From Iceland — Smurstöðin- A Fancy Cafeteria, With Lots Of Potential

Smurstöðin- A Fancy Cafeteria, With Lots Of Potential

Words by
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published March 25, 2015


Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
''Mon-Sun 10-18''
What we think
Fancy cafeteria in Harpa. A lot of potential, let down by the service
Scandinavian classics, the New Nordic style
Patchy at best
Price for 2 (no drinks)
10-12,000 ISK

Smørrebrød, a Danish tradition, has its roots in necessity and modesty. However, the open-faced sandwiches of today are a far cry from their bread-and-butter avatar: whisper-thin slices of dark rye, groaning under the weight of pyramids of blushing shrimp, cascading chunks of chopped egg and herring, topped with everything from dainty fried shallots to an artful smattering of fresh herbs. I, for one, have completely fallen in love with these beautiful sandwiches, even if some are simply too pretty to eat. And now we have more to choose from in Reykjavík!

Opening last September, Smurstöðin is the latest cafe/restaurant at Harpa. The space is seemingly open but, as with Munnharpan before it, seems to have a confused air about it. This is perhaps due to the atrium location and not really the restaurant’s fault. One can either sit by the windows, with askew views of the harbour or the street, or gaze at that beautiful ceiling.

The menu is a balanced mix of the traditional, with thoughtful selections for vegetarians, such as the potato dish with lovage—which I may have to go back for.

The beef tartare (2,090 ISK) we started with was studded with capers, little walls of fingerling potato chips, and evenly piped mayonnaise, leaving every bite flavourful. Clean and classic, this is definitely something I’d go back for. Our other favourite was the celeriac with pickled onions (1,570 ISK). The celeriac was chunky and creamy, folded with smoked mayonnaise and garnished with pearl onion petals pickled in a juniper-spiked pickling liquid. The contrast of textures and flavour was on the money in this one, with the crunch of candied hazelnuts, the pucker of the onions and the smokiness of the mayo. A spunky dish. The leverpostej (1,650 ISK), pâté with peppered bacon and mushrooms, was delightful. The pâté was savory, with none of that metallic tang that often accompanies liver-based dishes. The jam was runny from the warm pâté, settling into little nooks and crannies. There were chunks of pickled celeriac as well. I wish they’d diced them a touch smaller and scattered them, though, just to break up the richness of the pâté.

The dish I was most excited about was also the biggest letdown of the meal. Shrimp and eggs with crispy chicken skin (2,090 ISK) sounds great, doesn’t it? Now, I’m a sucker for the greasy, fatty, generally considered uncool parts of anything that once moved (chicken butts? Bring them on!). Done right, chicken skin is wonderful in terms of both texture and flavour. The ones we were presented with at Smurstöðin, however, were a touch chewy; the fat needed to be rendered further (and slower too, I presume?). The shrimp was also a letdown. On the other hand, the quail eggs were a nice touch. With a little tweaking, this could be a superlative dish.

Dessert was a faultless chocolate cake made with 100% nibs (990 ISK). Warm and comforting.

Overall, the smørrebrød were all beautifully made, the garnishes there for a reason and the produce fresh. The bread is a dark sourdough rye, made in-house, chock-full of seeds and grains. It could hold up the toppings very well, without getting lost. I couldn’t tell if the bread was toasted; if yes, that would explain its dryness. A swipe of butter could help, since it is a beautiful dense bread.

Having been at the receiving end of not so memorable service on previous visits, I was particularly interested in seeing if there was a difference this time around. Despite the restaurant being notably empty, the service was slow. Once the food arrived, no one checked in on us, or cleared the table until we specifically requested it. Smurstöðin’s service is clearly lacking, and the seating layout does not allow for any visual communication with the staff, adding to the problem. The kitchen is doing things right, while the front of the house desperately needs training, both on the service end as well as some simple education on the menu. This could turn Smurstöðin into a spot deserving some rightful attention that justifies its location and prices.

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