From Iceland — Secret Smørrebrød Society

Secret Smørrebrød Society

Words by

Published March 14, 2014

(The Virgin)

Lækjargata 4, 101 Reykjavík
Mon- Sun 11- 18
What we think
A cultural “oplevelse”
Pickled, dried, cured, delicious
Aristocratic, yet inviting
Attentive, professional
Price for 2 (no drinks)
5000 - 6000 ISK

Jómfrúin (“The Virgin”) is a rather offbeat restaurant in the heart of Reykjavík with one of the most loyal clienteles the city has ever seen. Though the restaurant has been a fixture of the downtown facade since opening in the late 1980s, their bag—Dansk Smørrebrød, Danish open-face sandwiches—has never really made a splash with the younger generations.

But that’s the whole thing. Jómfrúin has never really been the talk of the town because their upper-middle-class clients want to keep it that way—Jómfrúin is a cultural establishment, serving up the heritage of our former overlords from the land of Tuborg and Tivoli. This may sound a bit snobbish, and in a way it is, but once inside you are nonetheless made to feel welcome by staff and loyal customers alike. The friendly smiles from surrounding tables suggest the fraternity of belonging to an exclusive club of some sort.

Upon entering Jómfrúin, the most surprising thing is probably the size of the restaurant: it’s very roomy, reminiscent in a way of a canteen, and the tables are numerous. Make no mistake, however, on weekends in the summer you will be needing a reservation. My companion and I had nonetheless chosen the perfect day to visit: an extremely sunny and warm Sunday in late February.

Though my companion had actually visited the establishment a number of times (along with his mother, of course) this was my maiden voyage. And, what can I say? When in Rome… you absolutely must order a Danish beer on tap (950 ISK). And you absolutely must order a Danish schnapps (recommendations include Gammel Dansk (990 ISK) or Akvavit, (950 ISK)) before even opening the menu. Please note: Jómfrúin is only open until 18:00. So this means you will have to endure feeling a bit tipsy before supper—this seems to me to be a big part of the fun (and no doubt popularity) of the restaurant.

When it came to the eats, however, I chose a half-portion of the Ham Special on rye with a spicy beetroot salad, egg quarters and leek (1,460 ISK) and the rather cheeky choice of the “Hangover” Roast Beef on rye with tomato slices, Dijon-mustard, horseradish, black pepper and a fried egg. My companion chose the half-portion of plaice on rye with freshly made tartar sauce, smoked salmon, caviar, shrimp, asparagus and lemon (1,640 ISK) followed by a half portion of Brisket of Beef on rye with butter, pickles, horseradish, tomato and parsley (1,200 ISK).

All of our open sandwiches were really delicious. We both made the remark that seldom have not-so-fresh ingredients been made to taste so fresh. By that, we simply mean that the taste that is prevalent is the pickled one, the savoury one. Even the spicy one, but then in the mustard-vein of spicy. The sandwiches were beautifully and ambitiously crafted, looking pitch-perfect on our plates. The plaice was especially delicious, the fish cooked perfectly, crisp yet flaky, as it should be. The accompaniments made for a really balanced dish. I for one was very happy with the “Hangover” Roast Beef. The mustard and horseradish were a wonderful compliment to both the meat and egg. Highly recommended.

The whole experience made for one the finer Sundays I’ve ever experienced. For the unknowing, untrained eye, it is perfectly understandable that one might overlook Jómfrúin—despite its prominent location. Former and current pop stars, politicians and in general slightly-drunk-people-a-lot-older-than-you are only the very outward-most display when in fact, at Jómfrúin, you are made to feel truly welcome. And the wonderful sandwiches and alcohol aren’t bad either!

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