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Dining out in Iceland can be an expensive business but there are ways of softening the blow. Most restaurants offer at least one set meal special each day but buffet restaurants are also an economical option if you want to spend less on meals.
Kryddelgin Hjortu (the name translates as 'Spicy Hearts' and I hope it sounds less naff in Icelandic) is an organic buffet restaurant housed in a modern building next door to the Indian Embassy in downtown Reykjavik. We'd actually walked past the restaurant several times as we walked along the harbourside road but because we were on the other side of four lanes of traffic and because the entrance to the restaurant is effectively at the back of the building, we didn't know it was a restaurant at all.
We wouldn't have known about the place at all had we not spotted a sign placed just off the city's main street, directing potential diners to a restaurant with the best views in Reykjavik. We assumed that it must be on the top floor of a building so we were surprised when we arrived at the back of what we knew was the Indian Embassy. Seeing a green chilli pepper on the logo of the restaurant, Himself nearly fell over his feet in his rush to go in.
I'm not normally one to choose a buffet; this is mainly because I have a serious nut allergy and I'm afraid that food containing nuts might contaminate foods that don't, however, I've also been disappointed in the past when I've paid up front and reached the buffet to find it was poorly stocked as the end of the lunch time session approached. On this occasion, however, I could see the salad bar through the window and it looked like there was a good selection of items and that it all looked very fresh and tasty. There were also some delicious aromas emanating from the restaurant so we didn't need much persuasion to go in.
The interior is informal with a slightly ethnic-y, vaguely Mexican vibe. I'd have been able to take more notice of the surroundings had it not been for the view because the restaurant has a huge picture window on the harbour side which looks out on the snow capped Mount Esja across the bay - it was quite simply the most beautiful view of any restaurant I can remember visiting. If the food wasn't any good we could at least enjoy the view.
To keep costs down service is minimal, in fact it's almost completely self service although one staff member was clearing tables. There are two main courses available each day (though effectively it's three because one of them has a meat free version) - fish or lasagne. You can combine that with a starter or a dessert or have all three. The other choice is the buffet and for one price you can help yourself to as much as you want from the soups and the salad bar.
After you've found a table you pay at the counter and you're given a soup bowl. Plates of different sizes are stacked above the salad bar. I couldn't work out why soup bowls had to be given out after payment yet salad plates not. There are four soups to choose from and they were labelled in Icelandic and English. There are always two meat free soups. I had the salsa chicken soup which was quite spicy and well flavoured. It certainly tasted of chicken even if it was a bit light on the actual meat. There were nachos to have with this soup if you wanted them (and of course I did). Himself had the meat free curry soup which he said was OK but nothing special. It was a lentil based soup flavoured with curry spices; I thought it smelled great but I was enjoying mine so much I wasn't bothered, for once, to try it.
Bread was available but it was placed above the salad bar, not beside the soups and I might not have known it was there were it not for me over hearing an English woman instructing her husband to fetch her more bread from his trip to the buffet. The bread is homemade on the premises from organic barley and spelt. There is garlic butter and hummus beside the bread but the bread was so hearty and flavoursome I felt it would have been a waste to put anything on it.
The selection of salads and individual salad components was impressive and so was the presentation of the food; everything looked fresh and vibrant. Nothing was tired looking and everything was topped up. There were grains and pulses (among them chickpeas, lentils - they were the best! - and cous cous), beetroot, sweet corn, sweet ripe tomatoes, crisp salad leaves, carrots and potato salad (and more). There were rich creamy dressings, oily vinaigrettes and bottles of oil and vinegar so you could dress your salad yourself if you preferred. Finally there were little dishes of seeds to top off your salad - the pumpkin seeds were great. The salad bar is entirely meat free so it's great for vegetarians and open minded carnivores (omnivores if you like) but bad news for salad dodgers.
A dessert is available from the counter but there were orange segments on the buffet so I carefully loaded one end of my plate with some when I made my second visit to the buffet. Having had a fairly healthy lunch I felt quite virtuous in having the fruit instead of a wedge of chocolate cake.
A full range of drinks (hot, cold, alcoholic) is available but, like most other diners, we were happy to grab a jug of water from the shelf by the counter. Fresh jugs were being put out all the time and there was a choice of water with slices of lemon or orange.
It's not difficult to get vegetarian food in Reykjavik but I think that Kryddelgin Hjortu is one that caters very well for people who don't eat meat; in fact the small number of meat dishes on the menu is almost like a reversal of what the situation is usually like for vegetarians who tend to find a couple of dishes thrown in to tick the veggie box. I was really impressed with the range of items in the salad bar and it's easy to make up a main course from what's on offer, rather than feeling like you can only have a larger than usual side salad. The majority of the ingredients are organic and the quality tells; there were no bland, tasteless ingredients here, everything was flavoursome.
It's a shame we didn't find this place until our last lunchtime in Iceland because this is one place I'd go back to. We paid 1790 Icelandic Krona (at the time of writing approximately £9.37) each for our lunchtime buffet (available 11.30 - 14.00); the price increases to 1990 ISK in the evenings (14.00 - 21.00).