Savouring the Flavours of Iceland at Sjávargrillið, the Seafood Grill

Sjávargrillið, the Seafood Grill

The following is promotional content in partnership with Sjávargrillið.

When thinking about true Icelandic cuisine, freshly caught seafood perfectly melting on one’s tongue like butter quickly comes to mind. Sjávargrillið, The Seafood Grill, is one of the best places in Reykjavík for indulging in exactly that! Tucked away in a corner right above the popular “Rainbow Street” on Skólavörðustígur 14, The Seafood Grill has specialised in preparing fresh and local ingredients caught straight off Iceland’s shores. 

During the daytime, tropes of tourists desperately hunting for the perfect shot of Hallgrímskirkja flock by the restaurant, some curious to enter for the delicious promise of a tasty lunch – most popularly for the “Catch of the Day”. 

Sjávargrillið promises to deliver “the real taste of Iceland” –  but what is the real taste of Iceland?

Buttery Heaven

As I enter the spacious restaurant before opening time, I’m greeted by the owner Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson, who excitedly rushes me in. The staff is scurrying around – already in preparation mode – and is making sure all the tables are ready for the first lunch guests to arrive shortly. “We have a few food tours coming every day,” Gústav explains. “They just drop in, try one of our staples, the lobster taco, and the bravest ones can taste hákarl, fermented shark, and brennivin, Icelandic snaps.” My smile slips a bit, fermented shark? Well, I hope this is not the true taste of Iceland that Gústav means. He calms me down, laughing, “After I became chef of the year in 2010, I took some months travelling around Iceland to discover the real taste of Iceland and I found that it is mostly the high-quality fish and lamb we have here.” Originally from the small fishing village Húsavík, in the North of Iceland, Gústav knows all about high-quality seafood.

“But we also have some amazing dairy products, like skýr and the famously creamy Icelandic butter.” Just thinking about Icelandic butter, my mouth starts watering. Right in time, one of the waiters brings a small lava rock with a perfectly shaped lobe of whipped butter and obsidian-black lava salt on it. I schmear some on a piece of fresh bread and it’s divine!

Family Affair

“I moved to Reykjavík right when I was 19 years old to attend chef school. I’ve always known that I wanted to become a chef,” Gústav says. In 2011, he then decided to open up his first restaurant, The Seafood Grill. “I actually didn’t expect that it would be in such a good location. Back then, there weren’t so many tourists and most of them just visited Laugavegur. So I was really lucky.” He emphasises that there are also many local guests visiting for the restaurant’s lunch options or evening menus. 

The kitchen staff is ready for the guests, Photo: Art Bicnick

And just like that, our next course, the famous lobster tacos, are brought to our table. The dish looks delicious and is accompanied with sauteed red onions, a dash of date puree and is topped with the perfect amount of parmesan (a lot). Icelandic lobster is technically a type of langoustine, a small species of crustacean that is caught in the local waters around Iceland. The fried seafood is incredibly soft and crispy at the same time, matching perfectly with the sweet date puree and the slight spice of the onions and the cheese. Delicious!

Head-chef Hilmir

Gústav continues to tell me about his aim to keep a part of his own story in The Seafood Grill. His father and mother also help out in the restaurant, and most of his staff, like head chef Hilmir and chef Jóhanna have been part of the team for over ten years. “It is important to me to treat my employees well so I can keep the same people for a long time and run this place like a family. This is how everything–the quality of the service and the food–gets to the next level,” Gústav smiles. A lot of the interior design is inspired by his hometown Husavík. With his father, he collected driftwood from the shores in the North, which now adorn the walls in the downstairs dining room, and the benches on the top floor. The restaurant offers around 100 seats, with a more private area located in the downstairs area, which is often used for groups and special events.

Chef Jóhanna

A Seafood Staple

Shortly after I finish my lobster taco, a tourist group of about 12 people walk into Sjávargrillið, all very excited to try some Icelandic specialities. After the tour guide introduced The Seafood Grill, he already starts unstacking shot glasses and pours a bit of brennivín. “Who is brave enough to try some shark and Icelandic snaps?”, he asks with a mischievous grin. To my surprise, the majority of the table raises their hand. “It’s not too bad”, one American woman concludes after washing her small piece of Greenlandic shark down with some strong snaps. Drinking the liquor after tasting the ammonia-loaded shark is no coincidence, as it (luckily) kills all of the unpleasant aftertaste. 

Catch of the day

We head back to our table to savour Gústav’s favourite dish on the menu: the catch of the day. Today, the catch, freshly arrived in the morning from the local Fish Market, is fried cod with some local veggies. The cod is soft like butter and the slightly salty flavour fits perfectly with the grounded notes of the root vegetables – a perfect and light lunch! The Seafood Grill is a staple in Reykjavík when it comes to fresh Icelandic seafood. Whether you’re seeking a fine dining experience or a flavourful and quick lunch, this restaurant promises a delightful culinary experience that leaves you longing for more after having savoured the real taste of Iceland.