Apr 29

Stunning Iceland : A True Gastronomic Adventure.


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Hello all. I am finally back from my week in Iceland and man, what a trip it has been!

My mind has been completely blown and it was only the tip of the iceberg. So much more to see and do, but I’ll save that for another time.

I am so stoked by the experience that I quite honestly don’t know where to begin. The food, the culture and the landscape were all unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It was almost too much to wrap my head around.




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The main reason we planned the Iceland trip was for Fanfest 2013. We flew out of Amsterdam on the 23rd April and spent a night in Brighton, UK. The next day we boarded our connecting flight out of Gatwick to Keflavik International Airport. That was probably the most frustrating 3 hrs I have ever spent on a plane coz I just wanted to get there already. Many on-board were undoubtedly EVE gamers themselves and we managed to spot them a mile away. Sitting behind us was a trio of very jovial Geordies, and everything they said made me giggle to myself; so they were my entertainment during the flight while R slept soundly next to me. We would only be landing at 5 p.m local time. *drums fingers irritably*




Landing at Keflavik airport presented one of the most bewildering landscapes I have ever laid my eyes on ~ lava rocks as far as the eye can see and snow capped mountains in the distance with not a SINGLE tree in sight. One of the trio behind me then said out loud what I had just been thinking, “Christ! Welcome to Mars!” On the edges of the runway were piled up mounds of melting snow and ice. Apparently four inches had already fallen that very morning, but the rest of the day promised to be pleasant and sunny … all in all, a “balmy 4ºC” , said our pilot.




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Once in the airport we discovered a fellow EVE corp mate and he came in very handy right from the start. He’s what you would call a veteran Fanfest fan; totally committed to the event and this was his fourth time in Iceland. R and I were both noobs and had no idea how to even get out of the airport. With Dana (screen name) by our side we managed to buy our shuttle bus tickets and make it on the right one heading towards Reykjavic city. I don’t think I was very well prepared, mentally, for Iceland. Everything was completely not how I had imagined the country to be. The airport was out in the middle of nowhere and it would take us an hour to reach the city. In between the two points was absolutely nothing and everything all at the same time. The landscape was stunning; miles and miles of empty grassy plains coupled with lava rock fields. It took my breath away.




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Majestic snow covered mountain ranges broke the monotony of an otherwise flat horizon. This scene carried on for the entire journey into the city, and an hour later we were dropped off at the main bus terminal … again, it was my assumption that we were in the middle of nowhere. The city was not what I expected at all. For starters it was much MUCH smaller. Nada pointed out the steeple of the Hallgrímskirkja and assured me it was only a ten minute walk from where we were into the heart of town. Me being me, I wasn’t walking anywhere with luggage in a foreign land unless I was 100% sure he wasn’t just making it up. In my mind we had to be far outside the city limits coz it sure as heck looked that way. Thankfully, it was already 18:20 hrs and we were already running late in meeting up with another corp mate who was waiting for us at the Harpa Convention Centre. So R. said we should just take a cab to get there ASAP. Three minutes and one round-the-corner bend later we pulled up at the very modern and very stunning looking Harpa building. Okay, so Dana was right, and for that we coughed up ISK 1,400.




Once we had located the other corp mate, Spujo (screen name), and had dumped all our bags at our rental apartment, it was time to explore and get to know the wonderful city of Reykjavic. Spujo had been wandering about the city for the past twelve hours already, since his flight came in at 6 am that morning. All the newcomers were in high spirits and eager to get the show on the road. First on the list of priorities : FOOD. So we walked down the main street of town on the prowl for some decent grub. Again I was stunned at how compact the city was. What I mistook to be a quiet side street was actually the main city “boulevard” and downtown area. Wha … what?!??! It would be virtually impossible to get lost here coz all you had to do was cross the street or walk round the corner and you’d find your friends again. This happened on an almost daily basis with Spujo coz he had no phone on him and was always getting separated from the group.



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Dinner that first night was at the greifinn (The Sea Baron) diner, located at Geirsgata 8, Reykjavic,  right along the old harbour where all the fishing trawlers are docked. Dana had recommended this place for its amazingly fresh seafood skewers and he thought it would be a fabulous introduction to Icelandic food for the rest of us newbies.



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On his previous visits he had come here often and he vouched for the quality of food. He was not wrong there. The Sea Baron can best be described as no-frills eating in an old fishing shack by the wharf. The atmosphere of the place made me feel like bursting out into a shanty and saying “Argh! ye maties…” throughout dinner. The dining concept here was to pick out the various fish and seafood skewers from the cooler and hand it over to the girl behind the counter and they would grill it for you. Then you go sit outside on long wooden benches or on old barrels on communal tables and wait for food to arrive. Choices include cod, salmon, skate, lobster, halibut, lemon sole, plaice, red fish, anglerfish, catfish, blue ling, river trout, smoked eel and minke whale all on a stick.



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They are also famous for their lobster soup which come served in common coffee mugs. R had the lobster soup and it came with bread and butter. A little watery for my liking but the flavour was very nice. Hot soup on a cold day is perfection in any country. The fish skewers arrived soon after and I thoroughly enjoyed them … until I learnt of their price. All I can say is it’s not the cheapest meal in town. At € 11 a pop I would be very mindful of this fact before I order a second stick. Needless to say I was not sated. I wasn’t hungry anymore, but I wasn’t full either. A single skewer of fish was like an appetizer rather than a main course. Having said that tho, the fish was excellent in all other aspects of texture, flavour, freshness. Each skewer came with a wedge of lemon and honestly, that was the only dressing required. Everything else was delightful and perfect.



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After dinner the lads all went out for the night, hitting the local bars and sitting down to talk geek ~~ I headed to the local store to stock up on some basic provisions and then home to unwind. They have been playing online for years but for many, R included, this was the first time they were meeting face to face and getting to know the actual person behind the screen name. We were missing just one more person, Dom from the States, who had missed his connecting flight that afternoon, and got stuck in Boston for the night. It was obvious that Reykjavic was filling up with foreigners fast coz EVE Fanfest officially kicks off the next day. Bars, clubs and local businesses had all put up banners and window signs advertising special discounts within if you showed your Fanfest pass. In the streets I heard no less than 8 different languages being spoken. The sole 24/7 convenience store was filled with people stocking up on provisions, namely alcohol. Some people who were on our flight started stocking up on alcohol at the airport duty free itself, buying crates of beer and several bottles of spirits. You could already sense the city was going to turn into one big party zone over the next four days … and party they did. Every night was a bender and no one got in before 2 a.m.



Personal impressions of the city : It’s a close knit community where everything is clean and organised. Its people are so very polite and extend their Icelandic hospitality with the greatest of warmth. The main sector of business seem to be in fashion design and other arty stuff like jewellery and furniture making. Everywhere you look there is some form of arty sculpture in the city, and in shop windows you get to feast your eyes on individual handcrafted jewellery pieces. Food selection in the city is surprisingly varied. You will have no trouble locating something that suits your palette (and your budget) from casual sushi bars and burger joints to award-winning restaurants serving up an impressive collection of wines costing up to ISK 250,000 per bottle. That’s roughly  € 1,630.




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Before I came here I had made a mental note to myself to eat as many Icelandic specialties as possible, and I think I have done pretty darn well so far, starting off with ‘skyr‘. Everybody eats skyr here, both tourists and locals alike, there is just no escaping it. Skyr, which is an Icelandic cultured dairy product much like yoghurt, was the easiest to find so I bought myself a tub on the very day I arrived. It is set with an acid and is much closer to a soft fresh cheese rather than yoghurt although it is eaten in the same way. Icelanders use skyr in everything from making smoothies to desserts, making fillings or as a breakfast accompaniment with cereals. Texture-wise skyr is far thicker than Greek yoghurt; if you turn your spoon upside down it will not plop on the floor. Flavour-wise it is comparable to yoghurt although I do detect an almost soya bean after taste.




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My verdict ~ Skyr is awesome and should be consumed as often as possible in all the weird and wonderful ways. So far I have had skyr for my breakfast topped with frozen berries; as a set pudding resembling panna cotta with lemony goodness at the Geysir Hotel, as a blueberry smoothie down at the local breakfast bar and finally mixed in with some muesli and water to make porridge.




Bright and early on the second day everybody ran off to the conference centre to register themselves at the EVE event and to collect access passes. I sat down to breakfast with my bowl of skyr and then went off to explore the city on my own. I had an agenda on my list that had to get done ~ locate cafe Loki and try their Icelandic tasting plates. I learned about the existence of cafe Loki by reading up various blogs and forums prior to our travel. I am glad I did coz I really enjoyed my foodie experience there. The cafe can be found at Lokastígur, 101 Reykjavík, on the corner facing the Hallgrímskirkja. Pretty handy, I thought. Go visit the iconic church and then pop in at cafe Loki to sample some of Icelands best homemade traditional dishes. There are many classic Icelandic meals on offer but I chose to have the Icelandic sample plate which came with:

  • Two rye bread slices, one with mashed fish & the other with smoked trout.
  • Flatbread with smoked lamb.
  • Dried fish with butter
  • A bit of a fermented shark




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I trully recommend the plokkfiski (mashed fish + potatoes) on rye. I think that was the best tasting sample on the plate. The smoked trout came second and the rest were somewhat average. The smoked lamb was nothing to wow about for it tasted like cured ham. I mean no disrespect, but what I am saying is it did not have any distinct flavour and I would probably forget what it tasted like in the next ten minutes. The dried fish was a challenge to eat coz I could not bite into it. Fish jerky that tasted exactly how I had imagined it to be … like dried cuttlefish shreds from back home. I was also intrigued that the locals eat this with butter. At first, I thought that the fish would be dried to a crisp, much like a fish cracker but sadly no, it was simply wind dried fish. Wasn’t put off by the smell or the flavour at all, simply wasn’t a fan of eating cardboardy fish smeared with butter. Next on the platter came the dreaded Hákarl, or fermented Icelandic shark meat that everyone seems to talk about with a shudder. I heard it was so bad that once ingested flight staff refuse to allow you onboard for fear of stinking up the whole cabin. The story goes that after consuming this product, no matter how tiny a piece, you will be sweating out the odour thru your pores for days to come. I ate two of the four pieces on my plate and none of the above happened. Pffftt ….!! It had a texture like silken tofu, salty at first but then the ammonia hits you later and your eyes do water a bit. This dish is ancient and steeped in traditional history of the Vikings, made by burying a Greenland shark underground for three months, then hanging it to dry for five. Why? Because the flesh in itself contains substances that is toxic to humans. By burying the flesh it allows some of the toxins to seep away into the soil before being dug up again.



Be aware that dining out in Iceland is not cheap. This single tasting plate plus a coffee cost me ISK 3,200 (about € 20) … and this holds true for the rest of the island, not just in tourist hot spots. Even shopping at the local grocery store is pricey because much of Iceland’s fresh produce has to be imported in from somewhere else.




Our best and most expensive meal came on the third day of Fanfest, during Pub Crawl Night. I had just returned from a full day of sight-seeing with the Sisters of Eve programme and I met R and his friends pouring out of the convention centre like school kids at the end of the day. He announced that he was starving as all he had eaten all day was half a bag of M&Ms. So we went on the prowl for something cheap and massively filling, like a giant burger + chips meal, but nothing appealed. We crossed a few more streets and wound up at Sjávargrillið, Skólavörðustíg 14, Reykjavic. I peeked inside and groaned. White linen napkins + smartly dressed waiters in long aprons mean expensive prices. But R was hungry and the menu intrigued him enough to venture in and ask for a table. They said they were pretty booked but they managed to get a us a table by the bar. At this stage we had no idea that this place is owned by an award-winning chef who is well on his way to winning his first Michelin star. All we could think about was feeding our starving bellies.



Picture source : The Icelandic Times.

Picture source : The Icelandic Times.



Everything on the menu looked so good that we ended up ordering the most expensive option available : a 10-course banquet dinner menu that showcased the very best of Icelandic ingredients. Our waitress kindly reminds us that this meal would take up to 3 hrs to complete. We were ready for it.



We started off the meal with a pail of fresh bread and beurre au sel. Then came the complimentary amuse bouche of salmon tartare + rye bread crumbs. Delicious! And it set the scene for more good things to come … we were not disappointed.



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The series of courses opened with some beautifully presented fish: Slow cooked golden perch with grilled langoustines served with mussle infused hollandaise. Grilled asparagus, pearl onions and smokey tomato puree finished off the dish.



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Next, came the grilled pepper minke whale steak accompanied with a creamy polenta puree and grilled mushrooms. I didn’t know what to expect as I have never eaten whale meat before, but to my surprise it was delicious!! The meat was as tender as the best fillet mignon and juicy too. The polenta + mushrooms were the perfect accompaniment. Of all the dishes, I found this to be one of my favourites.



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The whale had a smokey grill quality to the meat which went very well with the mushrooms. R does not do mushrooms, so MORE FOR ME!! After the scrumptious whale we were presented with a platter of more fish ~~ this time a very bright and beautiful plate of salmon tartare + locally smoked arctic char, marinated beets & local herbage.



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The nicest thing I liked about this dish were the beets, and I don’t usually like beets. These beets were sweet and they paired really nicely with the smokiness of the fish. On top of this there was another layer of flavour from the crumbled goats cheese which I never thought would compliment fish … but hey, it worked.




Once we got thru all the fish and the sea dwelling creatures, we moved on to exotic seabirds. The next plate was a mix of birds and more whale meat, beautifully presented with blueberry sorbet, crumbled goats cheese and a walnut gremolata. Slivers of puffin breast laid along side smoked European Shag and cured minke whale. Did not enjoy the puffin very much coz it tasted livery with a hint of metallic haemoglobin twang.



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I liked the smoked European shag a lot, which once again paired really well with the sweetness of the blueberry sorbet. I think I’ve learnt something on this day ~ smoked food goes really well with something sweet on the side. It was a reoccurring theme throughout dinner and I loved it! The cured minke whale was good but I think I preferred mine seared and grilled.


The next dish was probably the most filling coz it came with piles of creamy mushroom barley risotto. I don’t think R. realized the barley was cooked in a mushroom cream sauce (hehehe), which goes to show that his aversion towards them are ungrounded. Anyway, we once again revisited the fish dish : Golden perch & ling fish, creamy barley + mushroom risotto, pearl onions with a lobster reduction.



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As the meal progressed I lost more and more light, so the photo quality deteriorated accordingly. Never got round to photographing any of the desserts. This dish was filling but amazingly delicious. I was getting rather full at this stage but the creamy barley risotto was hard to resist. We were so very happy that fish featured heavily on the menu coz we don’t usually eat as much at home.



After this dish service was slowed considerably due to the fact that a large number of EVE players turned up and swamped the entire restaurant. Waiters were frazzled and busy settling all 60 new arrivals, pouring drinks and taking orders. We were secretly grateful tho coz we needed time to digest our last course. Half an hour later our next course duly arrived. A hefty plate of grilled foal (yes, we ate a baby horse), deep fried lamb shoulder croquettes, root vegetables and some roasted leg of lamb + rosemary served on a smoke box. On the side was a copper pot filled with Bearnaise sauce.



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Surprisingly enough, the horse was our favourite of all the dishes. It was so tender and so full of flavour even tho it was pretty lean. Eat that EU horsemeat scandal!! Hahaha … nothing wrong with eating horse, yet when the story broke everyone recoiled in disgust at the realization that they had been consuming horse disguised as prime beef all along.



Dessert came in thankfully small portions. The first was a white chocolate mousse + vanilla wafer and a chocolate walnut gremolata. The second was a brilliant creme brûlee served with strawberry and sorrel sorbet, dehydrated strawberries and caramel spumante. The head waiter came over a moment later with a lovely bottle of vintage port and offered us some, on-the-house, as an apology for the disruption in service.



Our bellies full of good noms with a good mix of alcohol in our system (I had two giant tropical cocktails with dinner), we waddled home in the cold feeling chuffed as chips. R. didn’t even bother turning up for the EVE pub crawl and gave away his pub crawl pass to a needy friend. We went home, curled up with the crossword and then fell into a contented food-coma. This dinner helped check off many of the things I wanted to eat during my stay in Iceland, namely puffin and whale. Was not expecting the horse, but that was an added bonus.



Fish and lamb seem to be the staple on every menu in the city, aside from the fastfoody American stuff. For breakfast we favored Cafe Paris, Austurstræti 14, 101 Reykjavík. After a long night out drinking and partying everyone stumbles out of bed late, sometimes close to lunchtime. Cafe Paris serves up a decent bacon and egg breakfast, and for R. a bacon and egg breakfast is the essential start to a man’s day. Their cafe is on the main street, across the road from the 24 hour store. Inside the cafe is warm and quiet with cosy booth seats. On one of the mornings I had the full breakfast which was a pretty heavy affair. On a single plate I got a couple pancakes, jam, butter, fried eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, four slices of toast, cheese and a pot of skyr.



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A hefty breakfast but we had a full day of driving around in the car sightseeing, so R. said I needed to fuel up. And Lord knows when or where our next opportunity for food would come. Food along the route was pretty ordinary. There was a food court at the Geysir Park and the burgers there were pretty off-putting. However, just a few yards away is the Geysir Hotel and the food there was infinitely better. I had the opportunity to eat there on my day out with the Sisters of Eve Adventure Tour. The buffet spread was stunning ~ lots of cold fish salads, lettuce and cold meats … but the hot service did not disappoint. We had roast pork with crackling, piping hot lamb lasagne, curried chicken + rice and roasted veggies. Not exactly sure how much lunch at the hotel would cost but I would definitely recommend eating there if you have the chance.



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So that’s me on the subject of local Icelandic delicacies. It looks very likey that we’ll be back in Reykjavic again next year, so hopefully I can bring you snippets of information about other restaurants then. I have been thrilled with everything I have seen and tasted during my time there and I am really looking forward to my next visit. We hope to head up to Akureyri and drive back down to Reykjavic on the west side in time for Fanfest 2014. Until then …. stay tuned for more travel posts.



~ Enjoy ~





Permanent link to this article: http://foodflurries.com/travel-2/stunning-iceland


  1. marek

    we seriously need more icelandic stories on your blog 😉

    1. bubviv

      Hahaha … that would involve more visits to Iceland then.

      1. marek

        that’s exactly what i wanted to say 😀

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