“When the economy collapsed 10 years ago, something happened. Before that, restaurants were serving imported foie gras and caviar. But, overnight, the price of everything imported doubled.”
I’m having lunch at a hotel in Reykjavík with Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, a serial Icelandic restaurateur and co-founder of the country’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the dimly-lit, industrial-style Dill. Here, bare branches hang from low, slatted ceilings, jars of pickles and preserves line the walls and dishes are devoted to the purity and simplicity of local ingredients: from coral lumpfish roe layered with pickled dulse, to inky crowberries married with cream and toasted yeast.
We’re discussing new Nordic cuisine. A food movement started in the the mid noughts devoted to expressing ingredients and techniques native to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland in a seasonal, local way, you probably associate it most closely with Copenhagen’s famed Noma. Ólafsson traces cooking this way – in his country, at least – back to the crash of 2008. No longer able to ship the sort of food you associate with old school fancy restaurants in and turn a profit, chefs turned to produce that is abundant in the nation. That’s things like herb-flecked lamb, shimmering pink trout, sour, cultured skyr, toasty rye and sharp redcurrants.
Needless to say, it took off. Now, native, fresh and often funky Icelandic food is abundant in the nation, both in the capital in more remote places. For your delectation, here’s Ólafssonr recommendations – as well as a few extras I discovered while eating my way through the island.