I was born and raised in 105 Reykjavík, a postcode used for what was once called the Eastside of Reykjavík or Austurbær (back when they thought the city would never grow beyond that and before they built a bunch of neighborhoods further east). My old neighborhood lies just next to the downtown area but I’m not sure this was necessarily the best neighborhood in town now that I look back. We had a lot of neighbors with some pretty serious issues but times were different then and this small slice of the world was my own little paradise.
Not far from where I lived was Hlemmur, kind of a legendary place in Reykjavík history, which was both the main public bus station and the favorite hangout for many notorious Reykjavikings. It’s was a refuge for punk kids in the 80s, a favorite hangout for all kinds of unfortunate individuals with a multitude of mental and substance abuse issues and then plainly a rather busy bus terminal. I was there often and had some mixed feelings. Some of the regulars made you laugh, a few pulled at your heartstrings by simply being while others made you reconsider whether being there after dark was such a smart idea.
So, a typical bus station I guess.
For a few years now, the city has had plans to move the main bus hub to the BSÍ area and even though nothing seemed to be happening with that, a discussion started regarding what to do with the building. In the end it was decided to turn it into a food hall, something that was sorely missing in Reykjavík in my opinion, and last year they closed down the bus stop and started construction. The renovations took a lot longer than they had hoped for though but the food hall finally opened on Culture Night this year (August 14th) so when this is written it’s been open for a couple of months.
It got some mixed reviews in the first days. A few locals expressed their disappointment because in their minds they thought it was supposed to be a food market (maybe with guys throwing fish around like at Pike Place Market in Seattle) and a particularly grumpy local even called it a glorified mall food court. After two visits I completely disagree and I’m about to tell you why.
Brace yourself (not really though), here are 6 reasons why I think you should visit the Hlemmur Mathöll food hall.
Mingle with locals
A lot of people that visit Reykjavík complain that they never see any locals because the city is so overrun with smelly Goretex-clad tourists (I added smelly for dramatic effect) that are ruining Reykjavík. First of all, I work downtown and although I see a lot of tourists I also see a lot of locals. And some of the locals even wear Goretex – gasp!
I wrote a post a while ago dedicated to this discussion whether or not Reykjavík is overrun with tourists so I’m not going there again but I’m pretty sure there would be no Hlemmur mathöll without the tourists. So I’ll just leave it at that.
Because Hlemmur is relatively new the locals are still there exploring it and when I had lunch there a few weeks ago the majority of the guests were locals. How long it will stay like that I don’t know but for the time being, if you want to see how the elusive Icelanders (who are not to be confused with the hidden people) eat their lunch or dinner – Hlemmur is the place.
The cinnamon buns at Brauð&Co
If you have spent any time with me for the last year or so (or if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter) you know that I’m obsessed with the Brauð&Co bakery. I love their bread but I love their cinnamon buns even more. Everything I’ve ever tasted from them (except their blueberry licorice buns – they just don’t do it for me) has been delicious and I’m not mad at getting a second location from them in the downtown area.
For those of you not caught up (tsk tsk) Brauð&Co is an organic sourdough bakery that is the hottest and hippest bakery in town right now. They may soon lose their hipness as they expand and open up more locations but if they keep their yumminess level intact, I’m forever a fan.
You can’t sit down at the original spot in Frakkastígur, that location is just a bakery, so it’s great to have them at Hlemmur. They’re even next to Micro Roast Te og Kaffio so you can grab some coffee with your buns while you’re at it.
Great option for friends that can’t agree on anything
Who hasn’t had this conversation with their friends or significant other (about a million times):
You: What do you want to eat?
They: I don’t know, what do you want?
You: I don’t know, what you want?
They: I don’t care
You: OK, I could go for some pizza, you cool with that?
Well, Hlemmur Mathöll will save you from having these tedious conversations because, with 10 vendors, everyone should find something to tickle their fancy. Among other, you can get burgers, soups, burritos, Vietnamese sandwiches, Smörrebröd (Danish open faced sandwiches), Mediterranean salads and even pizza. Or some sort of pizza hybrid at least. And if you still have some sourpusses among you – maybe some made-to-order ice cream from Ísleifur Heppni will turn those frowns upside down.
Champagne Fridays (and Mondays and Tuesdays etc.)
I have to be really honest and level with you: I don’t get the whole champagne thing. My palate may not be sophisticated enough for such luxuries or I am not on trend enough.
Lucky for all you bubbly lovers though, the folks at Kröst in Hlemmur Mathöll are big champagne enthusiasts and have a great selection of this popular drink at their restaurant. Knowing the history of the building (where the alcoholic beverage of choice in the past was probably moonshine or brennivín) the bubbles are definitely an upgrade. Since Reykjavík never had a lot of industry (it was more of a farming community and a fishing village) this is about as close as we can get to the overpriced drinks at an old factory feeling that we know so well from abroad. Except I don’t know whether the drinks are overpriced. And the Kex hostel bar is actually located in an old factory. So forget everything I just said.
Kombucha of the week
Although I’ve never actually tried Kombucha I just recently spent just under three weeks driving around the Southwest of the US (CO,NM,AZ,CA,NV and UT – heyo). were we visited a lot of farmers markets, restaurants and all kinds of hot spots. Everywhere we went there was Kombucha this and Kombucha that so I’m assuming that this is a popular drink. It’s a drink, right? I kid, I kid.
Anyway, I haven’t seen a lot of Kumbucha in Iceland (maybe because I’m not looking for it or maybe because there just isn’t that much of it) but I did see that Skál, one of the vendors at Hlemmur Mathöll, has Kombucha of the week on the menu. So if you’re looking for your Kombucha fix, now you know where to go.
I make no promises that it’s good though – that’s for you to decide. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section if you do go and try it!
Skál, by the way, is the brainchild of the same chef that brought us Matur og Drykkur here in Reykjavík and Slippurinn in Vestmannaeyjar, both considered very good restaurants by locals and visitors alike, so you should probably try the food too!
One of the things that is very promising about Hlemmur Mathöll is that it seems like those in charge of it want to make into something more than just a place to stuff your face. So far they’ve hosted a food market (hopefully making those who complained happy) where you could buy meat straight from farmers and delicious Icelandic vegetables, have had tap takeovers (beer lovers unite) and are even offering entertainment in the form of food-related pub quizzes and such. The possibilities are endless and I can’t wait to see Hlemmur Mathöll thrive and prosper.