“Smørrebrød is to be served at lunch, or a late lunch. The real enthusiastic lovers of smørrebrød would never eat it as dinner.”
Smørrebrød, Frikkadeller and Biximad may sound a bit strange and exotic to some ears. However in reality these are the names for Danish delights. Restaurant Jómfrúin, Lækjargata 4, has the best variety to offer in Reykjavík. Owner Jakob Jakobsson exlains why locals and tourists alike have taken a fancy to it.
Why don’t you start by telling us what exactly is the difference between a smørrebrød and let’s say a regular sandwich?
To begin with smørrebrød is a danish open faced sandwich. Secondly a very decorative thing made if high quality materials.
You were the first to sell smørrebrød in Iceland. What made you decide to take a chance on this danish delicacy to start with?
Early on in the 20th century there were some who sold smørrebrød, as there was much Danish influence in the society, and of course we were ruled by Danes more or less until 1944 when Iceland formally became a republic, as we know.
Jómfrúin was the first to start selling smørrebrød again, and in a different way than others. Knowing the historical connection with Danish food culture and building on good relations between the two countries we opened a more luxury smörrebröd restaurant (as everything is made “a la minute”) offering hot dishes as well, plus of course selling beer, aquavit and other beverages. Therefore Jómfrúin is very much different from the former places selling Danish inspired food in Iceland.
How did Icelanders receive the smörrebröd in the beginning?
The people familiar with Danish cuisine celebrated our opening and since then our crowd of steady customers has grown each year.
Why do you think it became so popular?
As we have witnessed there has been enormous growth in types of restaurants offering all kinds of food in Iceland the last couple of decades, some survive others don’t. In my opinion Jómfrúin stands for stability and uniqueness that people seek again and again.
Jómfrúin has been a big draw for gays and lesbians throughout the years. Why do you think the place appeals so much to us?
When me and my husband (Guðmundur Guðjónsson) opened in 1996, we decided that it would be no “secret” that the place was “gay owned” and together we did many interviews both in TV and magazines about the restaurant. And basically people (gay or straight) took interest in us and the restaurant. This was also the same year that the law about homosexual marriage was approved so I guess that helped in a way.
We do have a certain gay appeal, maybe because many of our waiters throughout the years have been gay.
What do locals usually go for on the menu?
Same as always before (the menu is really big so it has not changed much over the years). We have many classics on the menu but to mention a few it would be the plaice, pork steak, HC Andersen favorite (pate). For lunch we always have some blackboard specials, that ishot dishes, and our steady customers, the really locals one, tend to go for hot dishes such as the Pork steak, “Frikkadeller” (both fish and meat), chopped pork with fried egg (Biximad).
What about tourists?
The hand peeled shrimp pyramid, place and smoked salmon are very popular among tourists. The brave ones go for the beef tartar with raw egg yolk and smoked eel.
Is there something you would specially recommend for an absolute beginner in smørrebrød?
We tell them to take a chance. If you come to Jómfrúin you can be certain that the materials are fresh, so why not surprise yourself a little bit. Having said this, we always recommend a half and half (two small ones) for the beginners. That way they get to try more of the selection
Jómfrúin is usually packed with people every day but still you close as early as 18 pm. Why not keep it open a little bit longer?
Smørrebrød is to be served at lunch, or a late lunch. The real enthusiastic lovers of smørrebrød would never eat it as dinner 😉
Recently you, your husband and son opened restaurant Munnharpan in Harpa music hall. Are the menus similar or quite different?
Yes it’s true. We opened it and operated for two years after Harpa opened. However this spring we sold it.
Why didn’t you expand earlier?
Jómfrúin has never expended. Munnharpan was a completely different kind of restaurant, a theater restaurant. We don’t tend to expand in near feature despite regularly offers. Less is more and small is BIG.
Finally, since opening you have hosted live jazz concerts every Saturday afternoon. Who can we expect to see perform next Saturday?
Yes it’s true. This summer we are hosting our 18th summer jazz festival, togeather with our good friend, the Jazz guru Mr. Sigurður Flosason. Next Saturday we will have The Two Tenors performing. The band consists of two tenor saxophone players and orchestra members.