Mat Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland – A Review

by artfuldiner on November 9, 2022

in Artful Diner Review, Opinion, Special Events, Wining and Dining

Mat Bar

Hverfisgata 26

101 Reykjavik, Iceland

(354) 788-3900

Mat Bar - InteriorThe Mat Bar is what we would call a “gastropub.” A combination of the words “pub” and “gastronomy,” the term was first coined in 1991 to emphasize the exceptional quality of cuisine served in what is usually referred to as a kind of local “happy-tappy.” In other words, a gastropub focuses not only on what you drink, but what you eat as well. As someone once said, “think of it as a restaurant in a pub.”

And Mat Bar fills that niche quite nicely. Replete with spiffy retro black-and-white tile floors and diminutive cozy bar, this little bohemian pub is every local’s favorite eatery, serving up one of Reykjavik’s most creative menus. Owner Guǒjón Hauksson has taken a best-produce-first approach, and it has held the restaurant in good stead. The menu changes seasonally – seemingly in the blink of an eye – with favorite dishes reappearing in new forms, depending upon the mood of the kitchen and dictates of the weather. And the tapas plates – both small and large – are all meant to be shared.

Mat Bar - Cod Crudo… And they arrive at table individually, as they are prepared. The night of our visit, the first small plate to put in an appearance was the Cod Crudo (Crudo, which means “raw,” is a dish that originated in Spain and Italy. It is raw fish – in this case, cod – that is splashed with olive oil or light vinaigrette and a variety of herbs). The presentation here added an intriguing combo of diced apples, crumbled rye bread, and garden cress.

Mat Bar - Broccoli Celeriac CannelloniNext up were the Broccoli and Celeriac Cannelloni (pictured together). The broccoli was seasoned with a subtle hint of sweetness, salted lemon and mint. It also sported a bit of heat, as the florets were rubbed in chili oil before cooking.

Celeriac, which is also called celery root, knob celery, and turnip-rooted celery is a variety that is cultivated for its edible stem and shoots. In this instance, it is sliced wafer-thin, formed into a cylindrical shape to resemble cannelloni, stuffed with cheese, and topped with diced potatoes and green tomatoes.

Mat Bar - Eggplant TempuraOur one shared large plate – the high point of the evening – was the absolutely spectacular Eggplant Tempura. For starters, the tempura batter was delicate, crispy, and utterly ethereal on the palate. The eggplant sections were just the right consistency – neither too firm nor too mushy – and impeccably seasoned… And the accompanying puttanesca sauce with a sprinkling of fresh basil was the pièce de résistance. “Herein lies Mat Bar’s appeal,” as the Reykjavik Grapevine so aptly put it. “Every dish is remarkable, in one way or another, with bold choices in presentation, flavor combinations, and unusual twists on well-known recipes. Everyone at the table tastes each course, making for animated conversation as you and your fellow diners untangle the complexities of each dish, and form opinions about your favorites.”

Desserts show no sign of a letdown, as our Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream spruced up with chocolate, cocoa nibs, and coffee was more than up to the mark… Ditto the intriguing choice of creative cocktails, as the restaurant’s careful attention to detail and seasonality begin with your first sip. My dining partner’s Paper Tiger, for instance, was a near-lethal-sounding concoction of bourbon, Aperol (Italian bitter), lemon and Armaro (bitter/sweet Italian herbal liqueur).

Mat Bar - Penicillin Paper TigerMy Penicillin, which is served on the rocks and was mentioned in detail in a previous article, incorporated Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch, honey, ginger, lemon, Angostura Bitters, and a splash of peated Scotch over the top. In his 2016 book A Proper Drink, cocktail historian Robert Simonson referred to the Penicillin as “the most well-traveled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century.”

Be that as it may, neither my dining partner nor I had ever heard of the Penicillin – ditto the Paper Tiger – before spotting them on Matt Bar’s cocktail list (pictured above: Paper Tiger on left; Penicillin on right).

Mat Bar - ExteriorIn addition to a nice writeup in Frommer’s, Mat Bar was chosen as 2018 Best Vegetarian Meal, 2018 One of the Best Places for Cocktails, 2018 Best Place to Start the Night, 2018 Best Goddamn Restaurant, and 2019 Runner-Up Best Goddamn Restaurant by the Reykjavik Grapevine.

If you’re contemplating a trip to Iceland – and it is well worth a journey – be sure to pay a call at Mat Bar in Reykjavik. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well


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