Published November 25, 2016
Set back from the harbour road in Hafnarfjörður—the first suburb that people pass through on the way into Reykjavík—is an unassuming café called Pallett. Its single large, airy room has a calm, domestic feel, lined by avocado, coffee and olive plants, and furnished with worn sofas and armchairs, mismatched tables and chairs, shelves containing a wide range of fascinating books, and the kind of vintage knick-knacks you might expect to find in an traditional Icelandic living room. The space is subtly divided into several areas, set up to be somewhere you can relax into a sofa with friends, get some work done, or just watch the world go by through the large front windows.
It’s a “family business,” says David, the talkative and jovial English cook who owns and runs the place alongside his boyfriend Pálmar, a twice-crowned Icelandic barista champion.
“I opened my first coffee house—Litli Bóndabærinn—in Reykjavík in 2009,” says David. “Pálmar opened Pallett in 2012. We co-owned them. One was my baby, and one was his. But Laugavegur was getting so crazy, with all the tourism and the building work. Litli Bóndabærinn got given notice—the building was going to be turned into a hotel. So we decided to put both of them together.”
The two scouted out a new location for their joint-venture. “There was no sunshine and no car park in the old location,” says David. “Then we saw this place. The front was a garage door, and it was 900 square metres, but the landlord agreed to split it into three. He helped us set up the plumbing and electrics. He’s an amazing guy.”
The decor brings together the different styles of the two. “Litli Bóndabærinn was super vintage, and the first Pallett was really modern, so we kind of met in the middle with the new place—it’s kind of a 1970s schoolroom vibe,” says David.
“70s schoolroom, slash living room. Slash plant room,” smiles Pálmar.
Taste the Kenya
The resulting combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Pálmar is barista-in-chief: he’s an expert in speciality coffee, and talks widely about the qualities of different blend combinations and single origin roasts, and how best to prepare them. In Pallett, every latté is double-shot, the filter coffee is lovingly brewed, and an Americano comes with the water on the side, so people can dilute the espresso to taste.
“It’s fun for people to know where the beans came from,” says Pálmar. “African coffees tend to have bright, fruity, berry flavours, compared to the nutty and chocolatey south American coffees, with more body. But blends are coming back. It’s fun to mix things. The customers say things like: ‘I can taste the Kenya in there.’”
Taste the Kent
The food is every bit as special. Pallett’s menu evolves from day to day, always around the theme of rustic, traditional cooking—the “school of grandma and mum,” as David says.
“I do a lot Eastern European food, Deep South food, British food—just home food,” he explains. “The pasties have flaky pastry rather than puff pastry. It’s just flour and butter, but it’s the rolling and folding that does it. Inside, I’m using sweet potato—it’s nice with the beef. Then it has mint, salt and pepper, and red onion for the savoury sweetness.”
Each of David’s takes on classic recipes somehow manages to feel like an upgrade. There are mouth-watering, flaky vegetarian sausage rolls, and a hearty all-you-can-eat stew that’s cooked overnight for 10-12 hours, served with freshly baked white bread. Pallett’s light and fluffy kleina come hot out of the oven twice a day, with experimental touches like rose glaze, orange blossom glaze, or dark chocolate and hazelnut topping.
“I’m not interested in making croissants, though,” says David. “I’m much more about the English, Celtic, Scandinavian kind of cooking than the French and Italian cooking. People appreciate the things they can’t get around here—the sausage rolls, pasties and pies.”
Thanks to David and Pálmar’s expertise, passion, and attention to detail, Pallett is a dream café, and well worth driving out of 101 to visit. “When we had two places, we’d be going home with double the stress, in a way,” finishes David. “Having the place together has been a real blessing. You can just share the load. We’re good partners. It just works.”