Burgers have not had an easy time of recently. In the U.K., they have been hit by the horse-meat scandal, and they are constantly fighting a war against the healthy eating movement. In Iceland, burgers are as popular as ever. McDonalds couldn’t stick it in this northern outpost and were forced to withdraw due to high costs of import, but the Icelandic burger is inimitable. They have even started to invade the U.K.
Icelandic burgers, speaking from experience, are a messy but tasty experience. They range from the McDonalds mimicking Metro, the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin American Style, to the sublime, Eric Clapton endorsed Hamborgarafabrikkan (‘Hamburger Factory’). Go for a lamb burger or a ‘Mr. Rock’. For reasons unknown, Hamborgarafabrikkan keep a running total of the Icelandic population on the wall of the restaurant, alongside the motto ‘we are not many, but we are working on it!’ To finish, I also recommend the skyr cake which is delicious.
In New York, there is a little known ‘burger joint’ which secretes itself behind a red curtain in the five star Le parker Meriden’s marble atrium on 56th Street. They serve one of the world’s best burgers, and I have done some extensive research. The Icelandic equivalent might just be Hamborgara Búllan, which can be found in a spaceship shaped building near the harbor. This was a well-kept secret, but not so much these days and outlets are all over Reykjavík.
It’s a tiny little building but is a pretty cool burger bar inside. They play west coast (U.S. not Iceland!) hip-hop and retro tracks with reverberate around the small building. The walls are adorned by cool posters of The Sopranos and ET, and by kids’ drawings of burgers. Its burgers are supposed to be the best in Reykjavík and even give the New York burgers a run for their money. It’s best just to go for it, order a burger with everything, sit back amongst film posters and Americana and wait for it to be delivered with crispy fries and an ice cold coke. When you bite into it though, try not to spill it all over yourself. It’s not cool.
Hamborgara Búllan is the project of Tommi Tómasson, a man often credited with bringing burgers to Iceland. Not content with emulating the success of Hamborgara Búllan across Reykjavík, Tommi has also opened one in Marylebone, London.
I gave it a try recently. It was brilliant. Served by Siggi, and with the same austere, yet funky look as its Reykjavík flagship it felt just right. A large photograph of a bearded Icelander gazes down on me as I eat my burger. The burger was simple, and yet a million miles away from its chain produced cousins.
Icelandic burger culture is alive and well, even in London.