Food and Fun Festival Returns to Reykjavík

A waiter holding two dishes in Hlemmur Food Hall

Fifteen Reykjavík restaurants will take part in the 20th edition of the Food and Fun Festival, which returns to the Icelandic capital March 1-4, reports. Foreign chefs will be invited to cook at the restaurants, where they have the opportunity to get to experiment with Icelandic ingredients. Hungry foodies will be able to book a table around mid-February.

“There are a lot of foreigners that attend the festival, there are a lot of tourists that are curious about Icelandic cuisine,” says Siggi Hall, a master chef and one of the festival organisers. “Once upon a time there were few tourists at this time of year but that’s no longer the case. Today, many people come here for the food, because the food is without a doubt the third or fourth attraction, besides nature and the northern lights.”

Food and Fun was originally organised to attract tourists to Iceland during the off season as well as to showcase the country’s agricultural and seafood products. During the festival, foreign chefs from the USA and Europe team up with local restaurants to create gourmet menus at affordable prices. As the festival website points out, not only do the foreign chefs get to know Icelandic ingredients, but they can also make locals see those ingredients in a new way, such as using Icelandic skyr for sauces rather than desserts.

In previous editions of the festival, celebrity chef judges have also been invited to rate the culinary creations, and three chefs have been chosen as finalists to compete for the title of Food and Fun Chef of the Year. A list of participating chefs and restaurants from past years is available on the festival website.

Investment Firm and Local Council Announce Plans to Revitalize Blönduós

blönduós town centre

Local council leaders of Húnabyggð municipality and investment firm Info Capital have announced plans to renovate the old town centre of Blönduós, a town in North Iceland.

150 year-old pearl

In an interview with Vísir, local councilman Guðmundur Haukur Jakobsson called the town centre “an old pearl” that has remained largely hidden to tourists. Built 150 years ago, the settlement is a historical site, once the site of a bustling community. However, since the completion of Route 1, Blönduós has been reduced to a place where one refuels and grabs a hot dog. 

The new investment plans intend to change this, transforming the town into a historical destination in its own right, with hotels, restaurants, and other amenities. 

Thriving business life

The investment company is reported as having already purchased property in the town. Guðmundur stated, “We want to have a thriving cultural and business life here […] There is so much history here. We are polishing the future plans, and we hope to start building soon.”

Several members of Info Capital’s management have roots in the community as well, such as Reynir Grétarsson, owner and chairman of the board. Considered “an old local,” Guðmundur stated in the interview that it was a natural choice for them to work with a community they already have such a connection to.

ÓX Second Icelandic Restaurant to Receive Prestigious Michelin Star

ÓX is the second restaurant in Iceland to be awarded the prestigious Michelin Star, a commendation for the finest dining in the world.

The announcement came yesterday, July 4, at the annual Michelin Guide Nordic Countries event in Stavanger. 

Icelanders in attendance included Rúnar Pierre Heriveaux and Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon on behalf of ÓX, and Gunnar Karl Gíslason on behalf of the restaurant Dill, which was the first Icelandic restaurant to be honoured with the Michelin Star in 2017.

ÓX is run by chefs Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon and Georg Arnar Halldórsson. According to the Michelin Guide, ÓX “offers the best Icelandic produce in highly personalised dishes, which blend traditional flavours with a modern edge.”

In a statement to RÚV, Rúnar Pierre called the award the best possible advertisement for the Icelandic culinary scene but stated that it would not change much for him and his team, who will continue to work as they did before.

Some 11 other restaurants throughout Scandinavia were honoured with their first Michelin Star at the event, alongside two other restaurants with a two-star rating. 

Dill was also awarded a Michelin Green Star, a commendation for their commitment to sustainable gastronomy.

Government Approves Pandemic Grants for Bars and Restaurants

bar beer alcohol

Iceland’s government has approved measures in support of restaurant and bar owners that have experienced a loss of income as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, RÚV reports. Owners will soon be able to apply for a so-called “rebound” grant up to a maximum of ISK 10-12 million [$77,900-93,400, €68,500-82,200], Foreign Affairs Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir stated following a cabinet meeting this morning.

“We’re doing this specifically for those parties who have a liquor licence and have experienced a loss of income due to [COVID-19] infection prevention measures,” Þórdís told reporters. Asked whether the grants would be enough to keep bars and restaurants running, the Minister stated that she could not be the judge, but she believed the initiative would make a big difference. The government has also postponed insurance and tax payment deadlines for restaurants in order to ease financial strain on the industry.

The rebound grants are expected to cost the government around ISK 1.5 billion [$116.8 million, €102.7 million]. Þórdís stated that the government was also considering measures in support of freelance and culture workers, other groups that have been hit hard by pandemic restrictions.

Icelandic authorities tightened domestic COVID-19 restrictions last week, closing bars and clubs and extending operational restrictions on restaurants as the country fights its biggest ever wave of COVID-19 infection. Some restaurateurs have criticised the closures and restrictions, pointing to the fact that schools remain open, despite being a source of infection spread. Bragi Skaftason, who operates three restaurants in Reykjavík, has stated that reintroducing partial employment benefits, a pandemic response measure the government has discontinued, would be more helpful to restaurateurs than the government’s current economic response measures.

Additional Relief for Struggling Restaurants On the Way

The Icelandic government is promising additional relief subsidies for suffering businesses in the restaurant sector, RÚV reports. It is hoped that the measures—which include tax relief as well as extensions of existing subsidies—will be implemented within the next few days.

The announcement comes in the wake of tightened domestic restrictions as COVID cases soar in Iceland and authorities scramble to ensure that the health system does not become overwhelmed. As of midnight on Friday, the general gathering limit is now 10 people and bars and clubs will be closed. Events and performances will also not be permitted. The current regulations will be in effect until February 2.

See Also: Iceland Tightens Domestic COVID-19 Restrictions

Restaurant and bar owners have repeatedly requested stronger governmental support to help weather financial insecurities created by the pandemic. On Friday afternoon, the government announced that it intends to allow restaurants to postpone paying tax and social security contributions. Relief grants will be extended. These measures are expected to be implemented right after the weekend. Closure subsidies are also expected to be extended and special subsidies for restaurants in distress should also be available.

Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, who is acting Minister of Finance in the absence of Bjarni Benediktson, said that there isn’t much work left to be done on the proposal and she hopes that it will be on Monday’s parliamentary agenda. She noted that the relief measures come as a result of conversations with people in the events, tourism, restaurant, and cultural sectors.

“What we’re doing right now is primarily focused on restaurants,” she stated. “[…] But we need to be mindful of the economy as a whole remaining strong. As such, we need to be smart about directing this targeted support to those who really need it.” Þórdís Kolbrún estimated that the government would spend over ISK 1 billion [$7.78 million] on these measures.

Resturants, Concerts Granted Temporary Slack From New COVID Restrictions

A waiter holding two dishes in Hlemmur Food Hall

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson has decided to exempt restaurants from new infection prevention gathering limits on December 23. Restaurants can accept 50 guests in each compartment instead of 20 as stipulated in the new regulations. Musicians hosting Christmas concerts have also been allowed to host events according to requirements from the previous and milder infection prevention regulation. 

Aside from the gathering limits, restaurants must uphold, including closing at 9 pm. The exception is made to ensure proportionality in light of the short notice given until the new regulations took effect. Restaurants are encouraged to continue to keep up the utmost infection prevention measures, including providing access to hand sanitisers, making sure mask requirements are upheld, and keeping up the 1-metre social distance between unrelated parties. 

December 23 is known as Þorláksmessa and is a popular day for fermented skate parties at home or in restaurants, people-watching, and last-minute shopping in downtown Reykjavík. 

Musicians such as Bubbi Morthens and Emmsjé Gauti have also been granted exemptions to host their Christmas Concerts based on the previous infection prevention regulation requirements. Five hundred people are allowed in each compartment, provided they can present a negative antigen test performed by a healthcare professional no less than 48 hours previous. 

In a conversation with Fréttablaðið reporter, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has called the exemptions “maybe not the wisest course of action from an epidemiological standpoint.”

Iceland’s COVID Restrictions Relaxed at Midnight, Lifted in Four Weeks

At a bar in Reykjavík Iceland, drinking beer.

Iceland’s domestic COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed at midnight tonight, and all remaining domestic restrictions are set to be lifted in four weeks, the country’s health authorities have announced. As of midnight, the general gathering limit will be raised from 500 to 2,000, mask use requirements will be lifted, and bars will be permitted to remain open one hour longer. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced the changes following this morning’s cabinet meeting.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist had sent the Health Minister a memorandum outlining three possible scenarios after the current domestic regulations expire: the first was to maintain the current COVID-19 restrictions, the second to relax restrictions in stages, and the third to lift all restrictions. The Health Minister and Prime Minister had previously sent the Chief Epidemiologist a memorandum that outlined the reasoning other Nordic countries had used in lifting all domestic restrictions. Those countries had determined that a majority-vaccinated population faced little risk from COVID-19 as a whole. Three-quarters of Iceland’s population, or 75%, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Svandís stated that if all goes well, all domestic COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in Iceland on November 18, 2021. Iceland maintains COVID-19 travel restrictions at its borders.

There are currently 562 active cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, with seven people hospitalised due to the illness and zero patients in ICU.

Czech Artist Converts Ship’s Wheelhouse into ‘Cultural Kiosk’ in Seyðisfjörður

A ship’s wheelhouse dating back to 1969 is getting a new life as a piece of public art cum snack stand in the East Iceland village of Seyðisfjörður, RÚV reports. The project, dubbed KIOSK 108, is the brainchild of Czech artist Monika Fryčová, who decided to turn her attentions outward during lockdown and find a way to make a meaningful contribution to the local community. The plan? To take an abandoned ship’s wheelhouse and convert it into a ‘cultural kiosk.’

“When the COVID situation came, I thought it’s very useless for me to sit behind [my] computer and wait [to get] sick,” Monika explained. “So, I start[ed] to think about how I can make public art for outsiders and local people, to make something meaningful with this object.”

Screenshot, RÚV

Monika plans to serve light meals and drinks from the converted wheelhouse, including fish soup, hot dogs, coffee, and beer. She’s using old timber to build a small bar inside the cabin where people can sit and look out the window onto the fjord. She’s also plans to create a kid’s corner for children to play in and have a stage on the roof where musicians and artists can perform.

Monika is selling KIOSK 108 stickers and t-shirts to raise money for the project, which has also received a grant from Uppbyggingarsjóður Austurlands, the East Iceland Development Fund.

Watch Monika’s interview with RÚV (in English) here; and another video she made about KIOSK 108, here.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Relaxed Social Restrictions Take Effect Today

Laugardalslaug Pool Reykjavík.

Iceland’s national gathering limit rose from 20 to 50 today, while regulations governing gym, pool, and business operations were also relaxed. Iceland’s government announced the changes last Friday after its busiest vaccination week, where 40,000 received a jab of COVID-19 vaccine. The restrictions will remain in effect until May 26.

As of today, swimming pools, gyms, camping sites, and ski slopes in Iceland may operate at 75% capacity, a rise from the previous 50%. Regulations were also relaxed for shops, which can now admit up to 200 customers (space allowing) and performing arts and athletic events, which host up to 150 seated guests per section, registered by name and ID number (kennitala).

Opening times were extended by one hour for restaurants and bars, which can now remain open until 10.00pm. All guests must leave the premises by 11.00pm. Two-metre distancing remains in effect, as does mandatory mask use in shops, on public transportation, and in all situations where distancing cannot be ensured.

Regulations Unchanged in Skagafjörður

The relaxations do not extend to the regions of Skagafjörður or Akrahreppur in North Iceland due to a group infection that emerged there last Friday. Seven have tested positive for COVID-19 in the municipalities, where primary schools and preschools have been closed and sports and recreational activities have been suspended.

Iceland currently has 100 active cases of COVID-19. Vaccination is progressing according to schedule: 37.6% of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 14.6% are fully vaccinated. Icelandic authorities have introduced a plan to lift all social restrictions by late June of this year, when a majority of the nation is expected to have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Iceland’s Gym and Restaurant Owners Lament Updated Restrictions

Júlían J. K. Jóhannsson heimsmethafi í kraftlyftingum

Gym, restaurant, and bar owners in Iceland have expressed dissatisfaction with the updated social restrictions that take effect in the country tomorrow, December 10. While restrictions will be somewhat relaxed for restaurants, one owner says it won’t make enough of a difference. Gyms and bars, which have been closed since October, must keep their doors shut until the new year. Vísir reports that several gym owners are considering taking legal action against authorities due to the restrictions.

Gym Owners Consider Legal Action

“I think we gym owners can agree that this is a pretty dark day for us,” stated Jakobína Jónsdóttir, one of the owners of CrossFit gym Grandi 101. She says that although she didn’t have high hopes that the new regulations would allow gyms to reopen from tomorrow, she questioned why swimming pools were allowed to do so. Locker rooms have been considered high risk for spreading infections and swimming pool guests must of course use them, Jakobína pointed out.

Jakobína says around 20 gym owners have been communicating and are meeting with a lawyer today to consider taking legal action against the restrictions imposed on their businesses. “It seems to us that this is not really legal, these closures. So we are going to dive deeper into it.”

Gyms and Bars Behind Current Wave

Last October Iceland’s Civil Protection Department told Vísir that 110 COVID-19 infections had been traced directly to gyms and other athletic activities, but had not separated the cases between the two types of activities. The figure does not include secondary cases or further cases that arose indirectly from gyms and athletic activities.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that it is perfectly normal for restrictions to be debated within society. He asserted, however, that data points to gyms being one of the main locations for infection spread during this wave. “We have seen both in our tracing data that one of the big places that is the root of this wave that we are dealing with now, there are several places, there are pubs, there is this boxing centre in Kópavogur, and then there are gyms. That’s just how it is,” Þórólfur stated. “There are very few infections traced to swimming pools here,” he added, saying that chlorinated water kills the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the European Centre for Disease Control also classifies swimming pools as much lower risk than gyms when it comes to spreading infection.

Restaurateurs Say December Season “Cancelled”

While restaurants will see slightly relaxed restrictions from tomorrow, most owners agree they are not enough to save the December season, which has effectively been cancelled. Restaurants will be permitted to accept up to 15 guests at a time as of tomorrow, up from the current 10, and to extend their opening hours from the limit of 9.00pm to 10.00pm.

Bragi Skaftason, a restaurateur of Tíu sopar in downtown Reykjavík, says the effects of the change are minimal. “The December season has effectively been cancelled,” he stated. “Fifteen from ten is indeed a jump, but when we look at the big picture it isn’t a big difference.”