Reykjavík’s old harbour recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. A stone’s throw from the city centre, it was an area that, for decades, exclusively served the fishing industry. Franz Gunnarsson grew up in the nearby neighbourhood of Vesturbær. He has fond childhood memories of watching the boats come into the harbour. Otherwise, he says, there was nothing to see or do there. “It was completely dead.”
Today the harbour area, known as Grandi, is one of Reykjavík’s fastest developing neighbourhoods. While the downtown core has been saturated with souvenir shops and hotels, Grandi has seen a proliferation of unconventional boutiques, restaurants, and design studios, pop up—and thrive—among the fishermen’s huts.
Franz is now part of a team behind a new harbour project: Grandi Mathöll. Opening this June, the hall will offer fresh street food at low prices in a casual venue that opens right onto the harbour.
The concept behind Grandi Mathöll is inspired by similar venues across Europe. “Though there are food halls in the Nordic countries, they have never been available in Iceland. It was time to offer a real street food hall here,” says Franz.
Iceland’s first food hall, Hlemmur, opened only last summer. While it offers more well-known restaurants and meal-size plates, Grandi will offer up street food. “The advantage of the street food concept is that the food will be reasonably priced,” says Franz. “You can come and try food from a few different places rather than have to choose one meal because your budget restricts you.”
Fishing for Ideas
When Grandi Mathöll was announced, applications in the hundreds streamed in from would-be restaurateurs, both Icelandic and foreign. The eight selected all offer up something unusual, whether a new twist on a local staple, to flavours never before tasted in Iceland.
KORE will offer up South Korean street food with ingredients directly from the source. Korean-American chef Deuki Hong has been working with the restaurant to develop a traditional menu with an LA twist. “We wanted the food to be as authentic as possible, so our chili paste and other ingredients come directly from Korea.” says Atli Snær, one of the stand’s owners. KORE will also produce their own kimchi locally, with the help of Iceland-based Korean Hye Joung Park. “She came on board to help us hold a certain standard in our kimchi making,” Atli says.
Dagbjört Hafliðadóttir is one of three women behind Lax (En. Salmon), which pairs seafood with sparkling wine. A chef, lawyer, and businesswoman, the three friends were inspired by restaurants in seaside towns abroad which featured the pairing. The restaurant will offer salmon grilled and smoked, as well as cured dishes with a twist, such as “gin and tonic” graflax. A variety of sparkling wines will be available to wash down the seafood, including prosecco on tap: a first for Iceland. “The concept is to offer a taste of luxury at an accessible price,” says Dagbjört.
Six other restaurants offer no shortage of options. Fjárhúsið will serve up Icelandic lamb and other local ingredients straight from the farm. Víetnam will offer high quality and colourful dishes using fresh Icelandic ingredients. Fusion Fish & Chips and Rabbar Barinn both use family-sourced local ingredients: while the former serves up Icelandic cod with Nordic and Japanese influences, the latter focuses on soups, sandwiches, and juices made from Icelandic veggies. The Gastro Truck will offer up “high-class street food,” while Micro Roast Vínbar will complement the food hall’s plentiful offerings with high-quality wine and coffee, as well as sweets of their own.
Grandi Food Hall will also feature a pop-up truck which will host a new tenant each month, meaning dedicated foodies will always have a reason to keep coming back. “I can promise you that taste buds will be very satisfied with what’s on offer,” says Franz.
Against the Current
Franz says the Grandi Mathöll team sees their project as part of the ongoing development in the area. “Lots of exciting things are happening here, and they’re out of the ordinary. People who think creatively are opening places here, rather than right on Laugavegur [Reykjavík’s main street]. The food hall shares this focus on offering something new and different.”
Food will not be the only thing on offer to the halls visitors, but also events, organized in collaboration with its restaurants. Franz was reluctant to reveal too many details but said the offerings would be unconventional. “We’ll be steering away from having a troubadour as pubs often do. For example stand up comedy or bingo might sound peculiar for a restaurant but it could work well in a food hall.” Events will also reflect festivals and holidays being celebrated in Reykjavík, whether it’s Iceland Airwaves or Iceland’s National Day on 17 June. “If something’s happening in the city, then something will be happening here. If you want to step out of the fray downtown, you can come here and take a small break from the hustle and bustle.”
Franz hopes the hall gives helps people a chance to enjoy everything the harbour has to offer. “I want families to come together here and enjoy being together in this environment, rather than for example going to a restaurant and sending their kids to a play room. Here they can really spend time together, look out the window and watch the boats come in.”
“The goal is for people to meet and eat, to actually be here and better enjoy everything the neighbourhood has to offer. To experience togetherness and joy.”