It’s difficult to pinpoint when, or how, the emergence of the gastropub happened in Iceland. If memory serves, it was way before Iceland became a major tourist destination. But today, there are plenty of gastropubs around. Some have gathered considerable momentum, and a well deserved reputation for good drinks, good eats and good vibes. One of them is Sæta Svínið (“Sweet Pig”), located on Ingólfstorg. Although a recipient of Grapevine honours, including “Best Burger of 2017,” it had yet be reviewed. So here goes.
There isn’t much that sets Sæta Svínið apart from similar establishments, although there are skillful bartenders on staff, who can actually mix some good cocktails. The happy hour is highly recommended, serving half priced gems daily from 4-6 pm. As for the menu, it consists of roughly six items of snacks, small courses, main dishes and desserts. The prices are quite fair. Small courses are priced from 1,290 – 2,890 ISK, and the meat main courses cost 3,990 ISK, which isn’t bad in these times (where livin’ ain’t easy).
My companion and I visited on a weekday evening. We were the only locals there, which is always kind of sad to see. We chose a bunch of small courses to share, following the recommendations of some experienced regulars. We began with waffle fries with truffle mayo (990 ISK), langoustine with corn salsa (2,890 ISK), slow-cooked cod (1,990 ISK) and a red beet salad with goat cheese (1,990 ISK). We finished with a dessert of Icelandic cream puffs, rjómabollur (1,790 ISK), which are traditionally only served on the day before Shrove Tuesday.
Waffle fries can never go wrong, although, it is hereby admitted that I’m bandwagoning with Bourdain in my contempt for truffle oil and all its offspring. It would be nice to have some other sauce options—let’s leave it at that. The star of the evening was the slow-cooked cod. It was flaky yet firm, served with a brilliant cauliflower purée (I know, very 2011, but still a sucker), crushed pecans for sweetness and crunch, and some lovely tart pickled red onions. The dish was nicely seasoned and well balanced, with a lotus chip garnish. Such a good dish for only 1,990 ISK makes it quite a steal.
The disappointment of the evening, however, was the langoustine. It’s such a shame to waste these expensive ingredients, but it was overcooked and dry—most likely cooked in advance and overdone in reheating. It came with a tasty corn salsa, but there were only two miserly teaspoons or so. The beet salad was fine, but the main attraction of goat cheese was hardly to be seen. I’d have paid extra for more cheese. The cream puffs for dessert were average—choux pastry filled with whipped cream, topped with a bit of chocolate. There are a lot of possibilities on that sort of canvas, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t utilised to its full potential.
The ambiance in this particular gastropub is a mix between a typical English pub and a college café. The music was a melange of fairly recent Icelandic records and some ‘80s and ‘90s hits. Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ was actually playing as we paid the bill. That’s okay—it’s a pub after all, and the volume wasn’t too much of a bother. Some tourists were singing along. Sure, why not?