From Iceland — “For the best burger west of Vatnajökull..."

“For the best burger west of Vatnajökull…”

Published February 4, 2011

“For the best burger west of Vatnajökull…”

Since its television debut, Hamborgarafabrikkan has been all the rage in Reykjavík. With interminable waiting lists and queues out the door, I have been expecting a punch line from an outdated Seinfeld rerun, and the hype to simmer down to a reasonable wait. Instead, this burger craze continues into yet another season. A burger joint is not the place for one to make a reservation, not now, not ever, regardless if Ferran Adria himself is flipping burgers. Simple principle, full stop.
Almost a year on, they must be doing something right. Curiosity piqued and expectations high, I gave the table wait another go. Greeted by loud dance music, I thought I was in the wrong queue. This was early Thursday evening, and we are told it would be a 45-minute wait for a table for two. Hoping this was an exaggeration, I thought we would wait ten minutes, otherwise leave. No burger is worth waiting longer than ten minutes for, is it?
The waiting area spills into the lobby of that carbuncle of a building that scars the Reykjavík skyline at Borgartún. This is your chance to experience Icelandic architecture at its worst. We wait in the company of a nursery of toddlers floundering about for lack of colouring books, parental guidance, or batteries for their portable game systems. The acoustics of the unfinished open concrete lobby are amplified, and after 15 minutes, I am ready for a sedative. Was it the lack of a proper waiting lounge that brought out my impatience? The stiff office lobby furniture felt like a long wait for a boring job interview or legal deposition, not a dinner.
The dance beat carries on, and I loosen another button on my collar. My anxiety oscillates between hunger, and the thought of this empty tower being as structurally sound as the apartment blocks on Skúlagata, the ones with the tiles constantly blowing off. I am far enough away to only hear the kick of the bass drum, imagining the tiles loosening with each beat, but I am close enough to smell the burgers. Perhaps I should have brought a book, ‘In Search of Lost Time’.
I enjoy a good burger, but I also value 45 minutes. And I already know that hands down, nothing can beat the reindeer burger at Hamborgarabúllan in Egilsstaðir. How close to Egilsstaðir would I be had I decided to drive there instead? Plus, my neighbourhood bodega already makes the best burger west of Vatnajökull, and it would be digested by now. So what is all of this buzz about? My name is called.
The place has the look and gimmick-laden feel of an American chain restaurant, except the staff is not wearing goofy hats or constantly bothering you. The ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ lighting on the ceiling is a nice touch, but not when reflected off the golden mirrored tabletops. Is anyone this vain to want to look at themselves while eating? I was afraid that if I ordered a Coke, the waiter would rail up some lines on our mirrored table, as it was fitting to the music.
I stuck to a water, and the simplest of burgers, the ‘Morthens’. All of the other burgers are complicated melodies of toppings that seem like they are either arranged to disguise a mediocre burger, or frustrate the chef with endless customizations. There should just be an option to design your own burger, like a pizza pie, right? I choose the self described, most honest and straightforward of all of the burgers, named after legendary pop star Bubbi Morthens. With 39 solo records credited to his name, one might expect as many toppings, but this burger seemed the most basic of the bunch.
It arrives, looking like a Whitecastle in Chernobyl, novelly square in shape, but twenty times the size. I double fist it, an overdue anticipation draws it towards my salivating mouth, and juices run down my arms before I can even tear the flesh, close my mouth, and fully swallow. Steamy. Charred to perfection. Well worth every second of the wait. I retreat into a gluttonous ecstasy where time slows and all sounds disappear like a winter’s night. My date mouths something inaudible. I am oblivious to all surroundings. The sensory deprivation is short lived, derailed by a bingo call announcing yet another birthday. I knew this sensation would not last forever.
This is a great place for an awkward date where conversation is un-obligatory or your romance has not quite reached that intimate level of talking yet. The table doubles as a mirror to check for gristle in your teeth, sauce on the beard, or smudged lipstick. For a good honest burger in an equally humble setting, I will stick to my neighbourhood bodega. For the best burger west of Vatnajökull, I know where to return. And like the savvy traveller, I will come prepared for delays, armed with good headphones to cancel the cacophony of noise, perhaps a good book, and an inflatable neck pillow for the wait.
Rating: 3.5/5
Address: Höfðatún 2, 105 Reykjavík

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