When considering the delights that may attract you to visit Iceland, you wouldn’t necessarily consider culinary arts. However, slowly but surely, Iceland has acquired quite a reputation in that field of hospitality services of late, in particular the capital city, Reykjavik. A string of internationally trained and often celebrated chefs have transformed the restaurant scene on this now not so remote island, complementing Iceland’s renowned nature and cultural life.
The Food Cellar, Matarkjallarinn, opened in May 2016 and is the brainchild of owners Ari Freyr Valdimarsson, Head Chef and Haraldur Guðmundsson, Manager and Headwaiter. Located in the 160-year-old Geysir building, it has the most aged stone floor in Reykjavik. During the last 50 years, many of the old and delicate timber-framed buildings in central Reykjavik have received much-needed refurbishment, and specialist architect Hjörleifur Stefánsson advised on the exterior while Lárus Gunnar Jónasson designed the interior. Indeed, the restaurant finds its atmosphere and character through the contributions and effort of many Icelandic smiths and artists.
As soon as you enter the Food Cellar, the words painted on the wall catch your attention; “Food for your Body, Music for your Soul”. Meaningful words that promise much. The glowing aurora of colours entices you to the bar as the smooth sound of live music wafts over you. We browse the selection of fine cocktails available, deciding to try those made from Icelandic gin: Glacier (Jökull) with bergamot, coriander seeds and dandelion and Causeway (Stuðlaberg) with citrus, cardamom and licorice.
As we sip the delicious cocktails, we spot The Secret Menu, a diverse menu of Icelandic cuisine prepared exclusively with Icelandic ingredients and paired expertly by the sommelier. All of these beautiful dishes are explained to the finest detail by a staff of expert waiters, who hold themselves with professionalism and a light-hearted spirit. Here would be a fitting place to allow the reader to gain some insight into the make-up of the meal, but then we would be exposing the mystery prematurely; it is for you to find out.
Nevertheless, we can reveal that the Food Cellar specialises in the Icelandic Brasserie method, using the finest Icelandic ingredients. Enthusiastic top chefs Ari Freyr Valdimarsson and Valtýr Svanur Ragnarsson have prepared a fantastic menu featuring a lavish spread of vegetable, fish, and meat courses, many cooked on the specially made grill. If you feel too full for a complete meal but want to enjoy the atmosphere, a spread of light courses is also available.
Yet, it is not only the excellence of the cuisine that attracts you to the Food Cellar. The all-absorbing atmosphere of fine dining matched with exciting artwork, live music, and general buzz make this place what it is. You can enjoy many fabulous art pieces, including an original painting by the artist Hrafnhildur Björnsdóttir and a sculpture in brass, created by Þórir Celin. To highlight the light-hearted and energetic feel of the restaurant, a graphical spray-paint piece of a food fight serves well, made by the artist Snorri. And of course, you can feast your eyes and ears on the centrepiece and pride of Matarkjallarinn: a Johann Strauss grand piano, made of mahogany in Vienna in 1880 by Bösendorfer.
Hopefully, chefs Ari Freyr and Valtýr Svanur will have put together another mystery combination of Icelandic culinary delights next time we are in Reykjavik. We would very much like to see that mystery unfold as well.
(Thank you to Qured for making our trip to Iceland possible).