At restaurant Skál, the Icelandic word for cheers, in Reykjavík, you can drink juicy natural wines and eat some of the best vegetable dishes of your life. I went to Iceland for the Food & Fun festival, but ended up paying a visit to Hlemmur Mathöll (Reykjavík’s food hall), where Skál is located, every afternoon as a pre-dinner warmup meal. While not a strict vegan or vegetarian restaurant in any sense, they also serve meat and seafood, head chef Fanney Sigurjónsdóttir loves to experiment with greens and vegetables. Her favorite moments are when customers say: “I can’t believe I’m eating carrots,” or “I can’t believe I’m eating cauliflower.” And that’s exactly what I thought when I had those specific dishes.
Natural Wine Bar & Restaurant in Hlemmur Mathöll
Skál is co-owned by the renowned Icelandic chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson (also co-owner of Slippurinn in Vestmannaeyjabær), his childhood friend Gísli Grímsson, and Björn Steinar Jónsson (founder of Saltverk), whom they met at a food festival in Italy. When plans of a food hall in Reykjavík was announced, the guys decided to open a bar and restaurant together. Hlemmur Mathöll finally opened in August last year (2017).
Gísli Matt hired his former sous chef at Slippurinn, Fanney Sigurjónsdóttir, as head chef at Skál. At Slippurinn they had used a lot of local Iceland produce from small farmers, as well as indigenous plants and herbs that they foraged themselves, in both the food and drinks. Fanney wanted to keep that light and fresh style, and still cook with a lot of vegetables, but adapt it to a place meant for beer and bar snacks. As a result of that, they also found natural wines to be a very good match with the food.
When Cauliflower Tastes Like Buffalo Chicken Wings
We arrived at Skál in the afternoon on our first day in Reykjavík. Traveling with my good friend André Brandt (later dubbed Brandur by the locals), we were here mainly for the Food & Fun festival. Skál happened to be hosting an off-venue event together with Solfinn Danielsen from the natural wine shop Rødder & Vin in Copenhagen (soon to open his own natural wine bar next door to his shop, called Rødder & Vin:Bar – check my Copenhagen rumors). Little did we know, that this would be one of four visits in total (that’s one each day!), as we completely fell in love with the cooking of Fanney.
Fanney suddenly appeared in front of us with a big, proud smile.
– Hi, I’m Fanney, and I’m the head chef here at Skál. This is our take on Buffalo Chicken Wings, but done with cauliflower, she explained.
Both the aroma and taste of the seasoning tricked our minds. It definitely felt like we were eating some delicious chicken wings. Instead of the traditional condiments of blue cheese dip and celery, the chef had made a goat’s cheese cream and served it with pickled celery that gave the dish a much-needed freshness and acidity. I can easily be a vegetarian if the food tastes this good, I thought to myself. That was before I had even tried the carrots.
– We cook these carrots in soy with seaweed salt from Saltverk, which gives the vegetables an umami flavor, said Fanney.
I could have sworn those carrots looked like slices of Spanish ham, lined up on a grilled toast. They even tasted like meat! My memory was brought back to the dehydrated and rehydrated carrot dish I enjoyed at restaurant Amass in Copenhagen. A salty, sweet and concentrated flavor. The Amass carrots made it to 3rd place on my list of best dishes in 2016. I can hereby say that Skál’s carrot sandwich is shortlisted for my best dishes of 2018!
A Place I’ll Always Return to in Reykjavík
Next up was a tartar with lovage vegenaise, horseradish, and nori flakes. The recipe was from Gísli Matt, but Fanney wanted to add a twist to it with nori flakes. It worked out really well. Following was a potato dish that reminded me of how lovely potatoes can be when done right. These were slightly crushed and deep-fried, then sprinkled with Arctic thyme salt and served with a herb mayonnaise.
We ended the meal with a fresh ceviche of small Faroese scallops. An extremely well-balanced dish, with pickled rhubarb, blood orange gel, lime zest, lemon vegenaise and butter-brushed toast. Although there was quite a lot of grilled bread and repeat use of the different emulsions throughout the meal, it didn’t really matter when it was all so delicious.
The only thing I didn’t really care for at Skál were some stockfish chips with browned butter we got as a snack. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste – and I haven’t acquired it quite yet! I wanna go back to Iceland and visit all the places I didn’t get to see on this journey. But there’s one place I’ll always return to in Reykjavik, and that’s Skál. Cheers!
Have you been to Iceland? Please share your best recommendations in a comment below!