Reykjavík’s “second street” of Hverfisgata has been undergoing a renaissance in recent times. A few years ago it was a run down area known as “the Reykjavík ghetto,” but as the tourist boom continues to gain force, the city-centre street has evolved beyond recognition.
Today, it has a growing number of restaurants, bars and boutiques. One of the most popular new arrivals is Julia & Julia, a smart new café housed in the Culture House at Hverfisgata 15. With its bottle green colour scheme, comfortable sofas, and bright windows, the café—run by a pair of friends called, you guessed it, Julia and Júlía—has been an instant hit.
“We first met at the Kaffibarinn sewing club—which was mostly about drinking beer—ten years ago,” says Julia Mai, as she serves us bowls of steaming spinach soup with freshly baked rolls. “We’d both thought about doing something like this, separately. And it turned out we were thinking the same way.”
Her business partner is Júlía Hvanndal, a former graphic designer who quit her job to start the café. “We met up to go over all the books,” she recalls. “And also to see if we were… compatible, I guess. We went really deep and really personal really quickly. It’s been good.”
The two had originally planned to find a building to renovate from the ground up. They were already picking out bathroom tiles when they found out the café at the museum was becoming available. “We found out about it in December 2016,” explains Julia. “It was a Kaffitár, then. We came in with our kids for a look, spying on the location, and we decided it was perfect.”
It’s a match made in heaven. In their tasteful, pristine dining room, Julia and Júlía serve freshly made soups, sandwiches and—the stars of the show—cakes. We’re served a sweet, moist honey cake with cream, an English-style raspberry crumble, a tart and delicious marmalade cake, and a mouth-watering hot skillet cookie, with the chocolate chips melting into the soft dough.
The recipes are domestic in feel—comfort food, but with flourishes that also make them feel like a treat. Daytime drinks offers are regular, with bubbly on offer every Wednesday, and they have more themed days in the pipeline, as well as a planned outdoor area for the summer.
The two have a focus on using the best ingredients they can find. “We try to think of where the ingredients come from,” explains Julia. “We would love to grow things ourselves, and we have these big windows—we’ll grow flowers and herbs.” She stops and laughs: “And a goat in the basement.”
Julia & Julia’s menu has been pared down since they opened, just six weeks ago, because the ambitious first draft meant that one of the two was always glued to the stove. “We were very ambitious,” smiles Júlía. “But it’s not possible to have such a big menu with just two people, so we trimmed it down. We do everything, you see—not just baking, but shopping, inventory, and cleaning…”
“We’re goddamn wonder women!” laughs Julia, clearing the table and heading back into the kitchen as a fresh batch of customers arrive.
Follow Julia & Julia on Facebook. Wednesdays are special offer “bubbly days”, and on Saturdays, cake and bubbly are on offer for 1450 ISK.