I admit I’m not really familiar with the concept of Danish smørrebrød, the open-faced sandwiches that are a part of the nation’s character. To me, a sandwich involves edible stuff between two slices of bread, not one, and are more about taste than appearance. Jómfrúin, the first restaurant to sell these famed sandwiches in Iceland, has proven me wrong.
Located on Lækjargata, you can walk past there any given lunchtime and see the dining room packed with guests. They get plenty of regulars, too, and will likely make some new ones. So how did such a specialised restaurant come to be?
I spoke with owner Jakob Jakobsson about the origins of Jómfrúin. Living in Copenhagen in the early ‘90s, he originally intended to become a chef, but the recession made this an impossibility. So instead, he got a job at Ita Davidsson, a restaurant well-known for its smørrebrød. After working there three years, he decided to bring the concept to Iceland.
“Due to our special connection with Denmark”, he told me, “there are plenty of Icelanders who are familiar with the Danish open-faced sandwiches, but there were no restaurants selling them. We opened in 1996, and the positive response really surprised me”.
“So, let’s say I stroll into your restaurant, with no idea what smørrebrød is”, I asked. “What do you recommend I try first, if you could pick only one dish?”. To this, Jakob’s answer was immediate: the fried plaice on dark bread with tartar sauce, shrimp, smoked salmon, asparagus and dill. Just hearing the description was enough to sell me.
Jómfrúin recently expanded their hours to be more in keeping with the shops in the area—now open until 18:00, you used to be out of luck if you went there after 15:00. Why the reluctance to expand the hours, if the place is so popular? “Traditionally, smørrebrød is what you have for lunch. You don’t eat something like this for dinner. We wanted to stick with the tradition”.
While Jómfrúin has no plans to expand, despite offers to open branches in London and New York, they do have a spin-off place, Munnharpan, which is a coffeeshop/bar located on the first floor of Harpa, and run by Jakob’s son. We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention that since 1996, Jómfrúin has hosted live jazz concerts every Saturday afternoon from 15:00–17:00, located behind the establishment (during summer).
Jómfrúin may be a Danish import, but it’s a restaurant that’s 100% an Icelandic institution.