Perched on the corner of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, this secluded little hideaway is the perfect post for people watching. Nearly every table faces a window overlooking the lively streets and its pretty walls are dotted with cheery hand-painted flowers and animals, making it an ideal setting for a girl’s night out. That was exactly what I hoped for when I took my sister out last Friday. Although we were greeted by a frowning waitress and seated by the door, we had no problems changing to another table that was further inside, and the menus and water were quickly laid out for us.
True to its name, Sakebarinn had a small but beguiling selection of sake as well as a special, weekly-changing sake cocktail for 1,600 ISK. We decided to go with the cocktail, which was lychee-flavoured this week. They were a bit slow to arrive, but they were sweet and fresh when they did.
The menu was bursting with dozens of juicy names like “Rice against the Machine” and “Shogun Wasabi.” The rolls were divided into two categories, “Uramaki” (inside-out rolls, ranging from 1,550-1,990 ISK for eight pieces or 950-1,200 ISK for four) and “Futomaki” (large, fat rolls, ranging from 990-1,450 ISK for five giant pieces). We were a little overwhelmed by the selection but our waitress pointed out a few of their most popular rolls, such as the Chuck Nori and the Crunchy Munchy (coconut-and-lobster roll). I’d already tried the latter and loved it, so we dared ourselves to try the Chuck Nori. The rest of our rolls we chose on a whim: the double-deep-fried tempura shrimp roll, the Salmon Lover, the San Francisco roll as well as the Roll of Week.
Our food arrived on a circular tray, dramatically arranged like colours on an artist’s palette. The shrimp tempura futomaki was nicely crisp and quite filling, as each piece was nearly twice the size of the other ones. My sister’s favourite was the Salmon Lover, a classic salmon-and-avocado roll with a garlic twist. Both of us also loved the San Francisco roll: cucumber, shrimp and avocado topped with a lustful slice of grilled salmon (which granted might offend the sensibilities of some sushi eaters). These last two rolls were exactly what sushi should be: fresh and ever-so-slightly sticky, with a hint of something special.
The rest of the food, however, didn’t live up to these standards. From the start of our evening I had been enticed by the Roll of the Week: pan-fried scallops with Serrano ham and herb cream cheese, but this one proved to be the most disappointing of the bunch, unless you enjoy getting a bagel when you order sushi. Certainly there are a million other ways to serve scallops, and any of them would have been better than this.
The Chuck Nori was wrapped in beef and slathered with kimchee sauce and shichimi, a Japanese chilli blend. It tasted like peppery catsup to me and so completely upset my palate that I had to wash it down with a bagel roll. Steer clear of this one and order the Kamikaze (a spicy tuna roll) or the Crunchy Munchy instead. Or play it safe and order the double-deep-fried shrimp tempura—you certainly won’t go hungry.
I would probably come here again—for the scenery, if not the service—but I will definitely stick to what I know off the menu. A drink, a girlfriend and a good dose of gossip will certainly help.
What we think: Charming and cosy, but the food is hit-and-miss, like shooting shrimp in a barrel.
Flavour: Sushi miscellanea
Ambience: A flowery treetop with lovely views of the streets
Service: Slightly aloof but generally prompt
Price for 2 (with drinks): 6,500–9,000 ISK