MOVING HALF-WAY ACROSS THE world to a new country is never an easy move. especially when your goal is to camouflage into the local-landscape as quickly as possible, which is exactly what I intend to do. When I meet local Improv actor Guomundur Elnarsson. he steers me away from the over-toursity haunts in search for authentic Reykjavik. With more than two million tourists visiting the city each year, which is 20 times its population, finding an authentic experience is no easy feat. Thankfully, Guomundur tells me that 90 per cent of tourists tend to stick to the same three places as he leads me to Reykjavik Roasters (Karastigur 1. 101 Reykjavik) for our first stop-coffee, of course! “It’s definitely well known,” Guornundur says with a sigh, “but it is the best, and if you go early, you will beat the line. Better yet, there is a second location in Brautarholt that is not as busy.” The coffee here is rich and delicious, and they import the bean and roast it locally which gives it a unique savoury taste.. Taking our coffee to go we swing by Brauo & Co (Frakkastigur 16, 101 Reykjavik) for the buttery-sweet-and-salty fragrance of this tiny bakeshop. Packing a couple of the shop’s famous cinnamon buns and two croissants, Guomundur attests to its deliciousness. ‘I’ve been to Paris many times, but I still always crave my Brauo,” he says. As we head down toward Old Town, we duck down a side street and into a little house with a single key on a sign – our only indication that there’s something inside_ This is Fischer (Fischersund 3, Reykjavik, 101) and its more than any old cosmetic and perfume store. It is a full sensory experience. Hand-made scents and botanicals are created from local ingredients and are sold between the venue’s gallery-esque feel “When I visit friends overseas I always take them something from here, because these gifts are unique and truly Icelandic,” Guomundur says. When we arrive to the newly-developed suburb, Grandi, located down by the wharf. Guornundur tells me it’s his favourite part of town. `They’ve reclaimed this industrial area. and really none of the tourists have discovered it yet. There’s a great brewery, some really coo] shops, and many places to eat, but I like to come here for the chocolate.° Chocolate doesn’t immediately spring to mind when ] think of Iceland. but this experience swiftly changes that. Omnom Chocolate Factory (Holmasloo 4, 101 Reykjavik) is located at the very far end of the district, but you can smell it a good kilometre away. “We are the northern-most producer of chocolate from fresh cocoa beans.° one of the owners, Oskar poroarson, tells us. We know our providers personally, and we roast our beans in-house. That’s what makes it like no other chocolate.” The Madagascar dark chocolate with black volcanic Icelandic salt must be tried to fully comprehend its excellence.
From a bus stop just outside the city, we head to Guomundur’s favourite distillery, Flokl (Lyngas 13, 210 Gardaber). “I’m going to give you true Icelandic whiskey – it’s unlike anything you’ve had before. It’s smoked with sheep dung,” he tells me. Surprisingly. the sheep-dung whiskey is sublime and far more palatable than its production process suggests. It’s smooth and complex, and unlike any other spirit I’ve had before. “Alcohol was banned in Iceland for many years: explains distiller PaII. “So most Icelandic people have been distilling in their homes for many years.” Floki takes that tradition and scales it up a few notches, making traditional homemade whiskey using Icelandic grain. After drinking our fair share, it’s time to rest our weary bodies at the Reykjadalur Hot Springs, 35 minutes from the city centre. “This place is magic,” Guomundur says with a tipsy smile. “Most tourists head straight for the Blue Lagoon, which is man-made. Reykjadalur is totally natural, beautiful, and best of all, free.° When we get there. there’s a pleasant 45 minute hike through the countryside leading us to a picturesque serpentine stream shrouded in steam. Changing areas are provided and a well manicured boardwalk allows us to move between various points of the geothermic river — the higher we go, the wanner it gets. Its a pure natural pleasure.
Dinner is back in the city at ROK (Frakkastigur 26a, 101 Reykjavik). This place is new, but the food is excellent,- Guomundur assures me. The restaurant is set in an ancient building but its interior is sleek and modem. This beautiful contradiction is further extended to the menu, which features classic dishes with a modem twist such as reindeer served on a bed of local blue cheese foam or salmon prepared in sweet mango sauce with avocado. It’s fair to say ROK rocks your palette.
Of course, no meal is complete without a sweet chaser, and for this, we go to Isbuoin Valdis (Grandagarour 21. 101 Reykjavik). This place has been here forever. My father used to go as a kid.” Guomundur says. The ice creamery’s longevity isn’t hard to understand once you get a taste for its delicious and wild flavours. Guomundur insists I get the salted licorice, which sounds like a punishment to an Italian raised on gelato, but as soon as the creamy goodness hits my taste buds. I’m glad for his suggestion.
With dessert now finished. it’s time to enjoy the nightlife. The bars here can get crazy, and usually packed with tourists,” my Icelandic Virgil warns me. ‘Pablo Discobar, B5, Kiki’s, Kaffibarin, are all amazing good times. but, packed. Best to go to them at 5am, that’s the golden hour.” So given the relatively early hour, Guomundur instead leads me to a poetry brothel hosted by Reykjavik Kabaret. “The burlesque scene here in Reykjavik is actually quite amazing.” he confides. “And the shows are not to be missed.” The brothel was like walking into a Baz Luhrmann fever-dream. Miss Mokki greets us at the door in a hurricane of pearls, beads and feathers. “Gentlemen, right this way to have your minds blown: She said grabbing my hand and whipping me into the main room. Cabaret, singing, poetry recital, and an artistic sexual energy surrounds us. and as the drinks continue to flow and the night grows deeper. the acts become more boisterous. “Many people think Icelandic people are often stiff and very cold but most people are often very wrong.” Guomundur says.
Full from all the delights from this gem of a city. I walk home in the still lit summertime hours of the early morning. Guomundur had one more surprise for me; a little sculpture park that sits adjacent to the HallgrimskIrkja (Hallgrimstorg 1. 101 Reykjavik). “People walk right by this park, and never know it’s here. It’s my favourite place in all of Reykjavik.” he shares_ This is the life’s work of Einar Jonsson, from the early part of the last century and the sculptures are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Half deco, half Phoenician, all crazy, they are even more moving in the glow of the midnight sun through the morning .