I know I’ve said before that food was not the focus of our trip to Iceland but when I discovered that there was a walking food tour of Reykjavik I knew it would be the best way to see the city and an excuse to eat lots of food. Not that I ever really need an excuse…
We met our guide Egill outside the magnificent Harpa concert hall at lunchtime just as the sun began to make an appearance.
From the moment Egill spoke I knew that we were in for a real treat. His passion for his city and for food shone through immediately. I discovered later that it was Egill who started the Reykjavik Food Walk after leaving a job in journalism. I’m so glad he had the idea and drive to do it. I’m not sure we would have really got beneath the surface of Reykjavik without him.
Our first stop was at Islenski Barinn ( Icelandic Bar) for traditional lamb soup. Boy did we start with a bang, that lamb soup was off the chart and we could not refuse seconds. It reminded me a lot of the soups my mum makes as it used barley and seasonal root vegetables. It is amazing that something so simple can be so packed full of flavour and the lamb was so rich and soft. The bar keep family traditions alive by making a different family recipe every day.
We next headed on to Skolavordustigur, the street leading up to Hallgrimskirkja (the famous church)
and visited a delicatessen called Osta Budin to try a selection of Icelandic cheeses and meats.
Making cheese is relatively new in Iceland, starting in earnest in 1955 and although there are 5 x more sheep than humans on Iceland they only make cheese with cows milk. We had an Icelandic version of Gouda, Camembert and blue cheese and there was a selection of cured sheep fillet with rosemary, thyme and fennel, smoked goose fillet with a raspberry champagne vinegar and horse fillet. This was the moment of the tour with the moral dilemma. There was a mixed reaction in the group but Egill explained the context of Icelandic cuisine and why it was part of the tour.
Next we moved on a little cafe called Cafe Loki right opposite Hallgrimskirkja. The owner lives behind the church and takes a photo every day displaying them on the walls of the cafe. The cafe serves traditional Icelandic cuisine but what we tried was something that no other cafe does. Rye bread ice cream. Such an unusual idea but it really works. The crispy rye bread bits give wonderful flavour and texture and the rhubarb caramel that was served with it was divine. The owner makes the rye bread on site and uses yesterday’s rye bread for the ice-cream.
We then had a wander through the old town, by the pond and the cathedral ( much less impressive looking than Hallgrimskirkja)
admiring the vibrant street art along the way
and then headed to the old harbour to a restaurant called Kopar for a seafood soup. The restaurant is known for its rock crab which they get from the coastline north west of Reykjavik. They are the only seafood restaurant at the harbour that serves it and the soup was made with the rock crab, bean sprouts and spinach which I thought was an unusual choice but really worked. The soup was very much like a bisque and we had sourdough bread with an Icelandic violet and liquorice butter on the side. The butter was a revelation being both sweet and salty. My head said it shouldn’t work but it did.
You’d think at this point we couldn’t squeeze anymore food in but next up was the famous hotdog stand of Reykjavik. It has been serving hotdogs for 80 years and is a favourite of locals and tourists alike. The lamb hotdog is served with raw onions, crispy onions, a mustardy ketchup made with apples and a sort of dill mayonnaise. Really really tasty hotdog and the crispy onions, they were soooo good. So. So. Good.
Our last stop on the tour was at Apotek, an upmarket restaurant in the city, somewhere you go for cocktails and fine dining. Apotek also has their own bakery in the building and pastry chefs making beautiful patisserie and that is what we had to mark the end of the tour. A dessert so beautiful I didn’t want to eat it, just gaze at it. The chocolate mousse rose had raspberry gel hidden in the middle and was accompanied by blood orange sorbet. It was exquisite.
And so it was the end of the tour. We took our group photos and Egill gave us a treat of Icelandic chocolate and some Skyr to take away with us so that the tour lasted a little longer. What I particularly love about a food tour is not only learning about the places that locals eat and the traditions and tastes of the city but it’s also an opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are also exploring a place for the first time. We met people from Ireland, Canada and America. Some who had got off the plane without any sleep and came straight on the food tour, knowing it was the best way to experience Reykjavik. I have to say I admired them for being so full of life and making the tour lots of fun.
I’m now eager to return to Reykjavik, to explore more and go to all the places Egill recommended. Egill brought Reykjavik and Icelandic cuisine alive. Thank you Egill we had an absolute blast.