We didn’t have any New Year’s plans at all, in fact I had been planning to regal myself with trips to Lidl (sad but true). When my father rang to ask us if we wanted to join him in Miami, I felt like I had won the lottery! 10 days in the sun? Trading pork and potatoes for seafood and fresh fruit? Yes please!
6 days later, 4 days to go and I realize that Miami is like the Yang to Berlin’s Ying. It’s all about consumption and choice here, whereas Berlin is austere and prides itself on being frugal.
My husband and I were stuck at a train crossing for over half an hour yesterday and we both remarked that; had we been in Berlin, everyone would have been conscientious enough to turn their engines off and inevitably there would be someone reprimanding those who hadn’t done so.
It’s the food scene that fascinates me the most (of course! right?). Tables are typically turned at 45 minutes intervals and people eat all day long, which means restaurants are money-making businesses over here. Sure the majority of them serve what can only be described as embellished junk food but there are a lot of great concepts as well.
Chief among them are places like Sugar Cane Raw Bar Grill (by the people that came up with Sushi Samba) or Gigi also a “concept” by a restaurateur but one where the chef’s name is printed at the bottom of the menu (Chef Jeff McInnis). These places are typified by;
- Serving small plates “to share” thereby encouraging you to spend more than if you just went for a main course and maybe a dessert
- Sending the plates out as and when they are ready, taking the heat off the kitchen to co-ordinate
- Casual, bare tables
- Open kitchens where you can see the chefs perform, supported by a behind the scene kitchen
- Young and talented kitchen staff a lot of whom have attended culinary schools
- Lot’s of raw options salads, sashimi, ceviche which are often better than their cooked counterparts and again helps lighten the load for the kitchen
- Food comes fast, you eat even faster, they get you out of there in under an hour and they make heaps of money
The Berlin restaurant scene is static in comparison. You have the big names either Michelin or Hotel associated that charge the big bucks and are generally fine to eat in. Then you have the cheap places that are really just cheap rather than good value for money (after some very poor dining experiences I would stick Chi Sing in this category). Nibbling at the edges of this lamentable scene are places like Goldhahn & Sampson (grocery /deli), Ruhland & Ruhland, The Barn coffee shop or chef led places like Bandol sur Mer, or one of the few concept led places I have encountered Kimchi Princess.
Rome wasn’t built-in a day and the Berlin eating scene will continue to be bleak for a while to come. I am heartened by the efforts of the independents mentioned above. I still miss the exciting fusion flavours you can find in Miami, New York or London.
At Gigi last night, I had a salad of fresh Florida strawberries with tangerines, mint and Ichimi Togarashi chilli. Chef Jeff McInnis won me over with that dish (to the point I ordered another on the spot). It made me think of the pomelo with chilli and salt that I was served in Vietnam. Simple and perfect, sweet strawberries at their peak, tart juicy tangerines, green mint and fireworks from the chili. Or the Sashimi / Ceviche fusion I encounter everywhere here, I could eat those for breakfast lunch and dinner.
I will try to re-creat some of the things I have eaten when I return to Berlin (and when the ingredients come into season). In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy 2011 and thank you for reading!