In Reykjavik, few names carry as much culinary clout as chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason, who was born in the northern Icelandic town of Akureyri. Now at the helm of Tides—the marquee outlet within The Reykjavik EDITION—Gíslason found his style and voice as he worked across several Nordic nations before moving his career to NYC. In 2009, Gíslason founded (and personally funded) Dill, the first restaurant in Iceland to be awarded a Michelin star. Not only did it introduce meticulously prepared New Nordic cuisine to the island nation, it shined a light upon local, seasonal ingredients and reimagined their use. Dill is so beloved that it in addition to its central location in Reykjavik, it also tours the world through gourmet pop-ups. As for Tides, it’s a unique opportunity to introduce people who haven’t been to Iceland before to different aspects of local culture through the lens of food—in a hotel, on the harbor, that’s distinctly respectful of its home city.
Gíslason had just returned from a six-week Dill pop-up in Denmark when an opportunity was presented to speak. Known for Icelandic ingredients, Gíslason employed several methods to make Dill as authentic as possible. “When you go and you do like a pop-up for six weeks in Tivoli, obviously you can’t just show up and use Danish ingredients,” he tells COOL HUNTING. “We decided that for this event, we will have to travel with Icelandic ingredients—so we packed up quite a lot of stuff here in Iceland, and took it with us. We made sure that the things that we were bringing with us were truly unique, truly something Icelandic and most definitely something that you could not find in Denmark.”
Understanding what Gíslason brought helps paint a picture not only of what his restaurants serve, but also what Iceland values as ingredients. “We were taking very special Icelandic salts,” he says. “We were taking our fresh-pressed lamb because in September it’s lamb season—when the lambs are coming down from the mountain.” Gíslason took smoked trout, old-style winter-dried catfish and local game. He also took Icelandic skyr with live bacteria. “We were using that skyr to fold into Danish cream and then that way, we could make butter out of it.” Everything he brought also had a story.
Food has changed substantially in Iceland over the last few generations. Gíslason’s observed the shift—and while he’s been influential in infusing the scene with innovation, he’s also dedicated to preserving skills and recipes. “If you look at what people were doing—maybe not my mom and dad, but definitely my grandparents—everything that they were doing during the summertime was focused around preparing for the wintertime. It was all about preservation. Nowadays, obviously, I do it, but my generation and the younger generation really doesn’t. You will not meet a single person that knows how to make a jam or even how to pickle vegetables.”
“It’s very important that we don’t forget those days,” he continues, “because those traditions are dying out. Obviously not pickling or drying or something like that, which you can look up in a book. But at the end of the day, there are traditions disappearing.” Gíslason notes most people’s use of lamb in this instance—how it had been prepared and how it’s becoming prepared. He’s observed that it does not have the same flavor. Something has been replaced.
Tides presented a unique opportunity not only to preserve this tradition but share it. “Hotel restaurants can become a little bit like an institution,” he says.
“I’m not saying all of them, but many of them. So for us it was very important that we would somehow like managed to create a kind of relaxed and welcoming environment. We didn’t want it to feel too stiff. We wanted it to feel approachable, friendly and cozy.”
Both the food and cocktail menus focus on distinctly Icelandic ingredients. With the latter, Tides utilizes not only Icelandic small-batch spirits but also local herbs. Regarding the food, Gíslason says, “We are very focused on using really amazing Icelandic fish, especially because at the end of the day the restaurant is right by the harbor. You can sit in the restaurant and and look out the window straight to the harbor and see boats coming and going.”
Once again the EDITION design teams—Roman and Williams with support from founder Ian Schrager—expressed the brand’s pristine aesthetic while marrying it to the local aesthetic. “EDITION has a super-strong design team,” Gíslason says. “Thankfully,” he adds, “I was able to join the team early on actually and, I mean, at the end of the day I’m not a designer, but I was asked to give my opinion. That was helpful, especially for the kitchen. Most of the drawings, though, they were there before I joined the team.”
Though Tides channels the EDITION’s luxury ethos, it’s also comforting and comfortable. And while Gíslason’s cuisine may feel exploratory, it’s easy to love. Open all day, from a delectable baked goods spread (at the Tides bakery) to a conclusive nightcap in the bar, the restaurant offers something for everyone—and regardless of what that something happens to be, it’s guaranteed to be distinctly Icelandic.
Images courtesy of EDITION Hotels