The Hedonist: Reykjavik
What to see and where to be seen
Saturday 26 February 2011
As I am transported over lava fields and past snowy peaks on the airport bus to Reykjavik, I contemplate the decadent delights that await me.Aspiring hedonists might not immediately imagine themselves living it up in a country rocked by the recent financial crisis and glorying in such culinary delicacies as rotten shark and seared sheep's head. However, as a seasoned citizen of the world, I know better, and I plan to make the most of my time in the Icelandic capital.
I begin by checking into Hotel 101 (00 354 580 0101; 101hotel.is), casting my eye around the cool, Nordic décor with its calm colours and clean lines. My room is toasty warm, with heated oak floors; I make a mental note to take advantage of the steam bath and massage service if there's time.
I take lunch down at the harbour, torn between two rough diamonds: the hotdog hut Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur ("The Town's Best Hotdog") – with a glitzy list of past customers that includes Bill Clinton – and the seafood shack Saegreiffinn ("The Sea Baron"), owned by a retired fisherman who makes the best humarsupa (lobster soup) in town.
My tastebuds humming with the nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves of the lobster soup, I toddle up towards Perlan (00 354 562 0200; perlan.is): a glittering dome set on the brow of the hill overlooking the city, the sea and the snow-capped mountains beyond. I've heard great things about the tasting menu in the restaurant of this futuristic-looking building, but for now there's just time to look around the artwork and museum, grab a coffee in the café and stroll down the hillside, past the artificial geyser and down to the geothermally heated waters of Nautholsvik beach (00 354 511 6630; nautholsvik.is). Then I have to hurry back to my hotel to meet Svanhildur and Gudvardur, my friends who have come from Akureyri in the north for our forthcoming night of excess.
Since Hotel 101 has its own art gallery, we pop in to admire the collection of work from Iceland's top young artists, before heading to the ultra-cool hotel cocktail bar with its granite and white leather décor, favoured by the great and the glamorous from Iceland's celebrity world.
After an appertif, it's off to dinner at Silfur (00 354 578 2008; silfur.is) with its dramatic high white ceilings and silver meshes that divide the dining room from its more intimate, white-leather-walled lounge, complete with a long stone bar and a lava stone wall that reminds me of the dramatic physical landscape that lies beyond the city. The food is innovative and beautifully presented: I begin with the Icelandic classic hangikot (smoked lamb) with beetroot jam, smoked beetroot and nut clay, before moving on to a lightly salted salmon with rye bread crumble, birch syrup, apple air and almond potatoes. We can't fit in dessert, but decamp to the lounge for one of the delicious cocktails as a rather more decadent digestif.
Suitably fortified, and with the blood of the Vikings beginning to pump in my veins, it's time to join the runtur, Reykjavík's legendary Friday-night booze fest. For a hedonist such as myself, only the best will do, and we begin down the street in Islenski Barinn (00 354 578 2020; islenskibarinn.is), which not only serves delicious traditional Icelandic food, but also has some of the best cocktails in town. I pass up the terrifying sounding Blackdeath Rhubarb Mojito in favour of an Eskimojito; both contain the lethal Icelandic schnapps brennevin (every bit as lethal as its name "burning wine", or more colloquially "black death" suggests).
Next, we loop up to Boston (00 354 517 7816) on the main shopping street Laugavegur, with its gleaming coppery décor and Victorian-hunting-lodge-style adornments. We roll down the hill to our penultimate stop, the legendary Kaffibarinn (00 354 551 1588; www.kaffibarinn.is), a bar located in one of the town's old wooden-board houses but with a Blighty twist: a London Underground symbol hanging over the door. Finally, a quick nightcap in B5 (00 354 552 9600; b5.is), with the bottles on the shelves behind the bar glowing with multicoloured lights.
Our heads spinning from beer and brennevin, we decide to call time on the boozing, but rather than return to my hotel, it's off to the penthouse rented by Svanhildur and Gudvardur for the weekend: one of the Home Apartments (00 354 898 8532; this.is/home) designed by award-winning architect Agnar Agnarsson. The décor is stunning, with stone floors and round wooden bathtubs, but the real reason we're here is for the retractable roof. Gazing up at the skies, I revel in a night so clear that even with the ambient glow of the city, I can make out the faint, green glow of the northern lights above our heads.
There's little time for sleep, and after a catnap I drag myself out of bed and along to Grai Kotturinn (00 354 551 1544) for brunch. With my delicate constitution in need of some serious fortification, it's a tough call between fluffy American pancakes (with maple syrup and bacon) or bacon and eggs served on thick, buttery hunks of fresh bread. In the end I make a suitably hedonistic decision and order both.
A Hedonist's Guide to... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see www.hg2.com
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