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Iceland: A Weekend in Reykjavik

Iceland: A Weekend in Reykjavik
Fresh air, fresh flavours, Melanie Leyshon revived her senses and her tastebuds over a weekend in Reykjavik
 
See the Northern Lights, soak in thermal spas while sipping wine and listen to bands playing in a volcanic crater.
Iceland is a wild and fantastic destination, and for those who like good food on their travels, it’s fast catching up with its foodie Scandi cousins, Denmark and Sweden. And with its own best-selling crime writer, Arnaldur Indridason, and homespun Sarah Lund-style woolly jumpers, it can match them both for culture and knitwear.
 
The wonder of the Icelandic larder is that despite being limited in range, what they have comes in plentiful supply, is sustainable and healthy. Menus centre around quality meat, wild fish, salty seaweed, sharp berries and brain-boosting fish oils. Star billing goes to the Arctic cod and char, Icelandic lamb, dishes flavoured with dill, the in herb, and their oats cuisine, which goes beyond using these grains at breakfast. They pop up in meat dishes as well as puddings.
 
Other indigenous ingredients that may not have such appeal are their horsemeat sausages, pony meatballs, smoked puffin and shark. Book the city’s top restaurants, where there’s not a pony fillet in sight, to try the new Nordic cuisine. Tuck into this lighter style of cooking and it’s possible to come home slimmer. Here’s a taster of what’s worth trying off the menu, plus a few unusual options…
 
Fish It’s not all about cod. Try Arctic char (like sea trout), ling (like cod), wild salmon (lean and less fatty than farmed) and catfish (chunky and delicious). Langoustine are their prized shellfish – Icelanders jealously guard the name of their personal dealer.
Eat out The 5-course seasonal seafood menu at VOX at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica for £47 (www.vox.is). Sister restaurant Satt does a three-course menu supper for £32 (www.sattrestaurant.com).
Only in Iceland… They snack on hardfiskur, a dried fish – it’s chewy and nutritious.
 
Lamb
With a population of just 320,000, there are more sheep than people in Iceland. Lamb is a prized ingredient, and a ‘leg of’ is the national Sunday roast.
Eat out Go for lamb skewers flavoured with angelica at Grillmarkadurinn (www.grillmarkadurinn.is) or a grilled rack of lamb at Lava, the restaurant at the must-visit geothermal spa at the Blue Lagoon (www.bluelagoon.com).
Only in Iceland… McDonald’s pulled out after the financial crash, but there’s no shortage of cheaper fast foods outlets such as Subway. A drive-thru at the bus terminal sells the local delicacy Svio – singed sheep’s head. Only for the brave.
 
Bread
Rye bread is sweeter, softer and cakier than other Scandi options, but is utterly delicious with butter or cream cheese and smoked salmon.
Eat it: At restaurants and bakeries. Sandholt Bakery on Laugavegur, Reykjavik, does a sourdough version (www.sandholt.is)
Only in Iceland… See rye bread being baked in natural geothermal hot springs. The mixture is cooked in a loaf-style carton that is buried in the earth for 12 hours. See it done at the Fontana Geothermal Baths at Laugarvatn  (www.fontana.is), an hour from Reykjavik. Take time to soak in their geothermal mineral baths overlooking a lake, with a drink. You can do this as part of a Golden Circle excursion (www.grayline.is).
 
Cheese
Skyr (pro-nounced skeer) is technically a cheese, but it’s more Greek yogurt in style. It’s low fat, high protein and utterly delicious. Icelanders have it for breakfast, lunch and tea. You can buy it everywhere and it’s on most menus. It’s hard to track down in the UK (The Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield St occasionally stocks it).
Eat it As an ice cream at Perlan and Dill restaurants in Reykjavik. Buy it at Burid (www.burid), the city’s only cheese shop, which also stocks chutneys and jellies.
Only in Iceland… Students use it for Skyr fighting and it’s been used for erotic wrestling in nightclubs (so we hear)
 
What to drink
Icelandic water, even from the hotel tap, it’s the champagne of the north.
An ice-cold shot of national drink, Brennivin, made from potatoes meant to be drunk in one.
Icelandic vodka made from their pure water – bring home a bottle of Reyka at the airport.
 
A festival of food
The annual Food and Fun Festival (www.foodandfun.is) in Rekjavik is held at the end of February. It’s when top Nordic and North American chefs fly in to guest chef at Reykjavik’s top restaurants. It’s a chance to sample top cooking from top chefs on one small city. This year Esben Holmboe Bang (Danish works in Norway with 2 Michelin stars) and Fredrick Berselius were cooking at VOX and Dill, respectively. Five-course tasting menus were 7,990 Icelandic Kroner.
 
Melanie Leyshon is the editor of Healthy Food Guide.
 
The Hilton Reykjavik Nordica costs from £107 per person for a double Queen Hilton Room including breakfast based on travel in May.
 
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28 April 2013
By: Melanie Leyshon
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