It’s been quite a year for Kari Thorsteinsson and Solveig Edda Bjarnadottir. Together they have welcomed their first child, relocated from Reykjavik to Solveig’s East Iceland hometown, and taken over the oldest house in Egilsstadir, a pretty cottage built in 1944 and known locally as Nielsenshus, after the first owner, Oswald Nielsen.
In May, after some renovations, the pair opened the doors to their newest family addition, the restaurant they have christened Nielsen. Residents of the East are fast becoming aware of the gem they now have on their doorstep. Kari’s kitchen pedigree is impressive: he has worked at Copenhagen’s acclaimed Noma, and in Reykjavik was head chef at DILL, the first Icelandic restaurant awarded a Michelin star.
Kari, in turn, is elated at his new neighbourhood and the fine produce grown, caught and farmed in the restaurant’s radius. “You can’t get more face-to-face with farmers than here”, he says, while telling stories of locals dropping by with homegrown mushrooms, strawberries and wild salmon for him to check out.
Nielsen’s accomplished offerings stretch across weekday lunch (big portions for local workers) and weekend brunch, but it’s the dinner menu that’s the highlight, where the farm-to-table (or fjord-to-table) ethos shines loud and proud.
On tap is a delicious spritz concoction of rhubarb, gin, elderflower and lemon – perfect for menu-reading and decision-making. The meal begins with a dish destined to be a Nielsen staple: reindeer tartare. It’s from an animal hunted by Solveig’s father (reindeer reside only in Iceland’s East, and hunting them is highly regulated). It’s a new flavour experience for me, heightened by the creamy egg yolk and earthy tones from mushrooms.
Fish and lamb are Nielsen’s most popular mains, but there are always creative veggie options crafted from the output of nearby farm Vallanes. The cod comes from Borgarfjordur eystri (as does all Nielsen’s fish) and is paired with Vallanes barley, angelica foraged in neighbouring town Fellabaer, and a caramelised whey sauce (the whey comes from an Egilsstadir farm shop specialising in traditionally made skyr and cheese). Total food miles: minimal.
The waitstaff sing with one voice when asked for their dessert recommendation. I follow the tip: it’s a fudgy slab of chocolate and salted caramel served with milk ice cream and tiny larch leaves. I’m told of a local woman who tried it one night and returned the following day for another serve. I feel that way about the entire meal. I think I’ve found myself a new favourite restaurant.