I went to Reykjavík without a reservation to Dill – the most rewarded restaurant in Iceland. That is a big mistake, clearly. My excuse was that I hadn’t planned my trip well in advance like I normally do, but rather booked a spontaneous visit to the Food & Fun festival together with a friend. With only a few days notice, I assumed the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant would be fully booked – and it was. However, as we walked past the restaurant one day, I stopped to take a picture. By chance, Kári Þorsteinsson noticed our presence and came out to say hello. He welcomed us inside for a look, I asked to take his photo, and we talked about his new position as head chef – replacing Ragnar Raggyman Eiriksson. As we were standing there, asking Þorsteinsson about their newest hotel restaurant, Holt, his booking assistant suddenly interrupted us. She had been quietly working in the corner, but now needed to inform Kári that they had just received a cancellation of two seats that very evening. What are the odds?
It wasn’t given that we would be able to fill the empty seats at Dill, though. We did, in fact, have another reservation that night for the Food & Fun festival. But when opportunity knocks, sometimes, you just have to find a solution. Thus, we called the other restaurant, Grillið, and moved our reservation to 9 PM. Which gave us three hours to warm up with a one-Michelin-starred meal at Dill first! As experienced eaters, we knew that this would require some preparations. We headed straight back to our hotel and made sure to get a good hour of sleep, followed by an hour spent in the hotel gym. That ensured we had a clear mind and a hungry stomach for the task ahead.
Iceland’s First and Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant
Dill was established in 2009 by Gunnar Karl Gíslason, situated inside a cultural center, but later changed location as well as head chef. Ragnar Eiriksson took over the baton in 2015. He secured the island’s first (and still only) Michelin star in 2017, before he welcomed Kári Þorsteinsson to take his place the following year. Þorsteinsson had experience from Noma in Copenhagen, and was even head chef at Grillið in Reykjavík at some point.
The cooking style at Dill started out as modern new Nordic, but has since Eiriksson’s reign moved more and more in the direction of rediscovering the old traditions of Icelandic cooking. The core emphasis is on local ingredients and cooking with obscure Northern flavors. That includes a lot of dried fish, and a very special tradition of smoking stuff with animal shit. Apparently invented due to the lack of trees on the island. Dung-smoked, as they call it, butter, lamb, or fish are all commonplace. Lastly, Dill serves only natural wines, which is very much in line with other new Nordic eateries.
What truly makes Dill special is the unique venue, located on Hverfisgata 12 in the small annex behind the main house. In the windows facing the streets are shelves lined up with jars upon jars of pickled fruits and vegetables. Inside, traces of an old warehouse is evident in a large, arched window and a wooden door stuck high up on the wall. The local film set designer Hálfdán Pedersen is responsible for the funky interior design of Dill. Steel bars supported by ropes hanging from the ceiling, against a backdrop of raw concrete walls complete with small, natural cracks that have not been mended. Military green-colored lamps and bar stools, with details in wood and brown leather here and there. Luckily, we got the counter seats in front of the chefs!
Seated at the Bar in Front of the Tiny Open Kitchen
At 6 PM, we were back at Dill, and ready to be blown away. Behind the bar, Þorsteinsson and his team of chefs were already busy preparing the first dishes in the tiny open kitchen. Our lovely sommelier welcomed us, and, once we had found our seats, offered us a glass of naturally fermented sparkling wine – bone dry with notes of citrus zest. With front-row seats to the cooking action, we quickly understood that the food at Dill was heavily dependent on good planning and lot of mise en place. There’s no other way you can deliver Michelin-quality with barely three square meters of kitchen space.
A series of snacks arrived in rapid succession. First, a plate with varieties of dried fish and Icelandic crispy bread. All of which were delicious, especially a crispy flake of dried monkfish with fermented black garlic and dill emulsion. Sweet, salty, and herby. I even enjoyed the stockfish made from wolffish, although I’m usually not a fan of the Icelandic specialty.
The different root vegetables were less interesting, but with dehydrated beets dressed in tarragon being my favorite if I had to choose. Although, it didn’t live up to some of the best dried beets I’ve had in the Nordics. When done right, it can be extremely tasty and with a lovely, chewy, soft texture. Dill’s take on the classic tasted of anise, but, unfortunately, wasn’t soft and sweet enough and I’m not sure how well it worked with dried herbs. The radish with pickled rose gel was also quite decent and reminded us of dried apricots.
A Sheep Shit-Smoked Specialty
The evening’s first course consisted of translucent discs of pickled celeriac, with Icelandic mussels and salted cucumbers tucked underneath, topped with dulse (the Icelandic seaweed called söl) and a creamy dill-colored yogurt. This bright green color, it would turn out, was a signature look of almost every plate at Dill, whether it listed dill as an ingredient or not. Pure flavors that paired well with the Grüner Veltliner from Hubert Sandhofer, and a light start to the meal, albeit not super exciting.
The following dish, however, was a highlight for the both of us. Sunchoke purée made with skyr (Icelandic cultured dairy product), crisps of sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem artichoke), and dill oil. Sweet and sour, crispy and soft. Matched with a Saison tasting of hibiscus and lime – what’s not to love?
Then came the smell. We could sense that an Iceland specialty was about to hit our plate – and palate. Dehydrated and dung-smoked trout was drizzled over a stew made from glazed carrots cooked in vegetable stock, balanced by pickled pieces of fennel. Salty, sticky sweet, acidic, and umami-rich, with a sharp, but somehow appealing aroma of sheep shit. Yum!
A Lovely Homage to My Childhood
A flaky filet of cod, perfectly cooked and salted, lay on top of a bed of caramelized onions and strings of white cabbage, drizzled in chives oil, and was wonderful. Paired with an all-time favorite wine of mine – Lammidia, Bianchetto. Followed by the main course, which was beef brisket and parsley root glazed in whey. A nice dish, but not the most memorable from the meal.
Luckily, the desserts made sure our night at Dill will be remembered for a long time. First out was Milk and cookies – a dish that can easily be discarded as too simple by the untrained eye. For me, it was the perfect homage to my childhood. Eating cookies and drinking milk is something I still treasure. Crispy syrup biscuits, whey curd, a green wheatgrass oil, and a lovely milk ice cream. Ice cream with a pure and subtle milk flavor is the ultimate ice cream, in my opinion. Just like fior di latte is the best test of a good gelato shop.
Finally, we ended with a dish that combined savory and sweet flavors. Candied rutabaga, rutabaga cream, crowberries, dill oil, and toasted yeast
– I had the idea of combining crowberries an rutabaga for a long time, Þorsteinsson revealed.
Apparently, it was when he tasted Anders Frederik Steen’s sparkling rosé wine, An Artist Formerly Known as Peach, that he decided to create it. I found it interesting and tasty, but even more so the wine. My friend, however, completely loved this dish, and even rated it above the Milk and cookies. In either case, I found Dill to be a solid one-Michelin-starred restaurant that I would love to return to someday. Especially if i can book the bar seats.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Iceland? Please share in a comment below.