Review: Matur og Drykkur, Reykjavík, Iceland: Best (Michelin) Gastropub?
Matur og Drykkur: Reykjavík’s Best (Michelin) Gastropub?
Matur og Drykkur, Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland. A four-course tasting menu, a main course, two cocktails, 3 wine by the glass (excluding service): ISK21,170 (US$156, £119, €132).
Tel. +354 571 8877
Seriously good value food at this price point (in Iceland) for this cooking
Meticulous, casual service, knowledgeable about the menu
Enjoyably casual setting, jeans friendly
Admirable focus on less popular cuts of fish and meat
The location is not ideal and there is very little in the surrounding area
Fish skin crisps need adjusting as it’s fatty and cloy
The Tale of the Gastropub
There was a time living in London when I would choose to rent a house almost on the basis of its proximity to excellent gastropubs. Some will baulk at this seemingly ridiculous criteria yet others will nod appreciatively. Many times I would find a gastropub, sip a brisk pint of Aspall Suffolk cider and get to know the staff. Social bartenders confirm if an area gets rowdy at night, if the neighbours are good people and – most importantly – is the local Indian restaurant up to muster?
Gastropubs became the rage in the late naughties just as the true horror of the financial crash started unfolding. The gastropub became king in many ways. Daily food menus scratched on chalkboards often served with local beers, ales and ciders. Sold out items wiped clean from the board. Simple but excellent was the formula. Homely dishes like oozing macaroni cheese, coffin-sized bacon sandwiches or groaning ploughman’s lunches sourcing exemplary local ingredients coupled with homemade pickles. The resurrection of the scotch egg came to define budget dining for discerning eaters who want change from a £10 note.
Is Matur og Drykkur a gastropub?
This may be uneven labelling but Matur og Drykkur carries with it the tell-tale signs of gastropub dining. Indeed, excellent gastropubs deserving of award-winning accolades exist namely Tom Kerridge’s infamous Hand and Flowers** in well-heeled Marlow. The 2020 Michelin guide added a further two gastropubs culminating in a star-studded 19 total gastropubs in England alone receiving Michelin nods.
Reykjavík boasts five Michelin listed including one Michelin starred restaurant, Dill. Matur og Drykker was a dinner I booked weeks back as I sensed it walks that line of being casual in vibe but serious in food, just like the gastropub. Mrs EatGoSee does enjoy getting dressed up to go out, but when on holiday, as we are, we also enjoy not having to do that. Fuss-free options rise high on our preferred lists.
The script is clear and Matur og Drykkur follows it like a well-trained orchestra musician. Matur og Drykkur personifies the central proposition that you need not curate formality to serve damn good food. People want to eat well, but they also want to wear jeans. They want to stay in their local neighbourhood. They want to surround themselves with friends (especially coming out of a lockdown). You want to have a good time, at your leisure. Dubai restaurants could learn a lot about modesty. Dubai could do better at giving the illusion of humility only to over-deliver on expectations.
About Matur og Drykkur
Matur og Drykkur is Icelandic for Food and Drink. The restaurant is named after a famous local cookbook and focuses on presenting classic dishes in a contemporary style. Matur og Drykkur was bib gourmand listed in 2018 but, now, carries Michelin list feature Matur og Drykker as a “plate” meaning, well, as Michelin explains:
“The Michelin Plate is the symbol for those restaurants that have neither a star nor a Bib Gourmand. For restaurants, being in the selection is the sign of very good food, and the Michelin Plate is the symbol for that. Many restaurants start off by entering the guide and then moving up to getting a star in [the] following years.”
The restaurant was also awarded multiple local awards as well as one of the best restaurants in Reykjavík and Iceland.
Indeed after months of Dubai COVID lockdown and the growing acceptance that I would not travel in 2020, the opportunity to eat at a Michelin restaurant this year felt unlikely. The first and last experience would be Sobretablas in Sevilla back in February. Matur og Drykkur does not just carry the expectations of my research, but also the burden of my hopes.
Matur og Drykkur: The Experience
The restaurant is positioned towards the corner of Reykjavík harbour inside of the saga museum. Already it shed any association with hotels or downtown glitzy locations. It is humble but people staying in the city centre will want to get a taxi (approx ISK2000). Reservations are highly recommended especially with social distancing resulting in fewer available covers.
Our booking is confirmed and we are escorted to our table in an open-plan, intimate restaurant floor. Warm glowing lighting from the kitchen lamps, dark panels and a brushed concrete floor. Chilled tap water arrives unceremoniously in a carafe; another area where Dubai can do better.
The service here is friendly, you are a guest and treated as such without an obsequious moment. The waiters share their favourite dishes and why; it is refreshing to talk to someone about food without muffling through a mask and thanking my delivery driver.
Matur og Drykkur: My Food Arrives
Mrs EatGoSee is not wildly hungry today so I embark upon the four-course tasting menu alone. Or so I thought until a curious fork emerges from her side of the table.
Three fish skin crisps with brown butter and sea truffle arrive dressed under a verdant dill sprig. The blistered, ash fish skins snap like prawn crackers then rushes forward this sweet oleaginous brown butter. The fish skin’s crunchy subtle fish texture is a little overwhelmed by the butter and the sea truffle is lost. I recommend the kitchen is more modest with the butter portion and incorporates the dill more evenly to off-set the fatty, cloy butter. I detest aniseed with every fibre of my being but here I would take it. I do really want acidity though: capers, cornichons, rhubarb whatever. The sweet relief of sharpness to cause this butter to buckle.
All my joy and hopes are restored with the halibut soup with mussels, green apple and raisins. An enamel soup bowl modestly arrives slick with emerald dill oil and pearls of mussel, fish, green apple and raisins like a beach at low tide leaving the ocean’s inhabitants behind. A kettle stores this luxuriously creamy and rich soup broth. It is purest comfort food for a wintery country spoiled with brilliant seafood. The punchy dice of green apple brightens the whole dish supported by plump raisins and a tickle of slight herbaceous aniseed from the dill oil. This calculated interplay is glorious and demonstrates that the kitchen is able to balance flavours more so than the first course suggested.
I gently nursed the Rautt Brúdkaup cocktail (ISK2440) followed by a glass of Molliard Chablis Coquillage (ISK1800). I switch to the heavier Quinta do Vallardo Touriga Franca (ISK1800) because the main attraction will shortly arrive. The wine menu by the glass is focused on two whites and two reds.
The cod’s head cooked in chicken and berry glacé comes served with a side of the cod’s throat deep fried and a rubbled heap of roasted potatoes. Chowing down on a cod’s head will cause many diners to immediately scarper save for my three rescue cats who cannot read this. It requires an experienced hand to make these cuts stars in their own right.
And this is achieved. The cod head’s fleshy meat is firm and slightly sweet from the glacé. The fish cheeks, neck and lips are meaty. This is delicate eating. At first, I easily pry meat from the cheeks and cod neck, but then, some excavation is required. This dish could be shared as a table for two to three but sheer greed and childish fascination spurns me forward. It is delicious and here lies another lesson to other kitchens.
The cod’s throat is indistinguishable from any other fish goujons eaten to date. So this is a good thing. Instead of using more costly loin or fillet, we could use throat as a cheaper protein substitute dragged through a vibrant tartare sauce.
I want to pause and congratulate Matur og Drykker for leaning into unpopular cuts like fish heads and fish skins to turn these into the main attraction. Fillets, breasts and chops a chef does not make. Yes, these cuts can be ruined by amateurs but premium cuts do not require the same fastidious perseverance as belly, shins, tails or proteins like an octopus. I admire a kitchen that turns trotters, heels and other unmentionables into gold. Fergus Henderson did not start this but he, rightly, put it front and centre. If you’re going to kill an animal, have the dignity to use it all. Dubai, pay attention.
Mrs EatGoSee dines on an a la carte menu item: the ling with angelica skyr, apple purée with a cucumber and kohlrabi salad and crispy barley and pickled lingonberry. An attractive plate with smears of Skye and apple purée arrive making a convincing case for fish and dairy. The cucumber and kohlrabi pairing adds freshness to lift the dish from the skyr. An enjoyable plate from the chalkboard menu of the day.
Matur og Drykkur: the matter of dessert
A rhubarb crumble with arctic thyme and brown butter ice cream emerges from the kitchen nested in its ramekin as the last act of kindness from the kitchen. Freshly cooked rhubarb sings both sweet and sharp under a warm, biscuit-like crumble laced with herbaceous woody thyme. The brown butter ice cream compliments this nutty roundness of the crumble and soothes the rhubarb. A delicious dessert that only lets me down when it’s over.
Would I Come back to Matur og Drykkur?
Matur og Drykkur is the kind of restaurant and cooking that makes me miss Europe at times. Very locally sourced ingredients and a focus on lesser-known cuts served with skill and simplicity. Let the food talk loud enough so the rest can stay quiet. Too many times I see restaurants following fads and trends or, worse, attempting to create them. I seldom want to go out to eat a chicken nugget wrapped in gold leaf and then be extorted for the privilege. The restaurant and staff successfully curate a low-key atmosphere that makes me want to sit and order the Fernando de Castilla Vintage Oloroso (ISK1050). I want to stay, nestle and enjoy being outside. Matur og Drykkur is a lesson in less is more. Do less, focus intently on what is served and its purpose and deliver it. Perhaps just a little less brown butter on the crisps but this is forgivable.
Should you come to Matur og Drykkur?
The menus will be divisive for some as fish skins and cod heads do not excite everyone. The restaurant offers more conventional options so you need not be alienated or brave my choices. There is plenty of skill and options available including vegetarian, fish and meat options to cover the bases.
There is an intimate, familiar atmosphere here but not quite romantic. Suitable for couples on dates, larger groups looking to reconnect, casual business meals among close colleagues.