I approached with trepidation, the usual clichés at the ready: “trendy and upscale bar-bistro with modern and chic Scandinavian design”. Does Reykjavík really need another one of these places and can they ever be distinguished from each other?
I was very pleasantly surprised.
Far from being arrogant and pretentious, as so many similar establishments are, b5, the self-proclaimed bistro-lounge on Laugavegur that opened only last month, manages to be both refreshingly laid back and very stylish.
Owner Þorvaldur Skúlason says he is aiming for a big “living room” feeling and he achieves this very successfully. One wall is dominated by a huge leather sofa and the lighting is primarily provided by giant (and I mean giant) lampshade lights rather than colder halogen. For daytime patrons, there is a wall of books (and even pencils and sketchpads). For nighttime visitors, a long table / bar extends along a good length of the restaurant: “Perfect for flirting,” asserted my companion. “It’s set up well for playing footsie.”
The menu is written in a slightly cheeky fashion – starters are defined as “In the beginning” and there is a large “Not too hungry … but still …“ section – and has a range of modern Icelandic offerings. (A note to the writers, however – please, please spell-check the English part of the menu!) There are only four main dishes to choose from (fish, lamb, chicken, or a hamburger, 1190 – 2900 ISK) but the smaller meals area (590 – 1200 ISK) is quite comprehensive. The wine glass servings were wonderfully generous. The portions were a good size, although if I were an 85 kg man I might be hungry again within a few hours (asking for more of the free bread will compensate for this).
The staff looked to be barely old enough to legally order a beer, but were savvy, friendly, and completely professional, being attentive yet not hovering.
b5 has achieved a very difficult balance. It is cosy, but not stuffy. It is modern, but not cold. It is trendy, but not snobby. In short, it’s just a great place to spend a few hours.