I am not normally a fan of fabulously hip food concepts because they tend to attract social over-achievers who like to name drop cool happenings, closely followed by phrases such as ‘What? You haven’t heard of it? Really?!’ On the other hand,I don’t believe in avoiding them either and declaring myself as too profound for such gimmicky trivia. One life, after all, nice to try a bit of everything with a healthy sense of humour.
Truthfully, the whole Pret A Diner ‘happening’ had passed me by, one of the many pitfalls of not consuming any German media, until a friend invited me along. I found Pret A Diner in a perilously dark cul-de-sac, with a paper sign affixed over the door and a fire burning in a rusty metal barrel. The building, I am informed by the very artsy magazine distributed at the event, is a former coin mint.
Things took a turn for the deciedly upscale when the automated glass doors swooshed open and I had to spell my name for the lady with the clipboard. A long disorienting walk down candle lit corridors, past a few art installations, led me to the bathrooms, where I found other confused guests trying to get their bearings. We all doubled back, and went through a door, much like the ones to the bathroom, which led us into an impressive holding room with bathtubs full of Veuve Cliquot and adverts of Range Rover (presumably a BIG sponsor).
This room led us into an enormous dining room, with various table formats, giant candelabras, neon, flower arrangements, a DJ, people-tree-lamps and countless clusters of oddities. It was like eating on a film set or being a guest at some oddly themed wedding, I still haven’t figured out what the theme was exactly. The combination of loud music and surrounding boisterous conversations made it easy to slip in and get comfortable. We were seated in a particularly dark corner, so making out the menu, with listings such as ‘From Golog with Love – the Crayfish takes its foam bath in Cauliflower’ particularly difficult to decipher. Luckily we had two options – Vegetarian €39 or Non-Vegetarian €44 (3 dishes each), water was provided at a further €5, and a glass of wine started at €7.50. Should you choose to order dessert €8-€9, dinner would be roughly €65 or more.
With 3 German celebrity chefs dangled in front of us, our expectations mounted. (Bernhard Munding – Dos Palillos, Berlin. Matthias Schmidt – Villa Merton, Franfurt am Main. Wahabi Nouri – Piment, Hamburg).
The food fell in line with the theatrical nature of the evening. There was a large black stone, the size of a baking potato, with horizontal indentations carved into it so that haphazardly broken crisp bread (that looked, and tasted a lot like cardboard) jutted out at unexpected angles. A miniature brown paper bag stamped with ‘Pret A Diner’ was ripped open for us by our very charismatic waitress to produce warm bread. The oddly named cauliflower crayfish dish came in a glass, with it’s round bottom, nestled in a groove on a piece of wood and a metal spoon, hovering ominously over it.
Next came the most underwhelming, off balanced dish I have come across in a while: “The Codfish Prima Donna Sings her Solo from a Carrot Throne” (ginger, carrots, codfish). A pallid, underseasoned piece of poached (?) cod, under some mandolined fennel, in a sea of carrots and an orange liquid which tasted a lot like orange juice. We all struggled to eat which is a shame as cod is so overfished that when you do eat it, it should be good.
“A Naked Duck Star got back its Crispy Coat” (duck, spice glaze, savoy cabbage, celeriac) turned out to be the strongest dish of all three. Although my friend remarked (and I agree with her) that by cooking it in the way that they had (sous vide), it had lost its distinctive qualities and no longer tasted of its self. The accompanying sheet of duck skin, which in my opinion should have been the highlight of the dish (for who in their right mind doesn’t love a well rendered shard of skin) was the opposite, greasy (perhaps it had been deep-fried) and thick.
Maybe I made a mistake but after those 3 dishes, I started to believe that desserts would most likely be similarly underwhelming so I left my portion of the bill, kissed my friends goodbye and hurried on home so that I could put my two-year old to bed (who at 11:30, was still standing firm on the “No Mommy, no bed” policy).
I did thoroughly enjoy the evening and all my senses were titillated. Well…all but my taste buds. Would I go again? Probably, especially with a large group of friends (we were a table of 6 last night) because it’s a bit like going to a fun house, you never know what is around the corner.