The Icelandic chef, head of the Michelin-starred modern European restaurant Texture in Mayfair, talks to Imogen Lepere about his inspiration, culinary hangouts and his grandmother’s cooking
Where did you last go on holiday? I went to Varna in Bulgaria for the amazing beaches. There still isn’t much of a luxury food scene there because of its Communist past, but there was an excellent Turkish place called Restaurant Klas Barbeque which did great houmus, tabbouleh and cloud bread. They have lovely fresh fruit because of the climate and some decent white wines. The turbot is particularly good and is often served deep fried, which I’d not tried.
What sort of food did you eat as a child? Growing up in Reykjavic meant my diet was mainly seafood based. We’d have boiled fish like cod with new potatoes and burnt butter infused with lemon five days a week. My grandmother made the best.
What makes Iceland’s natural larder so special? We’re surrounded by unpolluted water and our fish is amazing. The langoustines are sweet and the salmon is so good I eat it sliced like sashimi or poached in lemon water. The real draw card is the lamb. In summer they roam the mountains grazing on berries and herbs, and in winter we bring them down so they can feed on seaweed.
From where do you get your inspiration? Raymond Blanc is my greatest inspiration. I was head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for three years and he taught me to focus on flavour before presentation, which is something some Scandinavian chefs have taken too far in my opinion. In terms of cookery books, I still turn to my old favourites: White Heat, The French Laundry
Cookbook and El Celler de Can Roca: The Book.
Where is the best restaurant you’ve eaten at recently? Hákon Már Örvarsson is one of the best chefs in Scandinavia, and his recently opened restaurant, Essensia, in Reykjavic serves Italian food made with Icelandic ingredients. He’s installed an authentic Italian oven that cooks pizzas in just 90 seconds.
Where in London do you go to eat and drink? I finish work late and often have dinner at Hakkasan in Mayfair because the kitchen stays open. I normally order crispy duck salad with pomelo, pine nuts and shallots. I like casual Vietnamese concepts too, like Viet Food in Soho, and Pho, which has branches across the UK. I drink a little too much I suppose. Little House in Mayfair does a mean Grey Goose martini and I love my local, The Punchbowl.
We want to eat at Texture – what should we order? I don’t use butter or cream in any savoury dishes because you get a much cleaner, fresher feel to the food. I want people to be able to eat my entire tasting menu and feel great. At the moment I’d go for the tomato gazpacho with burrata. We don’t heat it and allow it cool; it is literally just marinated tomatoes. The Icelandic cod with avocado and herbs is very fresh, and I would definitely finish with the Skyr. This Icelandic delicacy is somewhere between a yoghurt and a cheese, and it’s very flexible. I use it in everything from desserts to salad dressings.
Clockwise from top: salmon gravlax at Texture; chef Angar Sverrisson; the champagne bar; boats on an Icelandic harbour