It’s a curious thing, this obsession with Iceland. It affects different people in different ways. Take, for example, Wit and Lisa. Having traveled to Iceland each year for the Airwaves festival, and each time sworn they wouldn’t be back next year, they have recently opened an Iceland-themed cafe/bar in Southsea, Portsmouth.
There is a tendency, I know, to recoil in horror these days at anything ‘themed;’ anything that isn’t the genuine article. Think of the plastic shamrock’d Irish bars, the Walka-something Australian clubs or anything that is pretending to be something it’s not. On my way to 101 Reykjavik, even my taxi driver was questioning the wisdom of an Icelandic bar in South England.
I needn’t have worried. Wit and Lisa have paid such attention, such love and care to 101 that it is absolutely wonderful. I’ve been to a few Icelandic bars in my time—no, really!—and this feels like stepping into a kaffibar just off Laugavegur. There are a number of reasons for this: warm, welcoming candle light, the strains of Ólafur Arnalds on the stereo, the fresh kleinur on the counter, the imported skyr on the menu, the quirky artwork (the huge puffin an obvious favorite of mine) and the fact that outside is cold and horribly rainy in true Icelandic style. It made the interior feel all the warmer.
It continues—I deviate slightly from the Iceland theme for a cup of Portsmouth tea (best of both worlds) before Wit arrives with a perfectly timed pylsur. Or the 101 version thereof. Wit explains that he can’t source (no pun intended) the Icelandic remoulade at the moment. Local Icelanders have voiced their concerns over the omission, but I think its bloody good and wolf mine down. He has even taken the time to add both dried and fresh onions—that’s the level of detail we are talking here.
I have a wander around to check out the artwork. I love the Sigur Rós posters, the framed cartoon picture of Múm and the collection of Icelandic photography. That weird snow monster thing from last year’s ATP is here too. There are neat touches on the tables: lava candle holders, miniature Vikings and Puffin salt & pepper shakers. Actually, best not mention those; they’ve been proving a little too cute recently and several have gone AWOL. Wit hoped it is merely children borrowing them, rather than anything more sinister, but my suggestion of them returning for the summer season seems unlikely.
I deliver a Q & A with Wit to the audience, who seem to enjoy it between bites of pylsur and spoons of soup from within freshly baked bread roles. Them, not me. I receive a few questions; elves, food and Blue Lagoon and a grilling from Wit in his new guise as Michael Parkinson.
By this time, I’m itching to try a beer or two. 101 stocks an impressive range of Icelandic beers, including a U.K. exclusive Steðji, which is wonderful. I’m tempted to stick with the seaweed and Cocoa Easter beer. It shouldn’t work but absolutely does. There are several others, though, that take my fancy including porters, lagers and brews with licorice and strawberry. I opt for a citrus one and it’s like drinking Icelandic sunshine.
Wit and Lisa have combined their Icelandic obsession with a thoughtfulness and care that you don’t often see these days. I don’t think you have to be obsessed with Iceland to enjoy their hospitality; it’s warm, welcoming and wonderful. As if to prove this, Lisa hands me a Tupperware container on my way out.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Skyr. You know, for breakfast.”
I’m touched by her kindness. The skyr does not last until breakfast time.
Edward Hancox – [email protected]