Best Restaurants in East Iceland
Delicious food and fine dining might not be high on your wishlist for visiting Iceland. Traditional dishes like smoked puffin and fermented shark are not to everyone’s taste. But gone are the days when we used to smirk about Icelandic food, grimacing theatrically at rams’ testicles and dried fish. Food in Iceland has moved on since the time of the settlers when preserved fish and meat were mainstays for surviving long winters.
Nowadays, Iceland not only has some of the freshest and healthiest meat, fish and seafood in the world, but it also has a flourishing and diverse dining scene. Reykjavik has several excellent, well-established restaurants, but more recently it’s East Iceland – on the opposite side of the country – that is stamping its mark on the food-lover’s map.
It’s not surprising that East Iceland is the country’s rising culinary star. The pristine East Fjords are peppered with fishing villages, herb-smothered mountain slopes are grazed by sheep and reindeer, while fertile valleys shelter some of Iceland’s best agricultural land, including the pioneering organic farm at Vallenes where golden fields of pearl barley and dozens of varieties of salads, fruits and vegetables are nurtured. Freshly harvested in autumn, berries and wild mushrooms add yet more flavour to this local bounty.
In alphabetical order, here is our round-up of a small selection of the best places to eat in East Iceland…
Alfacafe, Borgarfjordur Eystri
Renowned for its hearty fish soup (perfect after hitting one of the many hiking trails in the area), Alfacafe also offers Icelandic seafood tapas and homemade bread, cakes and pastries – served up on stone platters. The earthy, organic theme continues throughout the café – all the furnishings are made from local rock and wood and there’s a small shop selling stone puffins and elves ¬– a nod towards two of Borgafjordur Eystri’s most famous inhabitants.
Eldhusid Restaurant, Lake Hotel (formerly Guesthouse Egilsstadir), Egilsstadir
This atmospheric restaurant oozes style and sophistication, but it’s still firmly rooted in Icelandic produce – in fact, the owners are so proud of their agricultural heritage that you’ll find a booklet on your table introducing local farmers and suppliers. The signature three-course Farm Food Direct menu starts with slow-cooked char with parsley cream, followed by beef tenderloin with horseradish mushrooms and languoustine hollandaise, rounded off by skyr from the farm with birch flavour, blueberries and meringue. The beef (home-reared on the farm of course) might just be the most tender you’ve ever tasted. For a lunchtime snack, meanwhile, try the Icelandic scone with char, smoked caviar and a parsley paste.
Glod Restaurant, Hotel Valaskjalf, Egilsstadir
Located in the heart of Egilsstadir, the newly refurbished Hotel Valaskjalf is well known for its comfortable, contemporary-style rooms – and its Glod Restaurant adds an equally refreshing take on food. The only restaurant in East Iceland featured in the prestigious Nordic White Guide, it boasts an ambitious menu with some zingy seafood dishes, such as cod ceviche with fresh ginger, chilli peppers, red onions and coriander. Pearl barley from the nearby organic farm at Vallanes goes well with fish like arctic char, while local lamb – delicately smoked or grilled to perfection – is often combined to great effect with wild blueberries and other seasonal flavours.
Hotel Blafell, Breiddalsvik
There isn’t exactly a huge choice of places to eat in the quiet fishing village of Breiddalsvik, hunkering beneath dramatic sea cliffs in the East Fjords. But Hotel Blafell is all you really need, thanks to its great range of dishes. Lamb, beef and vegetables all come from farmers in the area, while fresh seafood is available straight from local fishing boats. The Breiddalur valley is also renowned for freshwater angling, so be sure to look out for salmon and trout on the menu.
Hotel Framtid, Djupivogur
Reserve a window table at the restaurant of this fascinating hotel in the deep south of the East Fjords and you’ve got arguably one of the best dining views in Iceland ¬– a harbour crammed with colourful fishing boats, distant fjords and wild mountains. Hotel Framtid dates from 1904 when it was transported in sections from Copenhagen. You can’t go wrong with seafood here. For a starter, it’s a tough call between local mussels and seafood soup, while mains pose a dilemma over simple, tasty catch-of-the-day and grilled lobster tails with garlic butter. If you’ve reached your seafood quota, however, the lamb fillet with fragrant thyme sauce is a sumptuous alternative.
Kaupfelagsbarinn, Hildibrand Hotel, Neskaupstadur
Originally the site of a farmers’ co-op shop (‘Kaupfelagsbarinn’ literally means ‘The Co-op Bar’), this upmarket bistro at Hotel Hildibrand serves beautifully presented food combining local produce with contemporary flair. Sushi is a speciality, but you’ll also find gourmet lamb burgers and a good selection of mains using local seafood and wild game.
Kol Bar & Bistro, Hotel Hallormstadur, Egilsstadir
With views through the fairytale birch forest of Hallormstadur towards Lake Lagarfljot and the highlands beyond, this superb bistro has an enviable location. You can even sit outside on a large deck – the fresh air no doubt piquing your appetite for exciting dishes that give local Icelandic produce an exotic twist, often with Asian flavours. The Kol Bar & Bistro is one of two restaurants at Hotel Hallormstadur – the other (Lauf Restaurant) serves an equally tempting buffet of delicious smoked meats and fish, salads, sushi, cheeses and pastries. And the views are just as good too.
L’Abri Restaurant, Fosshotel Eastfjords, Faskrudsfjordur
Once a hospital for French sailors in the early 1900s, this newly renovated Fosshotel not only offers boutique accommodation and an excellent museum, but also boasts a bright, contemporary restaurant. Minimalist décor encourages you to gaze through large windows to the spectacular fjord scenery beyond, while the wooden deck and jetty is the perfect spot to enjoy pre-dinner drinks. As you’d expect from its historical connections to France, the restaurant’s cuisine is French-inspired with high-quality, sophisticated dishes. If in doubt, go for fish – the cod is landed virtually next door and L’Abri’s chefs grill it to perfection.
North East, Hotel Aldan, Seydisfjordur
Offering ‘Icelandic fish dressed in kimonos’, Hotel Aldan’s sushi bar (named North East after the prevailing wind) lovingly wraps local fish in Japanese traditions. Guest sushi chefs from around the world use sublimely fresh cod, salmon and other fish from East Iceland to create some original and exciting dishes. In fact, this unassuming little restaurant in the culturally-supercharged village of Seydisfjordur has rapidly gained a reputation for Iceland’s best sushi. As well as delicious raw fish, try the salmon belly seared on heated lava rocks.
Randulff’s Seahouse, Eskifjordur
Untouched for over 80 years, this late 19th-century boathouse has been preserved as a time-capsule, strewn with old ropes, barrels and fishing paraphernalia. Upstairs, you can see the sleeping quarters of the fishermen just as they were found when the new owners entered the boathouse in 2008. Downstairs, an atmospheric restaurant/living museum is an authentic place to sample dried shark washed down with a shot of Brennivin (Iceland’s wicked schnapps). Fresh seafood, reindeer and other local dishes are also available.
Salt Café & Bistro, Egilsstadir
Always buzzing, this lively and popular diner is located near the tourist information centre in Egilsstadir. The service is friendly and the food is excellent, whether you go for a gourmet pizza, burger and fries or Tandoori chicken. It’s also a great spot to pick up a coffee and cake.
Skaftfell Bistro, Seydisfjordur
Pizzas get an Icelandic spin at this buzzing bistro and cultural centre where toppings can include anything from langoustine and salmon to reindeer. It’s a popular meeting place for both locals and tourists – whether you’re popping in for dinner and wine or coffee and cake. Skaftfell is the residence of the Dieter Roth Academy – the bistro is furnished in the style of the late artist and there’s a gallery upstairs.
Vallenes Farm, Egilsstadir
Rippling fields of pearl barley and rye, neat rows of kale and beetroot, apple trees, gooseberry bushes, greenhouses packed with herbs… it’s hardly your typical image of Iceland. The fact that this ambitious farm forms a lush wedge of organic produce in the lee of brooding mountains is reason enough to visit – but to sample its delicious vegetarian fare makes it irresistible. Supplying restaurants throughout Iceland, Vallenes also offers breakfast and forest picnics. Gabriel’s breakfast – pearl barley, cream, jam, cinnamon and chocolate – will set you up for the hike to nearby Hengifoss, while tasty picnic snacks include bean burgers and salads with beetroot, orange, ginger and edible flowers. Local produce, including jams, chutneys and pearl barley, is also for sale.