Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc are both self-taught. Unhampered by other people’s ways of doing things they were able to develop their distinctive food personalities. What they don’t say (but I think is equally important) is how naive they were starting out. Had they both been told that they would be working towards multi-michelin stars and helping to change the face of food in Britain I’m sure that they would have seized up with fear and found something else to do.Now, almost two years on (In July) I see my own naiveté in this blog. I optimistically set out to find the equivalents of my London darlings in Berlin (you will find a list of them on my favourites page). More often than not I came up empty but at no point did it occur to me to stop because what I was looking for didn’t exist.I was in London for almost a week recently and riding at the top of a bubbly red double-decker bus, I smiled at what I had been endeavouring to do. London is a city of choice and excess where anything you want can be yours for the taking – provided of course, you’ve got the money to pay for it. A good portion of these affluent folks are young, 20-35 young (a lot of trustafarians to be sure accompanied by a minority successful in their own right). Dinner on Tuesday at Yauatcha, I was flanked on one side two girls their cheeks still plump from childhood, their nails perfectly painted in pretty pastels and on the other by a young couple (the female part of which also had a manicure – prettiness appears to be celebrated in London). At Nopi on Wednesday the crowd was a tick older but a decade younger than you would ever find anywhere charging those equivalent prices in Berlin.I think I might have nailed it, the reason why I can’t find enough of the places I like here; informal, no tablecloths, laid back but knowledgeable service, small plates and above all seasonal, flavourful good quality food with international awareness. It’s because if there are moneyed people here they are older. They all flock to places like Grill Royal or Borchardt. Places where waiters hinge at the hips, use crumb scrapers and behave like petty bureaucrats grossly misusing their teeny tiny allocation of power- sticking you in the basement by the toilet (Borchardt) if they don’t like the look of you.I didn’t have a clue about any of this in 2010. When everyone I knew sent me to Sasaya when I asked for Japanese, I wasn’t convinced. ‘There must be better than this. There must be a place like Dinings here…surely?”
Yeah…not so much…Originally, when I went for dinner, I found Sasaya to be too dark, the classical music too loud, the smell..boiled rice mixed with seaweed made my nose crinkle and the trouble in securing a table seemed exaggerated. I returned for lunch last week (much to the bemusement of the friends who had recommended it to me 2 years ago). I found I prefered it during the day, the rainbow theme is easy to spot and playful (the music is still too loud and they really need to crack a window open somewhere).I ordered from the lunch menu, mackerel for €6.50. I automatically started picking off the skin, imagining it to be flabby but you know what? Crispy. Delicious. Ate it all. Caroline’s pork was fatty and crispy would have eaten it all too. The salad I started off with was beautiful to behold but boring to eat. For dessert a green tea cheesecake which was more like a wedge of cream bavarois with frozen berries and a puddle of green tea sauce, almost like an afterthought. For me a lukewarm crème brûlée with a scoop of coconut ice cream rolled in coconut shavings. FIne, mostly forgettable.I say – if you are finding it a hassle to get a table for dinner, go for lunch (although it took Caroline 5 days of constant calling for someone to pick up the phone and take her reservation). Order off the lunch menu, I think all the dishes are good, the mackerel rocked (if you’ve been here for a while, you will jump for joy to see a fish other than Zander or salmon listed). If you still fancy dessert, why not take a 5 minute walk up to Hokey Pokey on Stargarder Str – they do a mean Rocky Road ice cream.