Restaurant

An Italian Tapas Spot Is Making Waves Near the Arctic Circle

Pickled Mediterranean ingredients and Italian refrences to the ’60s Modernism movement star at Reykjavic's Mat Bar.

Pickled Mediterranean ingredients and Italian refrences to the ’60s Modernism movement star at Reykjavic's Mat Bar.

Just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, a tapas-style restaurant and deli in Reykjavík blends Nordic and Mediterranean flavors in seasonal, distinctly Icelandic combinations. Here, the tomatoes on your buffalo mozzarella are pickled, the olives on your cod crudo are dried, and your drink is a Negroni—because some things are best left unchanged. The Italian-inspired menu pays homage to both cultures in other ways, too. Buttery Arctic char, a staple of local diets, gets its tang from briny capers; toasted bread is topped with blue cheese and earthy foraged birch syrup; and grilled squid is served with pickled chili and lemon preserves worthy of the Sicilian countryside.

Such culinary creativity requires an equally inspiring aesthetic counterpart, so owner Guðjón Hauksson commissioned HAF Studio to transform the interiors of a former 1960s office block into an inviting dining room that’s both comfortable and stylish. In keeping with the setting, cofounders Hafsteinn Juliusson and wife Karitas Steinsdottir chose robust materials designed to weather well, such as solid-oak tables and chairs, brown leather banquettes, and Italian marble floors. A curvaceous black-steel bar boldly outlined in copper and mirrors shaped like piano keys gleam beneath brass pendant lights. Punctuating the restrained neutral palette are painted dados that recall the fresh green of the Italian plastics of the ’60s Modernism movement. But everything—barring the Danish glasses—was crafted in Iceland.

Though HAF Studio was brought on to dream up the visual identity, Hafsteinn says it’s the menu that will keep them coming back. “It brings out the best in Nordic cooking methods, such as drying, pickling, and smoking, which describes what is happening in Reykjavík: fresh and high-quality food served in a surprising way.”

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Mat Bar
Mat Bar

Mat Bar

Mat Bar

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