Often have we wondered, what makes people go out on a limb, stake their financial stability (not much of that in Iceland anyway) and even more so, their sanity and ideals. Few things are in face of it as frightening as the thought of living out your dream, that precious bubble that you have so fare inhabited in the safety of your mind only to find out that it’s not at all what you had made it out to be. Evoking the age-old tenet of whether it is better to have loved and lost or not loved at all. Why so bleak! When for every story of failure there is the equal and much more interesting story of success. Related to this and as a working experiment, we took a drive out to Eyrarbakki which is an hour’s drive outside of Reykjavík to meet up with David and Arna, activist and organic café entrepreneurs.

Why a coffee house and why this location?

On our travels we have sorely missed some alternative to the petrol station hamburger food culture that prevails in this country. We had intended to open a café in another location but that fell trough due to the eruption and mitigating circumstances but so much work had already been done that we decided to open up in Eyrarbakki. There is another small coffee house in town but we felt that there should be a greater connection with the sea and the dock as well as the seafaring history of the area. So we set up here.

Arna and David opted for the later moving to the rural countryside of Iceland in the small village of Eyrarbakki on the south cost.
David: At first people didn’t really talk to us much, until we started building the café then suddenly people’s curiosity was aroused and they started wandering over and asking us what we where doing and so on.
There David has hit upon the crux of the Icelandic condition closed but not caring the populace is often ambivalent to new people unless they perceive them to be of some substance, subjecting alien body’s to rigours examination from afar and not willing to accept them until their requirements are met. Afterwards they’ll adopt you as their own and it will always have been so.

How has it been with advertising and promoting yourselves?

David: We had this nice idea that people would just start coming and that they would tell their friends and so forth, that it would just grow and we could just focus on cultivating the building and our service.

Juggling serving customers and working on site and family, is that even possible?

Arna: haha, well that’s a good question, one that I can’t really answer as I’m also in another job but when you have a passion for something and when it’s your own thing your working on you just make it happen and you get it done. I also want my children to see that you can make your dreams happen, that you can achieve your goals.

This is your second summer, does it get any easier?

David: We were open half of last summer and a bit unorganized, we still are a bit unorganized but now at least we know what we’re getting into.

The house has a very distinct look, there is nothing sleek about it, you could say that it is the antithesis of corporate black and white.

Arna: We have certain principles that we adhere to, like not using plastics in the building as well as using the goods that are given to us, we find or are cheap. It’s been an organic process so far. We like to get dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner, just like anyone else but that would be out of sorts here by the sea and we sense that with our customers, they are into the relaxed and homey atmosphere.

Where is this going?

Arna: Well, we don’t want it to expand into something that will outgrow its original purpose and charm but that it should be self sustaining. Our dream is to invite and provide activities for people to come here and enjoy the local scenery, be it bird watching or walking on this tremendous beach. Also to be able to do some cultural events such as photography exhibition on the fisheries that were here.

You’ve set yourself a high standard and it must demand going to great lengths in order to get the materials you need?

David: Everything here is organic, that requires us going to Reykjavík once a week to get the raw goods that aren’t available in the near locale or isn’t caught by us.

Is it just tourists that drop in?

Arna: No it’s a mixture of both, we’ve built up a customer base in the area but we do get the tourists as well. What we’d like to see is people seeing us as a better alternative to the burger stops that litter the countryside.

When we were about to leave David took us out on the old dock to show us his crab net
David: This is going into the soup tonight and the long term idea though is to get or build a tank outside to keep some of the wildlife from the sea in it, so that our guests can see our amazing nature and a sample of the fresh produce we use.

In the end the dream of sustainability and positive change in one’s environment (be it local, glocal or global) by the so called idealists can only be attained through generating self income and sound financial policy, hence the dramatic rise of social entrepreneurship. The ideas that will win out in the end will be those that have a solid grounding in boring old comers. Don’t rally against the system in vain, guerilla warfare states that you use any and every tool available to you to win the battle. We are thoroughly convinced that what Arna and David are doing is the right model, slowly building up something of value, not just in financial terms but also in terms of heart and soul. Theirs is a labour of love and you can’t help but feel it when you’re there.

Interview: Guðni Rúnar
Photographs: Nanna Dís


A few days ago, Snoop were invited to the opening of Sjávargrillið, a new and exciting seafood restaurant on Skólavörðustígur. And what an opening it was – style and grandeur all around, from the minuscule; Lovely little potted Asparagus were placed on tables which we foolishly thought were a nice little souvenir or a permanent feature in the table arrangement. What a surprise it was when the strange people on the next table started to gastronomically enjoy theirs and so did we, and it was delicious!

To the grandiose; Although packed to more than twice it’s capacity, and double staffed you were never made to feel crowded or unserved and aside for a few teetotallers not a single person managed to walk a straight line out the door. We mean this in the nicest possible way as here were people that had been so thoroughly catered for and so enjoyed themselves that we have no doubt that they, like us, will return as soon as humanly possible. But how do you give a new restaurant justice from the opening night? You don’t, pure and simple.

Having prior to the opening been allowed to view the restaurant in its conception, we were in a unique position to see how well the design and the food were unified. This was in the hands of Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson, Icelandic Chef of the Year 2010, head chef and owner and Lárus Gunnar Jónasson who designed the premises and is himself an award winning chef and one of the people responsible for the Fishcompany, one of Icelands premiere eating establishments.

On the subject of creating, in want of a better word, ambiance Gústaf said; If there isn’t cohesion between the external layout of the restaurant and what is being conjured up in the kitchen, no amount of good food will make you have a good experience, and will therefore not induce one to return.

Is it hard to carve out a niche for a new restaurant in Reykjavík?

Well it’s a thin line that you tread in the restaurant business here, cater to the locals as well as those traveling through in search of something local and authentic. Not becoming too obscure nor being a tourist trap. Also the fact that we juggle running this as a coffee house/bistro in the day and a serious restaurant in the evening.

That and the fact that the restaurant is on three tiers helps. On the groundfoor, by the bar is a coffee house vibe, up the stairs you will find a more serene restaurantesque feel and down in the grotto the driftwood that adorns the walls and the blue light manages to evoke somehow the feeling of being in a wooden area at dusk, hemmed in and in the wild at the same time.

You are braving into a new variation of the Scandinavian kitchen?

To my knowledge, there is only one other Nordic chef that is operating after a similar model as the one we are working by, that is to say grilling, which is a really pure form of cooking. That is how we’re working our main ingredients, when it comes to salads and sides we adhere to what’s been happening in the new Scandinavian kitchen lately, that is going raw or marinating it in local herbs but still working the material to its full potential.

But nothing is really that simple and arriving for lunch we were seated in a lovely place by the window on-looking the street. We ordered the fish of the day and soon our lovely waiter returned with our drinks and a fresh flowerpot of bread.

So far it was normal but accompanying the bread was something wholly different, on the table stood a beautifully oval and sea worn rock on which was mounted a delightful fusion of Icelandic butter (Icelandic butter is a really rich and salty variation) that the waiter informed us is burned on a pan then mixed with Skyr, topped with dried ground Söl and sea salt.

What you are left with, is a wonderfully fluffy texture that attacks your pallet, this has an awkward side effect as you start lathering your next piece of bread half way through your first one. That is but a small wonder as the person next to you is doing exactly the same thing. This silent dining arms-race is only broken by the arrival of the main course, Skötuselur (monkfish), which was every bit as eloquent as the Skyr butter.

Gústav has strong opinions on the ingredient he cooks with. We relentlessly scour the country for products like kvönn and blóðberg, they are but two of the ingredients that we source. Another one is Söl that we receive twice a week fresh from the sea. I have in the past got hold of these in some strange places like rhubarb from my gran’s garden herbs and potatoes from my cabin in the countryside.

Last Saturday we had our first brunch service and the first people in were an Icelandic couple and the feeling you get when you manage to get that jaw dropping expression on a customer isn’t half bad. On the plate were fresh potatoes and everything went upwards from there, that is something that’s not regular here in Iceland.

This is essentially a summer opening, any plans/themes?

In the summer we intend to have, if the weather permits, a chef in the outside seating area making nibbles and small tasters and in the process involving people in the cooking experience itself and allowing them see what our food is all about.

Why do we think Sjávargrillið will be successful? They have an ambition for food bordering on the perverse and the million dollar ingredient; Stellar food at affordable prices. We were just that impressed.

Interview: Guðni Rúnar
Photographs: Nanna Dís

Brunch at Sjávargrillið

We had brunch at this new restaurant, Sjávargrillið at Skólavörðustígur 14.

We visited them in late march when they
were working on the place and talked to Lárus
who’s responsible for the design of the restaurant.

Yesterday we went back to take more pictures
and indulge ourselves on the delicious fish menu.
Well suffice to say we were just blown away,
stay tuned for more on Sjávargrillið.

photos: Nanna Dís & Guðni