Walking into the open, dining room at ‘slow-food’ favourite Bergsson’s harbourside satellite location in late September, we knew we were in for a treat. With the sun slowly setting in the background, two long, communal-style tables were laid before us. As they entered, guests were all given a welcoming glass of Cidre Bouch de Bretagne, a sparkling cider from Bretagne that has all the snap of a crisp, fall apple without the sugary, headache-inducing aftertaste that recalls candied treats-on-sticks and county fairs. No sooner had we finished our glasses than Axel Aage Schiöth, the evening’s MC, came over with a fresh bottle. “Your glasses are empty,” he noted, smiling. “That’s unacceptable.”
Finding ourselves unexpectedly invited to this intimate, five-course, pop-up restaurant event, my partner and I jumped at the opportunity. While it is true that the local restaurant scene has a lot to offer these days, how often does Reykjavík offer the chance to sample creative twists on the Japanese delicacy ankimo (salted monkfish liver) or oeufs en meurette (a traditional Burgundian dish of egg and red wine sauce)? The answer is, of course, not often. Not often, but judging from the success of the evening we attended, luck might be on our side: these playful and innovative pop-up events may well be, er, popping up, more around town in the future.
The wine’s POV
The September event at Bergsson was actually the third pop-up event conceived by Berjamór, a local wine importer that currently supplies some of Reykjavík’s finer dining establishments (Dill, Kol, Snaps, Grillið and Vox, to name a few) with a carefully-curated selection of organic, biodynamic European wines. Meaning ‘berry-picking’ in Icelandic, Berjamór was established in 2013 by the aforementioned Axel Aage Schiöth and Christopher Melin, who have built relationships with wineries that both grow their own grapes and produce their own wines. The market for such wines in Iceland is still very small, but with a little time and more exposure, that may well change. “The wines that we’re serving,” says Axel, “without cultured yeasts—these ‘extreme’ organic wines, with no additives—they’re gaining popularity.”
Whereas Berjamór’s first two pop-ups took a more traditional approach to menu-planning—that is to say, the menu was decided first and the wine pairings second—the event that we attended flipped that model on its head. “We decided to work from the wine’s point of view,” says Axel. In addition to the cider apéritif, he selected four French and German wines—ranging from a tart, sparkling Brut Sekt Riesling to a fruity Le grain de Senévé from Beaujolais—as well as a rosé champagne to end the evening.
Restaurateur Ólafur Örn Ólafsson provided the event space and Akane Sophia Monavon (the former head chef at Nora Magasin by Austurvöllur) created the menu, which blended Japanese, French, and Icelandic influences into one coherent, multi-textured, and fascinating eating experience. Reindeer reinterpreted as a pseudo-sushi, for instance—served tartare with a side of pickled ginger and a crumbling of Stilton cheese ‘snow.’ Or a succulent cod main served atop mushy minted peas, roasted red turnips, and vibrant, thinly-sliced beet curls. It was a meal that kept guests guessing and re-tasting, comparing flavours and happily sipping their beverages. The evening had a performative element as well, with Axel standing up before each course to give the group a brief, but colourful backstory about the wines, as well as the vintners and their unique cultivation philosophies.
Just going for it
Owing undoubtedly to the expertise everyone involved, the event felt as though it had been a long time in the making, but in actuality, it came together in that quintessentially Icelandic way: spontaneously, experimentally, and collaboratively. “We knew that Akane would be in town that night—she was leaving the next day,” says Axel. “We had been talking about doing something like this for awhile, and so we just decided to go with it, full-force.”
The organizers didn’t specifically plan to hold these pop ups regularly, but thus far, each one has begotten another. A guest at the first event, for instance, enjoyed himself so much that he offered his art gallery as the space for the second. And Kjartan Óli, the head chef for the second event, assisted Akane Monavon in cooking and plating the meal for the Bergsson event. “They are building on top of each other,” says Axel. Former guests have suggested upcoming themes, and a few local chefs have expressed their interest in cooking for future events.
Next up on the pop up calendar is a sort of culinary art installation that Axel is designing in collaboration with friends at the Academy of Arts. “We’re calling it ‘Kitschen,’” he explains. “It’ll have kitsch food and drink—sparkling red wines and maybe even blue cocktails. We’ll all wear clothes that my parents wore when they were my age.”
Happy with the events’ success thus far, Axel doesn’t want to plan too far ahead. “We all have other jobs,” he explains. “This is a hobby, it’s fun. It’s been a creative way to think about new menus and food preparations—wines are often a big inspiration in that way. You taste a wine and think, ‘wow, that would taste great with sea urchin.’ And then you have to come up with a new sea urchin dish.”
And it’s this sort of spontaneous creative energy that makes these events really unique and special on the local restaurant scene. “That’s the beauty of a pop up,” Axel laughs. “There are no rules.”
Berjamór’s next pop up event, Kitschen, takes place this Tuesday, December 15, 2015. Follow their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/berjamor/ for more information.