Entering Rosenberg, I’m greeted with mannequin heads salvaged from the recently closed hair salon next door, which closed down last month. They also brought over the chairs, tables and entertainingly kitschy 70s hair model portraits. Slithering from the speakers, I think I hear the soundtrack from German sexploitation film Vampyros Lesbos.
At first glance, it might appear that the reborn Rosenberg Reykjavík serves only olives and sandwiches. Its previous incarnation was less known for gastronomic adventurousness than making sure the wine was flowing and bands were belting out bluegrass. But behind the bar I find two veterans of the Reykjavík nightlife: new owners Ólafur Örn Ólafsson and Kári Sturluson. Ólafur has had a hand in designing the menus of every other restaurant in the city, while Kári is one of the people who gave us the Iceland Airwaves music festival. Accordingly, Ólafur runs the food and drinks, and Kári the entertainment.
“We just fell in love with the location, and those large windows,” says Ólafur of the new enterprise. “The possibilities were endless. We wanted to keep the music alive, but start the kitchen at seven in the morning and keep service going throughout the day.”
Rosenberg has subsequently become a go-to place for the restaurant workers and musicians who allow the rest of us to party during weekends, so you might catch a Michelin-starred chef performing an impromptu DJ set during midweek downtime. “ This was missing in the scene,” says Ólafur. “It’s why we started our Bransakvöld—’scene nights’—to give them a chance to meet after work and blow off steam.”
Nordic comfort food
The best way to get to know the kitchen is to dig into their weekend dinner menu. First is a light take on the shrimp cocktail: cool shrimp, served in a silver chalice with lightly pickled cucumbers, dill fronds, and buttery sourdough croutons. It’s no-frills Nordic comfort food. Next is the beetroot soup: a stripped-down borscht, with slow-roasted beets suspending a delicately smoked langoustine. It’s a surf and turf combo made in heaven.
Their vegan dish is a roasted and puréed rutabaga served with an oil and pickle juice emulsion and shreds of dried dulse. It’s great to see this essential ingredient in the Icelandic kjötsúpa (lamb stew) given the main stage. Any vegetable hardy enough to grow outdoors in Iceland has earned its place.
A sure-fire bet is the plaice on the bone with butter, capers, and flat leaf parsley—all that’s needed for this winged North Atlantic flavour vehicle. If the bones bother you, try thinking of it as the buffalo wing of the sea. Or just be a grown-up and eat the damn thing.
Dessert is a slice of chocolate cake so dense and decadent it requires hiding your face with an ortolan napkin. It’s supplied by Julia & Julia—the type of collaborative effort we could use more of in the Reykjavík restaurant scene. And there’s more innovation to come: “We will be rolling out a dinner-and-a-show thing soon,” says Kári. “There’ll be a burlesque cabaret, and I’m building a pervy menu to match, like the ‘oyster shot’—an oyster on a concentrated bloody Mary. And we just want to continue to cater to a wide group of food pervs, music fans, beer nerds, and cocktail geeks.”