Food Review: West Side Story - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Food Review: West Side Story

Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published October 10, 2015

Kaffihús Vesturbæjar

Melhagi 20-22, 107 Reykjavík
Mon-Fri 08-23, Sat-Sun 09-23
What we think
Don't be afraid of seasoning! A little salt and acidity would go a long way in singing our way to flavour-town.
Flavour
Kind of mis-matched, but with something for everyone.
Ambiance
Trendy, clever and comfortable. It can get pretty loud, though.
Service
Laid-back and friendly.
Price for 2 (no drinks)
5-6,000 ISK for 2 main courses and coffee.

One of the dangers of living in Reykjavík is that you quickly adapt to the local concept of time and space. As a city rat, I now think that anything outside of the 101 postcode is “far.” Even the 107 hood has fallen off my radar. But an enterprising bunch of West Reykjavík folks (or “Vesturbæingar” as they are called) have taken up the challenge of planting their neighbourhood on the downtown radar with their on-point bistro, Kaffihús Vesturbæjar.

Bang opposite the beloved Vesturbæjarlaug pool, Kaffi Vest jostles for space with the Gamla Apótek in the same building. After a dip in the pool, so popular with the trendy west side families, this would seem an obvious choice to get some grub.

It is a stylish bistro replete with the now trendy wall-to-wall open shelving and old school displays of their freshly baked wares. Do not miss the little details (very much a Kex-like flair going on here, with the same team responsible for the décor): the vintage light fixtures, the wire basket full of wooden rolling pins, the old apothecary jars lining the rustic shelves, and the wide windows opening up to the main street makes for a chic package. It is all very inviting, and I can see why it is such a popular hangout with the locals.

My husband and I decided to make the best of a sunny autumn day and call it a lunch date. The café is clearly an afternoon favourite, with every table occupied during our meal. We skipped the popular cauliflower soup (1,690 ISK) and decided on the tartine of smoked salmon (1,690 ISK). My adventurous meat-loving husband decided to go in all guns blazing and chose the vegan burger (2,550 ISK). I did want to try the avocado salad (2,100 ISK), but was saved by the thoughtful hostess who suggested we might want to wait with that since the portions were very generous.

The service is laid-back and easy, which if you are in a hurry or want a working lunch might not be the best pace, but we have dined here for dinner and had no complaints then. Our food arrived, affirming that the kitchen sure isn’t skimping on the portions!

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My tartine was a humongous hunk of sourdough-like bread, lusciously draped with silky slices of smoked salmon. With briny capers, pickled red peppers and a generous smattering of fresh parsley, this was a beautiful take on classic flavours.

My partner´s burger, on the other hand, was underwhelming. The bun to patty ratio was off balance, the chickpea-beetroot-oatmeal patty with ginger and chillies was too pasty and under-seasoned. Conceptually great, Kaffi Vest’s veggie burger really failed on the taste front. The avocado mayonnaise is a very clever idea, however, and the texture had me fooled for a while; it was quite the mayonnaise doppleganger. With a touch more acidity, it could stand up very well to the herby fries that accompanied the burger. I was a big fan, and stole more than one (even though they too needed a touch more seasoning. Wait, am I a salt fiend?), though my husband, less of a fan, overlooked the potato larceny. At Kaffi Vesturbær, they seem to favour whole-wheat buns but I’d love to see them offer diners some variety on that front.

Kaffi Vest’s food has great potential. Their focus on thoughtfully sourced fresh ingredients, cooked seasonally, is a winning formula, but they can take it up a few notches with some minor revisions to the recipes. If that slow-cooked Moroccan lamb I had on a previous occasion is any proof, their autumn-winter menu seems worth looking forward to.

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Until then, one can celebrity-gaze, nibble on some dainty macaroons and drink never-ending cups of the excellent house coffee. Kaffi Vest has cracked the code on how to attract the coffee lounge crowd. With laid back service and a chic style quotient, it is not hard to see why it is such a popular haunt, and not just for the locals.

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