The advent of the gastropub began at that revolutionary moment when an enterprising Brit thought to combine the words “pub” (British for “bar”) and “gastro” (from the Ancient Greek for “stomach”) and serve food in bars. The first of its kind is normally considered to be The Eagle in Clerkenwell, London, which introduced the concept in 1991. Then St. John gaped open the horizons with bone marrow and random nasty bits back in 1994, and in the noughts hip America collectively lost its mind over the concept following the Manhattan opening of The Spotted Pig. At present, gastropub chains stretch across the UK and finding a bar that doesn’t serve food has become a rare treat, sapping everyone’s tolerance for gastropubs. But don’t let that that deter you because they’re still a relatively new thing in Iceland!
Without further ado, here’s a pedantic prick’s guide to getting it all right.
The perfect gastropub should take a real pub, with real history, exfoliate, slap on a nosejob and set up a basic kitchen. Now, Iceland isn’t crawling in authentic real pubs because our drinking tradition is the worst, but please try to make do with what we have. If you’re spending more than 10 million ISK on new interiors, you’re probably on the wrong track. Don’t let the charm of the old slip from your fingers like it did when you dumped my granddad (at least text him, ok?).
Chalkboards. Do you text your friends via carrier pigeons? Did you ride a penny farthing to work today? Actually, don’t answer those questions, because you probably did. The blackboard’s charm is wearing thin and modern technology has dramatically outstripped its most impressive features, such as retarding the slippage of white minerals from a wooden board.
Speaking of retarded slippage, no one really needs another gastropub with a pig in the logo. But if you already named the place “The Bewildered Hog” or something, try ripping off the Bónus logo, that pig looks drunk anyway.
A little artificial aging is to be expected but please restrain yourself before you start serving the food in pigskin pouches and etching the menu into a cave wall.
Locate and employ a trendy, yet macho, chef-type. Keep the menu brief and to the point. As long as you offer more than a single item menu, you should qualify as a gastropub. A four-page menu has you slipping into diner territory. And for St. John’s sake, please try to keep the dishes under 3,000 ISK unless you’re planning on permanently revolutionizing the way we eat, like, I don’t know, catapulting live pheasants directly into our gaping mouths or something. In which case, sign me up.
Good news! You don’t need to wait the tables. This is especially fortunate since Icelandic service never elevated above a Morse code of grunts and farts. At a gastropub, the customers should order, pick up and pay at the bar, leaving your tattooed charmers free to flirt, berate, and regale the customers. You’ll want snooty, but you want hipster snooty, not Regina of ‘Mean Girls’ snooty. And they should know their beers or know how to make me look good as we both fake our way through a conversation about beer.
Be a shameless populist, but make it your own. Be as weird or as boring as you please, but personalise it. And keep it loud and lively. Your Scandinavian genes will tell you to conform and be quiet. Rip those genes out and stomp on them with your mighty Scandinavian feet.
Serving hearty food made on the spot and with real ingredients is the name of the game. It doesn’t have to be all local, but it helps. It doesn’t have to be nose-to-tail, but it it’s probably cheaper. It definitely doesn’t have to be organic, because I need to be able to afford to eat there.
Modern gastropubs have built up a tradition of embracing odd ingredients, so as long as you keep in mind that this is meant to be comfort food accompanied by a full-flavoured craft ale, then you’re free to roam. So go ahead and serve your fish scale cocktail, stuffed sperm whale, edible sea snail, frail quail, and curried kale. And don’t forget the deceptively simple burger with some finicky special touches.
You know how hipsters and granddads are kind of merging into a bearded Voltron? Waxing lyrical about the superiority of vinyl, hunting coats, pipes, casual misogyny, etc. That’s the culinary sweet spot, you want a meal that’s equal parts granddad food and trendy ingredients.
It should have a nice selection of craft beers, moderate prices. Wine is fine, but it shouldn’t feature too heavily. I want some proper Trappist beer, a solid IPA and a toasty porter. Take it easy on dry-hopping and sours.
That’s it! You now know all you need to ride into the sunset on your spotted swine.
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