Glass, Contemporary Food, Charlottenburg

Glass BerlinPinch me.

I had a meal last night, a meal I would not have expected to find in Berlin for a while yet to come.  And I had it in Charlottenburg.

I was invited to the evening by Gal Ben Moshe‘s PR agent, Regine.  I know Regine personally, her portfolio of clients is enviable – her firm does PR for Tim Raue for example.  When I write this to Gal, he replies “She does PR for Tim Raue. But she also does PR for me.”  His confidence, his directness – part of it reminds me of my good friend Ilanit who comes from the same part of Israel as Gal.  The other part, well the other part makes me wonder “Is this night going to be as good as he believes it to be in his mind?”

And you know what?  It is.  It absolutely is.Gal Ben MosheGal came up with the name Glass 3 years ago, later, when he saw this location which had previously been a gym with blacked out windows.  He knew this was where Glass would be.  A kitchen had to be built.  It’s small, with a central island where the chefs come together for plating.

“Hmmm.”  I wonder aloud “This makes me think of Grant Achatz’s kitchen.”
Alinea? Yes, I worked there.”
“You worked at Alinea??” I retort, incredulous. How has this guy worked at Alinea and not even mentioned it? Again that confidence. One that can only mean he is not going to try to prove he is good by association, he is going to let the food speak for itself. “How do they do that crazy dessert that is plated on the table and moves? Is it magnets?”
“The tables tilt.” he explains “And yes, magnets are used.” In fact the tables at Glass are the same as those at Alinea. Same manufacturer.”Glass, BerlinWe are invited to sit down in the dining room. This time, I have been allowed to bring a guest and my date for the evening is Marguerite. Next to us is Ashley, a wonderful photographer based in Berlin and Saleema of Brocade PR.  We are a riotous group as we realize we have much in common (chief among them, a love for BBC Radio 4’s desert island discs).  The noise stops with the arrival of each new dish.A picture perfect dish of vegetables

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Essen Fassen, German Food, Charlottenburg

I went to Essen Fassen over a year ago and had such a mixed experience that I just took the whole thing, put it on a virtual shelf and promptly forgot about it. Then last week a friend suggested we meet there for lunch. A friend whose goulash I love and whose 3 male gendered children eat calves liver on (while my child only eats white food; pasta shaped like zoo animals, Philadelphia cream cheese, yogurt with crunchy pieces shaped like hoops, or stars, peanut butter with jam – no bits in either component).  Needless to say if this girl says it’s good, it must be good and I must be wrong.Still…

“Really?” I asked “Don’t you just want to go to Brot und Butter?  I had some weird food there last time.”

“Huh.  I had a lentil dish the other day and it was very good.  What did you have?”

“Leg of goose, I think there may have been some chocolate involved in the sauce, red cabbage, spaetzle.  All delicious if ridiculously enormous a portion large enough to feed two – which by the way it ended up doing because Hrabi’s dish of spaetzle with sweet and salty peanut sauce was inedible.  Then for dessert a dry chocolate brownie, corners showing signs of age, with a yummy plum compote of which ironically, there was not enough.”

“Ok, let’s go to Brot und Butter.”

“No, you know what? I need to get out of Mitte, my blog is becoming overly Mittecentric.And so we did which is a good thing because my lunch was great and I realized that I much prefer the restaurant during the day.  At night it’s a little bit too dim and quiet, it makes me think of long winters spent visiting my grandmother who only ever had (still has) one feeble lightbulb in her 10 lightbulb chandelier.  During the day, light bounces off the large white oval table (Ikea, I have the same one) onto the lovely silver and slate wallpaper.  There are more guests adding warmth to the surroundings.  The large (in stature) waiter, who because of his height, can give you quite a fright when he appears, lurch like, out of the shadows is significantly tempered by daylight.I’m not sure if this is a lunch thing or a-year-has-passed-since-you-last-ate-here thing but the food arrived on trays, with the napkin folded into a triangle to one side, cutlery on top.  You keep the tray under your plate as you eat.  I quite liked that detail, it made me think of times (long, long ago) when I used to look forward to what surprises and delights my airplane meal might have in store for me.  Or when I am oh so blissfully alone (can count on my pinky toe how often this happens) because someone else has my child and is taking care that she is eating her white food, my husband (often culinarily challenged) has made other arrangements and I can make my food exactly how I like, place it all neatly on a tray, perch it on my knees and watch something I want to see while eating food that is not only delicious but still hot!  (Ah, the craziness that such trivial details can induce.) Read more of this post

Ottenthal, Wiener Schnitzel, Charlottenburg

If you’ve visited this site frequently enough, you’ll know that my husband is Viennese.  Which means he is a terrible snob about pastries and schnitzel.  (I’ve told you right? That on our first weekend away, he spent an afternoon educating me on Viennese cakes and cafes, slapping the fork out of my hand because I wasn’t pacing myself adequately for our adventures in excess – how I ask you? Can you not fall for such an original approach to wooing?)

We’ve made our way through many a schnitzel in Berlin, me always deferring to his expertise on the subject of schnitzel “This one’s pretty good, right?” I ask as we slice through schnitzel after schnitzel.

There is always some reason why it doesn’t measure up; there is no volcanic bubbling of the breaded outside, it isn’t thin enough, it isn’t big enough, on and on.

I’m glad he wasn’t with me the other night when I had a schnitzel at Austria in Kreuzberg (although I think it’s inspired that they offer a ‘damen’ portion), it was draped over the potato salad making it warm and breaded outside of the schnitzel soggy (It wasn’t much cheaper than Ottenthal either, €17 compared to €19 at Ottenthal).

In his expert opinion, the schnitzel at Ottenthal is as good as it gets.  Coming in second place, the schnitzel at Brasserie Desbrosses in the Ritz and in third place Lutter & Wegner.  Worldwide award for best schnitzel goes to Figlmüller of Vienna.  A place to worship at the altar of thin, breaded and fried.Which brings me to this point, Ottenthal is not a schnitzel restaurant, it is an Austrian restaurant.  A rather fine Austrian restaurant.  One that the Michelin Guide has rated as having good value  and being charming. In the winter, a lot of the ladies wear fur and the men tend to wear a jacket (no tie).  Mozart, that other famed Austrian export, plays and there is even a plaque commemorating him, with a long-stemmed melancholic rose draped over it.  It sounds absurdly kitsch to see it described that way when in fact its elegant and somewhat stark.

I’ve eaten other things at Ottenthal, like tafelspitz (before I knew what it was, boiled meat, with sides like creamed spinach, roast apple (but still boiled meat in broth, can’t eat that unless I’m recovering from an illness).  Mostly I get the schnitzel (he always gets the schnitzel).  It’s dear, €19 but it organic veal and it comes with a large side of exceptionally good potato salad and a lamb’s lettuce salad.  Hrabi always has his with a bottle of Almdudler – the national soft drink of Austria. Read more of this post

Kushinoya, Japanese Fried Food, Charlottenburg

Don’t think I am unaware that I am not fulfilling my self-declared duty of being a Foodie in Berlin, I am.  (Truthfully, I was made aware by my husband who said. “What’s up with your blog, you haven’t posted much about Berlin lately.”)

I have plenty of new places that I have been eating at and want to share.  It’s just that I’ve been travelling a lot.   Then, when I returned to Berlin, it was like someone spiked (is spiking as I type) the weather god’s drink.  It’s glorious, opera glorious (as in, am inspired to burst into song).  That godawful humidity that plagued us all summer is gone to be replaced with honey hued sunshine and baby blue skies.  It’s hard to stay in doors with weather like that and walking around Berlin the last week or so, it seems everyone agrees.Kushinoya was a tip from a Japanese girl I met at a wedding in the Cotswalds a couple of weekends ago.  It was one of those rare occasions where instead of squirming in vain for a conversation topic which would then fizzle out and die in a matter of seconds, we found ourselves gushing animatedly within minutes.  The common thread, food.  She is Japanese, lived in London for a while , then moved to Köln with her husband.  She misses great food, I miss great food.

“How’s Berlin?” She asked

Amazing!”

“How is the food?”

“Meh.” (BTW Margue, I’ve totally stolen that expression from you, it is so great at expressing a disappointment so profound, you can’t even be bothered to extrapolate on the subject. Genius.)

“We have a restaurant in Berlin that we love!” she enthused.

“Hold on, let me get a pen…”

“It’s fried food on a stick.” she continued. 

Fried food on a stick?

Fried food son a stick! (Kushiage) Read more of this post

Market at Karl August Platz & Warm Cauliflower Salad

I am trying to make it to most of the markets in Berlin.  So I can (one day soon) write up the definitive guide and put it out there into w.w.w land so when a future me-like person, looking for a list of markets, moves to Berlin it’s out there.  My friend Misterrios pointed out that such a list already exists, here but like most lists about things to eat in Berlin, it doesn’t tell you which ones are winners, which ones are losers and there are no pictures.I remember when I first moved here, trotting up to the concierge at the Adlon Kempinski (thinking he of all people must know) and asking where the best farmers markets are

“There are no farmers markets here.” he replied.

“How can there be no markets?” I asked, “Every city has markets.”

“Ok, yes, there are markets but they sell the same stuff as the supermarkets but for a lot more money.” He answered.

I smiled and thanked him and thought, wow, what a tool?!Having been to a fair few now, I get what he means.

Markets in Berlin are made up primarily of wholesalers selling similar if not the same stuff you will find in Rewe, Kaisers, Lidl and so on, often more expensive because the big supermarkets have higher spending power and can push down the prices on the suppliers.  In between those wholesalers, there are a few stands that sell food they have grown.  Unfortunately, they tend to grow the same varieties that you find in the supermarket, so they do a bog standard broccoli, no purple sprouting broccoli or broccoli rabe.

You don’t go to a market here to get something similar to the Mexican sour gherkins you read about in Bon Appetit, or some picked crab.  You go with more sensible expectations, like buying some garlic that has not been grown with China (what is up with that by the way?) or some sweet onions or just some locally grown things that still have dirt on and maybe a few dead gnats bearing testament that it grew in the ground and not in some futuristic polytunnel in a galaxy far far away. Read more of this post

Tian Fu, Szechuan Cuisine, Charlottenburg

In London, if I met someone I liked the look of, I would have to bump into them another 5 times before it was ok to suggest going out for a coffee together.  And a further 2 (total of 7), before suggesting a meal.  Everyone’s so busy and have such mad swirling social lives (don’t you know it?) that being enthusiastic is the kiss of death.  (I believe these people sit at home on a Friday evening, with a microwave meal, watching bad TV.)

Berlin is nothing like that, thank goodness.  It is so easy to make friends, make even the slightest effort and you are immediately included.

When I went to the Thyme Super Club (Have you been yet? No? Go).  I sat next to a very interesting Chinese woman who works in advertising.  I invited her along to the pop up diner ‘Pret a Diner‘ and after reading about my failures with Chinese restaurants in Berlin, she invited me out with her girlfriends to one of the 3 Chinese restaurants they regularly go to called  Tian Fu (the other two being Peking Ente and Ming Dynastie across from the Chinese Embassy).

She explained to me that although she is from a part of China that does not eat spicy food, here in Berlin she prefers the Szechuan kitchen (known for its spicy food) because the ingredients are not as exciting or authentic as they would be back home. Read more of this post

Frische Paradies, Gourmet Food, Prenzlauer Berg

I was remarking to a friend the other day, that although the restaurants in Berlin can be rather hit and miss, the food shops are fantastic, diverse and considerable for such a small population.

I am a self-confessed addict of Mitte Meer, the no frill cash and carry just up the street from me.  But I had wanted to visit Frische Paradies for some time at the recommendation of a serious foodie friend of mine.After 3 days of living it up (culinary speaking) in London, I was ready for a little pick me up.

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