Ask Icelanders what they are most proud of, and the likely reply is their seafood. This island, at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, boasts the lowest population density in Europe. Its geographic location means the country is blessed with an abundance of fresh seafood meaning it is unrivalled as a top seafood foodie destination. We travelled along the lesser-travelled South-west coast to discover the breathtaking scenery and the awe-inspiring cuisine.
Often called “miniature Iceland”, it is the long, slim peninsula that juts out of Iceland facing the North Atlantic Ocean to the west. It has a jaw-dropping landscape with mythical mountains. Games of Throne enthusiasts will recognise many scenes from the series being filmed in this area. Most of the 5000 inhabitants in the area live on the north side of the peninsula in fishing villages that are as old as Iceland’s original settlement.
If you want luxury remoteness, the place to check in is at Hotel Búðir. It is a great place to observe the northern lights in the wintertime. You are mere steps away from the iconic black church. And the restaurant at the hotel is widely regarded as one of the best in Iceland working with producers in the locality. Common dishes you will see not just at this restaurant but in others include arctic char, shellfish soup and cod fillet. Here, they add their personal refined touches, so with the latter, you get langoustine velouté for extra umami-richness and baked hazelnut for textural variety.
The first port of call from the hotel I would recommend is Arnarstapi. An ancient path along the coastline passing through ravines and grottoes makes for a dramatic hiking trail. You will spot a small-scale fishing port along with dozens of birds like the kittiwake and the Arctic tern. Next head to Hellnar which had the largest fishing village beneath the Snaefellsjokull ice cap. The peculiar caves and rock formations are a photographer’s dream. There is also a charming beach cafe, Fjöruhúsið, which serves anything from Pönnukökur (Icelandic pancakes) to sea urchin feasts.
For lunch, head to the family-owned, Viðvík Restaurant. It might be at a remote destination, but judging by all the rave reviews online, it’s a trek worth making. Dishes have a very Nordic feel and include outrageously fresh scallops served in a langoustine bisque and a moreish pan-fried cod with a cauliflower trio, dill pesto and kale.
You will know fishing is the lifeblood of the community when you visit The Maritime Museum in the Fishermen´s Park which has fascinating exhibits like the largest fish caught in the community. Nearby you’ll find the hectic harbour of Rif, where you might spot fishing vessels returning to the harbour with their catch of the day.
Bjargarsteinn in Grundarfjörður
This is one of the most incredible restaurants you will come across in the region. Not least the story of how the restaurant was built. It is a quaint old house built in 1908 in Akranes but was transported 140 kilometres to its current location, as the owners saw the potential for it to be a restaurant. The owners wanted a new location with spectacular scenery, and they have with the magnificent coastal ridge in the seaside village of Grundarfjörður. The menu is a collection of lovable hand doodles from the chef and includes rarely seen dishes like smoked puffin and fillet, tongue and cheek of Arctic cod. If you get chatting with their personable staff, they may even let you try the infamous fermented shark along with a shot of “black death”. Upstairs in the cosy living quarters, they have a recording studio for their regular podcasts.
The face of new Nordic cuisine
If you want to understand the latest trends in Icelandic gastronomy then you must meet/follow Viktor Örn Andrésson. With countless accolades like Nordic chef of the year and previously running Blue Lagoon’s LAVA restaurant, he is the forefather of a new wave for the Icelandic culinary scene. He currently runs a catering company but does occasionally offer cookery workshops which I would highly recommend attending. You can learn about the different types of fish in the region, how to fillet a fish and even try the likes of redfish sashimi.
Finally, I recommend heading to this centre of commerce and services for the local area. I say ‘centre’, but have to caveat by saying it is only a town with a population of about 1,100 people. However, the quality of the seafood restaurants there is surprisingly superlative. Sjávarpakkhúsið is a great venue for lunch with tapas-style dishes for sharing. You’ll come across several dishes you won’t ever see in the UK like halibut tartare with chives, apple and horseradish mayo and wolffish with celeriac salad, whey and brown butter.
If, like me, you are a fan of seafood platters then you’ll be in seafood heaven at Narfeyrarstofa. Icelandic scallops, giant whelks, and umami-rich sea urchins are all on offer. You can try salted cod (bacalao) fried in Icelandic butter or even fish and chips in a light tempura batter.
Travelling around this remote part of the island does require time, but if you plan out your itinerary well, it is a culinary adventure well worth embarking on. The standard of seafood is above and beyond what you can find in continental Europe.