Even though Iceland offers more reasonably priced fare for the tourist than it used to – especially in the supermarket – it’s still worth knowing about those outlets in Reykjavik where you can pick up a bite to eat or a drink in affordable fashion. We prefer it if places don’t skimp on atmosphere; happily, this hardly ever seems to be the case in Reykjavik. But we found these places both wallet-friendly and ambient:
Kryddlegin Hjörtu, Skúlugata 17, 101 Reykjavik
Buffet breakfasts are still a godsend in Iceland, but it’s easy to get sick of processed meats, bread and jam, hard-boiled eggs and thin-sliced cheese. We know because we were sick of them by the end of our stay. Mercifully, this excellent restaurant came to our dietetic rescue late on in proceedings.
We wanted to look at a salad bar lavished with green leaves, bulgur and pulses, and that was what we got – along with healthy spelt bread and hearty soups of a silky texture. Really good value at ISK1,990 (GBP10) for a buffet – although the food was so wholesome you might not be doing multiple return visits.
Interesting and vaguely Eastern wood carvings and decor combined with a Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music greatest hits compilation on the sound system when we were there, but the music wasn’t obtrusive; indicative of it being friendly and civil as well as eclectic. And nicely nestling by the seafront as well.
Cafe Roma, Rauðarástigur 8, 101 Reykjavik
Now this is annoying. We’re trying to provide an authoritative address for this one as we like it so much – but a number of websites claim that the main outlet is on Laugurvegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik. We’re absolutely convinced that we were on Rauðarástigur, just to the south of the Laugurvegur/Rauðarástigur junction and close to Galleri Fold on this map. The link above appears to bear out our case, but any official confirmation would be welcome.
Especially because this doubles up as a homely yet urbane café and bakery that’s good enough to suggest that if Paris café life falls by the wayside for some horrible reason, we’ll always have Reykjavik. We particularly like the huge pink-iced snúðtúr buns – only ISK295 (about GBP1.50) a pop but almost loaf-like in appearance and also likely to have your metabolic number for half the morning or afternoon (if you’re not getting sandwiches or soup there). Proof that Icelandic boulangerie/patisserie culture really is substantial in its own right.
Hemmi og Valdi, Laugavegur 21, 101 Reykjavik
Oh. That’s an incredibly contented sigh on my behalf – contentment coming over me in ripples and prompted by merely thinking about this place.
Being able to plunge into ample sofas and take the watch-the-world-go-by factor to a new plateau of bliss. And, fantastically, being able to source cheap beer at happy hour (ISK550 or about GBP2.75 a large glass between 4pm and 8pm when we were there).
The prevalence of 2010s tech chic (you might feel left out if you’re a customer without an Apple Mac on the go here) combines with 1970s boho credentials coming out of the boho woodwork – from the upside-down tapestry of a rural summer cottage (sadly removed during our time in Reykjavik) to the strains of Bob Dylan appropriately begging for one more cup of coffee before he goes.
Appropriately because we really didn’t want to leave once we bedded in here. I’m sure this is where I saw the wonderful brooding, low-key Pornopop do a gig in August 2007 (the band is also on Twitter). Their music is like a quiet rainfall that cleans your soul and fills the cavities in it. If they really did play here, they couldn’t have chosen a better musical environment. All simple and characteristically Reykjavikian wood and corrugated iron. All simple unspoilt pleasure. Oh.
Ban Thai, Laugavegur 130, 105 Reykjavik
Yes (that’s more emphatic than the oh, I guess). Very delicate, crunchy parcels of squid and ginger. Content-packed spring rolls. Good beer. A remarkably well-realised cultural mix – food cooked with so much care you’d think you were in Bangkok (or in the streets surrounding the huge picture of the temple on the wall).
But of course, you are in Reykjavik, you’re not quite in the city centre, it’s fresh, brackish and full of serene sky on the outside, and all’s well with the world. We’d love to invert this equation and bed down with some cod, skyr and coffee in the shadow of the Grand Temple. Anyone offering?
Some of you Reykjavik pylsa connoisseurs might have noticed that this overview has a very obvious exception. Don’t fret. We’re coming to it soon.