I realize I’ve never sat down with you and told you my criteria for good restaurants. Luckily, I did once list all my favourite restaurants worldwide and then went through and listed what I liked about them, then I picked out the points that occurred most frequently. It turns out my favorite places tend to share 9 criteria. These are, in no particular order:
- No tablecloths
- Waitstaff that know about the food they are serving, smile often, are attentive but don’t hover, know their stuff but don’t patronize.
- Seasonal menu and fresh ingredients
- Flavours that taste of themselves, on their very best day
- Preferably chef run but a good restaurateur is also appreciated (Thinking of Alan Yau‘s Hakkasan and Yauachta, Sir Terence Conran‘s Bibendum, Sam & Eddie Hart of Barrafina to name a few).
- Nice interior design, it doesn’t need to be designed by Christian Liaigre, but if I am going to be spending an afternoon or evening there, I want it to be pretty, no sponge painted walls in some variation of ochre or peach.
- Prices need to fit to food presentation, ingredient quality, cooking talent, interior, etc.
- Portion size. I like small. I want to feel a little bit sad when I have had the last bite, a pang of regret that a beautiful relationship had to end, rather than feeling harassed by a bottomless plate. It’s no surprise then that my favourite restaurant concepts feature small plates. Tapas, mezze; call them what you will, they are all the rage now at places like Nopi, Gigi or Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
You might notice I didn’t mention good food but that’s like saying water should be wet, well yah obviously!
Berlin is bursting at the seams with independent restaurants, a lot of them small but most of them enormous. The majority struggle to score 3 out of my 9 criteria.
Which is why Bandol sur Mer is great. They get an 8 out of 9.
Presumably the name comes from the small port just east of Marseille. That would give the three silver TVs mounted over the door, broadcasting sailboats bobbing in a port, some context. This is all conjecture, Bandol has no website with an ‘about us’ tab.
It’s a tiny place, 22 seats (more in the summer when there are outside tables) which serves French food. Heartier stuff like cassoulet in the winter and more mediterranean flavours in the summer. There are only two chefs in the kitchen, one of them with an uncanny resemblance to Rene Redzepi. There is a lone waitress, she has auburn hair, a conspirational way of talking, will often lean into your space and smiles frequently and genuinely. The walls are painted chalk board black and on most of them, billowing white writing lists the menu. It’s exceedingly charming but not self conscious about it.
Redzepi’s doppelgänger turns out some wonderful food. On my last visit, I ordered the squid with scallops and avocado (€15.50). It came on a black slate with lemon jellies on the right, mousse on the left and basil seeds across the bottom.
Surprisingly, my husband’s ratatouille with feta cheese (€12.50) was even better. The ‘ratatouille’ was made up of tiny brunoise and the feta had been whipped up so that it was more like a crottin, toasted on one side. Both our starters used micro leaves and unusual herbs (I didn’t know some of them). They were flawless in execution and presentation. To me, they were main course sizes until the main courses came and then I understood.
For our main courses, he had the Entrecote with potatoes and white asparagus (€24.50) and I had the Alderfisch (google translated it as Meagre) (€22.50). The entrecote was fantastic, in fact, it’s the house specialty and what all the reviews will tell you to order. Layla who subsists entirely on pasta, ate about a quarter of it. I think she was sweet on the chef because he had given her a strawberry lollipop when we came in. (She alternated between the lollipop and the steak, kids have a tendency to eat like stoners if you let them.) As for my Meagre (if that is what it’s called in English), there were three fillets of it. Half way through the second one, I just couldn’t face anymore. That meant we couldn’t order dessert, which depressed me.
If you are keeping a tab on the prices I am listing, you might think ‘wow, that’s expensive for a place with no tablecloths’ (conservatively, you are looking at spending about €50 a head). The thing is, their ingredients alone are miles away from standard fare in Berlin and that has got to cost. And even though it looks like a simple little local, the cooking is subtle, elegant and accomplished.
Even without a website, Bandol is usually booked solid (if you want to eat there, always call and reserve a slot, they have an early seating and a later one) because I think there are more and more people in Berlin who know quality food, are willing to wait for it and pay for it.
Bandol sur Mer
Torstraße 167 Berlin
T. 030 6730 2051