the rosemary/garlic chips were very oily, not hot and nothing special. It wasn't a bad meal, but I've had much better fish and chips in the UK. The servers were charming but the food also took an earth age to appear. Perhaps it was an off night.

The Bill Clinton hot dog place was popular with tourists and locals alike when I went. It was.. an acquired taste. I'm being polite.

I had the tasting menu at Fish Market. By upscale Reykjavik prices, it was pretty good value (ISK10,000 as opposed to ISK6,500 for some main courses) although wine was expensive. But the food was fantastic. 8 or 9 courses and every one was a cracker. The quality of the fish was first rate. They also didn't mind us substituting the whale dish. I had thought it might be a bit touristy or trading on reputation but it was properly ambitious and a real foodie highlight.

I didn't eat there - I ran out of days, unfortunately - but had cocktails at Slippbarinn. The food is more international than Icelandic but looked good. The chef won Icelandic chef of the year 2012. The food looked good and I'd definitely recommend it as a place to go, if only for a drink.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:45 AM on February 9, 2013

I'm sad I didn't notice this question when posted, since I've done a rather lot of eating in Iceland. And while it had it's high and low points (including more than a few of the abovementioned lamb hot dogs), I really loved Iceland as a food destination, especially since they seem to do fish better than most any other place I've been.

For what it's worth, see my writeup on my blog (which is by now one of the larger collections of English-language Iceland food reviews...)
posted by kaszeta at 5:21 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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