Are you a foodie and coming to Reykjavík? Do you want to know about the latest, newest and trendiest things that are happening in the Icelandic restaurant scene? Then check out Matwerk.
I remember growing up in Reykjavík when there was only about a handful of restaurants in the city. One Italian, another Mexican, one Asian (so generic Asian that it was actually called Asia), one traditional Icelandic and a good steak place. Plus some pizza, fried chicken and hamburger joints.
This is no longer the case.
Nowadays there's a handful of exciting culinary treats on every street corner. It feels like there's a handful of new places opening each month even!
There are often trends in Iceland, and the culinary world is no exception thereof. These days the trend seems to be to name the restaurant something with the word 'Mat' in it. 'Matur' simply means 'food' in Icelandic, and 'mathús' (food house) is a fairly easy word for tourists to pronounce, at least much easier than saying 'veitingastaður' which is the Icelandic word for 'restaurant'.
One of these trendy restaurants is the gastropub Matwerk, that opened on Laugavegur 96 in November 2016. The restaurant focuses on new-Nordic cuisine, with small plates with a little fusion twist.
My co-worker and I went there a few weeks ago to check it out, I'd been before when it just opened with a larger group of friends but we only had a small dish each then, focusing more on the drinking (they do have a small but nice and interesting cocktail menu that's worth checking out!)
The interior design of Matwerk is simple, mostly made out of wood and with nice lighting. I'm a big fan of the wooden seagulls by the staircase leading to the open second floor. The second floor only covers half of the first floor, which lends the venue an airy feel with its high ceiling. The front of the restaurant is also simply glass from floor to ceiling, so you get a great view of the busy Laugavegur street if you come at lunchtime when the shops are still open. Inside it's rather bright (so you can actually see your food - and get decent photos of it too!) but it's still dark enough for a comfortable ambiance.
We both went for a 4 course set menu, I had the Matwerk menu and she opted for the Nordic menu. We also tried each other's dishes, so we got a better feel for what they have on offer.
I had a couple of glasses of the house red wine, which was a nice choice that complemented my dishes well.
My menu started with a pork belly dish, served in a small pan. Beautiful dish with crispy pork and nice greenery.
It was accompanied by walnuts which were a great touch, and there was also a nice chew to the barley with a soft dijon mustard flavour, combined with sweet flavour of raisins.
The lovely bread we received at the start of our meal was very useful to scoop up the remaining sauce of this really tasty dish.
My co-worker got a seafood soup as a starter. It's a creamy soup but still fresh at the same time, not overly creamy. The dill oil helped with the freshness (dill oil is another trend going round Icelandic restaurants these days).
The soup contains some whey cheese, which to me tasted really sweet, almost like peanut butter. Really nice assortment of seafood in the soup, including mussels and king crab. I think out of the two starters I preferred the soup, just because it was a little lighter as a first course.
Next up was a beef tartar with crispy jerky, sweet onion, truffle mayo, capers and salsify. The sweet onion and crispy jerky were my favourite part of this dish, but I found it a little too generous with the salt.
My dish was good, but again I preferred the dish my companion had which was a beef cheek, soft enough to fall apart and accompanied with a creamy carrot cheese sauce. Yummy! (Don't you hate it when you get food envy of whoever you're dining with?)
Fortunately my food envy vanished when it got to the main courses and I got a nice Arctic char with really tasty dried kale. It also came with a mushroom purée, baby potatoes, broccoli, fresh mango and greek yoghurt, and this was a much larger plate than the previous ones.
I felt the mango flavour got a little lost with the overpowering taste of the charred fish and personally I like my fish slightly more undercooked (maybe I'm weird like that), but the overall dish was great. Besides, the tasty broccoli, kale snack and greek yoghurt made up for the somewhat lost mango.
Across the table a gorgeous 2 way cooked lamb shank was being served with some blueberry vinaigrette. To be honest I didn't taste much of the lamb since I was busy enjoying my Arctic char - but my co-worker commented on the softness of the meat and how nice the potatoes were with the sweetness of the blueberry flavour mixing with them. I'll try it next time!
After ogling the starters of my companion, it was her time to ogle my dessert, which was a beautiful dish of skyr brûlée with raspberry ice cream, blueberries and fresh strawberries. Excellent presentation and the perfect finish to a big meal.
Across the table a traditional Icelandic dish called 'Ástarpungar' or 'Love Balls' arrived. This was also a beautiful dish, the two of them looked like a feast of ice cream, fruit and sugary goodness.
Ástarpungar are baked goods (sort of like breadlike doughnuts), and the dish both smelled and looked like Christmas with it's sugary snow dusting. Although tasty, the 'love balls' are quite heavy, so if there was any chance of you not being completely full after the previous dishes, then you surely will be after this dessert.
Just to make absolutely sure the food travelled safely to our stomachs, we ordered a little cocktail and an extra glass of wine before calling it a night. This chocolate infused bubbly cocktail was very intriguing, and much lighter than both of us expected. You could definitely smell the chocolate, but only taste a hint of it.
I'll be coming back soon with my group of girls to check out the full cocktail menu. And I recommend you go there as well to check out both the food and cocktails!
Matwerk is found on Laugavegur 96 and serves both lunch and dinner. It's also possible to simply go there for drinks.