The Food & Fun Festival in Iceland Where Top Chefs Pop-up at Reykjavík's Best Restaurants

The Food and Fun Festival was held for the 17th time this year in Iceland, from February 28th to March 4th. Each year since 2002, five days in March have been devoted to a pop-up bonanza in Reykjavík, where almost all the great restaurants of the city host a special guest chef who is flown in for the occasion. The annual event is arranged by the renowned Icelandic chef Siggi Hall, who could be described as the Hellstrøm of Iceland, or Iceland’s equivalent to Gordon Ramsey, Paul Bocuse, or Thomas Keller.  I’ve been wanting to go to this festival for years, but it never quite worked out. Luckily, I managed to convince my good friend André Brandt to join me (spoiler: it wasn’t so hard), for a weekend of great food, juicy wines, and, it would turn out, amazing local chefs who we ended up befriending.

Hallgrímskirkja – the famous Icelandic church designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson
Hallgrímskirkja – the famous Icelandic church designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson

It should come as no surprise that Reykjavík and Iceland are worth visiting for more than just great food. Spectacular landscapes and wonderful natural phenomena are commonplace on this island, which is home to only 350.000 inhabitants, but host to more than 2 million tourists every year. Despite the fact that it’s an island, the first thing you need to learn is that you say in Iceland, and not on Iceland. Just like you say in Ireland, and not on Ireland. Unfortunately, there was little time for us to explore much of the unspoiled nature of Iceland during the Food & Fun Festival. Apart from strolling the streets of Reykjavík, taking in the stunning architecture, and appreciating the view from the harbor. Thus, I can already declare that I need to go back to this Northern gem, both for the restaurants I missed and the wilderness experiences.

View from the harbor in Reykjavík
View from the harbor in Reykjavík

Solfinn Danielsen Pop-up at Skál

You don’t really notice the Food & Fun festival in the streets of Reykjavík. It all takes place within the restaurants. Our very first stop, straight after checking into our hotel and leaving the luggage behind, was the bar and restaurant Skál which is located in Hlemmur Mathöll (Iceland’s food hall). We had heard rumors that natural wine legend Solfinn Danielsen from Rødder & Vin in Copenhagen would be serving some of his light and refreshing fermented grape juices here, as an off-venue event related to the Food & Fun festival. Check out my full foodie story from Skál here.

Cauliflowers served like Buffalo Chicken Wings
Cauliflowers served like Buffalo Chicken Wings
Carrots on grilled toast, tasting like Spanish ham
Carrots on grilled toast, tasting like Spanish ham
Skál is a natural wine bar and restaurant inside Hlemmur Mathöll
Skál is a natural wine bar and restaurant inside Hlemmur Mathöll

Davíð Örn Hákonarson Pop-up at Vox Restaurant

After a delicious pre-dinner meal at Skál, our next stop was Vox Restaurant, which is the hotel restaurant of Hilton Reykjavík Nordica (ad: affiliate link), where we also happened to be staying this weekend. A classical setting with white tablecloths and a warm ambiance, somewhat in contrast to the contemporary and creative Scandinavian-Mediterranean cooking of Davíð Örn Hákonarson. The young Icelandic chef had returned to his home country from his current position as head chef of Restaurant Co in Paris (which he revealed to us was coming to an end), but actually started his chef apprenticeship right here at Vox Restaurant. His classical training at the Danish institution Kong Hans Kælder was evident in his cooking style.

The Food & Fun festival is arranged every year in Reykjavík by chef Siggi Hall
The Food & Fun festival is arranged every year in Reykjavík by chef Siggi Hall

Our favorites from the menu were the oysters, the bread with melted browned butter, the poached egg with caviar, and the dill koldskål with lime, shortbread, and white chocolate. Unfortunately, we found a lot of the other dishes to be too sweet, without enough balance in salt, fat, or acidity. Whether that is typical of the food of Hákonarson, or just special for this menu, is hard to tell. Nevertheless, we were pleased with our first night out in Reykjavík!

Classic opening dish: oysters!
Classic opening dish: oysters!
Bread & browned butter
Bread & browned butter
Rehydrated carrot, butternut pumpkin, bergamot, octopus & saffron
Rehydrated carrot, butternut pumpkin, bergamot, octopus & saffron
Poached egg, smoked potatoes, celery, croutons & caviar
Poached egg, smoked potatoes, celery, croutons & caviar
Icelandic cod, oxeye chamomile, endive, oysters & lemon gel
Icelandic cod, oxeye chamomile, endive, oysters & lemon gel
Dill "koldskål," lime, shortbread & white chocolate
Dill “koldskål,” lime, shortbread & white chocolate
Coffee at Reykjavík Roasters to start the morning engine
Coffee at Reykjavík Roasters to start the morning engine

Leif Sørensen Pop-up at Slippurinn

Day two of our Iceland adventures started with a coffee at Reykjavík Roasters (loved it!), a lunch at Matur og Drykkur (slightly disappointing – apparently they have new owners), and another visit to Skál for a pre-dinner glass of natural juice. In the evening, we headed to the Slippurinn pop-up, which didn’t take place at Vestmannaeyjar where the actual restaurant is located, but instead as a pop-up at Bergsson RE. A pop-up within a pop-up! Very meta.

Gísli Matthías Auðunsson & Leif Sørensen
Gísli Matthías Auðunsson & Leif Sørensen

Guest chef this evening was Leif Sørensen, the former head chef and co-founder of the well-known restaurant Koks in the Faroe Islands, as well as one of the original founders of the New Nordic Manifesto. Together with Slippurinn’s head chef, Gísli Matthías Auðunsson, who’s also one of the co-owners of Skál, he had created a unique menu that combined the best of Iceland’s produce and Sørensen’s cooking style from the Faroe Islands.

The first dish, crisps made from seaweed and a cream with fermented mushrooms, was ridiculously tasty. The tartar, not too different from the one we tasted at Skál, was equally delightful. A cod baked in seaweed, with a potato espuma foam, potato crisps, and lovage oil, another highlight. Finally, frozen yogurt ice cream with rhubarb granita and dried berries ended on our meal on a refreshing note. Gísli Matt’s sister, Indíana Auðunsdóttir, made sure our evening was equally splendid on the service- and wine-side, with her big smile and contagious humor.

Beef tartar with cucumber, elderflower & kale
Beef tartar with cucumber, elderflower & kale
Cod baked in seaweeds, lovage & potato foam
Cod baked in seaweeds, lovage & potato foam
Frozen yogurt with dried berries & rhubarb granita
Frozen yogurt with dried berries & rhubarb granita
Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík
Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík
Loving these windows inside Harpa!
Loving these windows inside Harpa!
Skál sausages – the best in Reykjavík
Skál sausages – the best in Reykjavík

Magnus Ek Pop-up at Grillið

Our final day in Iceland was packed with more wonderful dining experiences. Another morning spent at Reykjavík Roasters, but their second location in town this time, before we headed down to the harbor to try the legendary Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Supposedly, the best sausages in town, which we found to be rather ordinary, but the sweet mustard made it all worth it! A quick stop by Harpa Concert Hall, where Skál was doing a pop-up (yes, we were Skál addicts at this point), provided us with much more exciting sausages created by head chef Fanney Sigurjónsdóttir.

This evening, we ate the full tasting menu at Iceland’s best restaurant, the one-Michelin-starred Dill, which was a truly amazing meal that I cannot wait to share with you all. Keep checking back for the full foodie story, or follow my Facebook page for all the updates. Lastly, at 9 PM, we headed over to restaurant Grillið on the eighth floor of the Radisson BLU Saga hotel. Chef Magnus Ek of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Oaxen in Stockholm was on the pop-up stage this night!

Chef Magnus Ek from Oaxen Krog & Slip in Stockholm
Chef Magnus Ek from Oaxen Krog & Slip in Stockholm

Our table companions were local chefs from Mat Bar as well as Skál (which we had gotten to know quite well at this point!), as well as the actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis. Savory pancake puffs (Danish æbleskiver) with whipped cep butter, roasted fresh cabbage in potato miso with hazelnuts and Jerusalem artichoke cream, and pork chop with apples, rosehip, fennel and mushroom lard (whatever that is?!) were some of the highlights of Magnus Ek’s cooking this night. I really need to visit Oaxen Krog the next time I’m in Stockholm! I’ve only been to the more casual Slip previously, which you can find in my Stockholm map.

Scallops with a shellfish garum was pretty much the only letdown on the menu. The wine pairing selected by the sommelier at Grillið was mostly leaning towards the natural style, and contained a lot of our favorite producers like Frank Cornelissen. Magnus Ek and the team at Grillið provided a fantastic ending to a super fun food festival! Afterward, we headed for the afterparty that celebrated the conclusion of another year’s Food & Fun Festival.

Classical Danish æbleskiver! Pancake puffs as bread serving
Classical Danish æbleskiver! Pancake puffs as bread serving
The Food & Fun festival is a celebration of food!
The Food & Fun festival is a celebration of food!
Zach Galifianakis
Zach Galifianakis
Roasted fresh cabbage in potato miso, hazelnut, and soured Jerusalem artichoke cream
Roasted fresh cabbage in potato miso, hazelnut, and soured Jerusalem artichoke cream
Scallop marinated in shellfish garum, Labrador tea & skyr
Scallop marinated in shellfish garum, Labrador tea & skyr
Frank Cornelissen, Susucaru, Rosato 2016
Frank Cornelissen, Susucaru, Rosato 2016
Hrafnkell Sigríðarson – head chef at MAT BAR
Hrafnkell Sigríðarson – head chef at MAT BAR
Pork chop with apples, rosehip, fennel, and mushroom lard
Pork chop with apples, rosehip, fennel, and mushroom lard
Bilberries, angelica cream, and hemp seed praline
Bilberries, angelica cream, and hemp seed praline
Dining with the guys from Mat Bar and Skál
Dining with the guys from Mat Bar and Skál
Magnus Ek and the team from Grillið
Magnus Ek and the team from Grillið

Have you attended the Fun & Food festival in Iceland? Share your experience below!

Disclaimer

The post contains an affiliate link to booking.com. I am not, however, in any way a partner of the hotel where we stayed.

3 comments

  • I love the insight you shared. We are planning to come to the festival next year (2019) and would like to budget accordingly. What is the average cost of each restaurant?

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