Boxhagener Platz, Market, Friedrichshain

Every neighbourhood in Berlin has its own weekend food market, except where I live in Mitte. I am not going to count the clutch of stalls in front of Butler’s at hackescher markt as an authentic one. Ackerplatz market is technically in Mitte but it’s the Prenzlauerberg side of Mitte.  It’s annoying that I can’t trundle down the road with my wheeled shopping bag, on the other hand I am not restricted to one market by proximity sake.  I’m free to bounce around the different locations and enjoy the many faces of Berlin.

Kollwitzplatz market in Prenzlauerberg is probably the most known but I haven’t managed to fall in love with it.  It’s somehow too self-conscious of its good looks.  Winterfeldtplatz market is like a sensible pair of shoes, it does what a market should.  As with most market squares, there are plenty of cafes surrounding it.  It is a market I go to often, especially as I have a few friends living in the area.  Wittenbergplatz (across from the KaDeWe) is a bijou sized offering, with prices to match some of those in the pricey food hall across the street.  Still I often find interesting things there. The Market at Karl August Platz is another sensible place to shop.Boxhagener platz market in Friedrichshain is one of my favourites.  It wraps around a large sand filled children’s park, seemingly always full to capacity with children and young European parents.  It has a couple of the large Turkish stands that seem to sell everything at all times of the year but unlike in other markets, they don’t dominate the square.  There are plenty of small stands selling seasonal, organic fruit and veg.What sets it apart for me is that there are plenty of people having a go at something different (I get a similar vibe from Markt Halle Neun).  Wether it’s the ‘got dessert‘ marshmallow stand. Or the bruschetta stand.  The lady selling rings made of old keyboard buttons.   Read more of this post

Phoebe in Berlin, Chinese Supper Club, Friedrichshain

Expectations are a funny thing. Honed over years of living to have the smallest margin of error possible. People rely on preconceived expectations to a greater or smaller degree, depending. I rely on them a lot, have become adept at gathering information and vetting the personalities who may have offered me the tip to come up with as accurate a picture as possible.Consequently, I am not often surprised. Or let’s put it this way, I am rarely positively surprised.

Caroline and Tobias of the Thyme Supper Club recommended Phoebe in Berlin’s. Their words “It’s something different. She’s a professional chef, not an enthusiastic amateur. She does French food and Chinese. The Chinese is special, not like any Chinese food we’ve ever eaten before.”It wasn’t.

It took a couple of months, a flurry of emails and one cancellation for enough people to be interested to make the Chinese themed evening viable. Good things are worth waiting for and the shifting date meant that I didn’t go into overdrive imagining what it must be like. In fact when the email finally came: “Hallo! Happy to see you! Tomorrow night 7:30” it caught me totally off guard, I didn’t even know if my husband was in town to watch Layla.We were asked to leave our boots at the door and invited to help ourselves to a pair of slippers from an overflowing wicker basket (love that, stealing that! I too make people take off their shoes but I don’t provide any slippers).Phoebe is from Taiwan, where she ran a successful French restaurant (Louis XIV) for over 10 years. Her apartment is large, bright and Ikea free with plenty of unfamiliar decorative pieces that give the place an Asian flair. Not Asian like you or I could achieve, trawling the shops around here, more like bits and pieces you might find in a Mandarin Oriental in Taiwan.Phoebe struts decisively in knee-high black boots with waist length hair and an awesome air of authority. I have an odd thought, primal in nature: ‘if we went into battle, I would follow Phoebe’ – which is weird really, because normally I would expect people to follow me into battle. All these thoughts tumble into my consciousness in the hallway, in a matter of seconds.Phoebe has already left us to speak to the journalist that is doing a piece on her supper club for a Norwegian publication. She is showing them ingredients that will feature in tonight’s meal. She speaks quickly, gesturing a lot, often hard to understand. Even though I am speaking to other guests, I catch snippets of what she is saying “this is like lychee, we dry it…this is a special pepper…good for skin, gets rid of water.”I had been expecting a nice Chinese meal but this sounds medicinal, mystical.

When the rest of the guests arrive, we are invited to start with the canapés. Peeled tomatoes in vinegar, to get the appetite going we are told. Deep fried green olives in a Parmesan and wasabi crust. Ricotta and soy panna cotta with a sprinkling of cracked pepper in a pool of vivid grassy olive oil. Read more of this post

Melt, Galettes & Crêpes, Friedrichshain

You know how when you are waiting for a bus, nothing comes for an hour, then out of nowhere 5 of them appear? Berlin’s got the “no bus – Op! too many buses’ syndrome.  I’m not talking about obvious things, like curry wurst or burgers, rather more fringe snacks like bubble tea.  These days I can’t walk down a street without seeing a shop announce “New! Bubble Tea!” (oh and I totally own up to the fact that as I type this, I have a Bubble’s Tea loyalty card in my wallet. What can I say?  It keeps me young, to behave like the young.).  Crepes is another one, most neighborhood markets will have one guy doing crepes.  Given that reality, it’s hard to get motivated to go have a crepe. To go to Friedrichshain and have a crepe.  Twice. Because the first time I went they were closed.  As was Factory Girl and I really wanted to know what this whole Magnolia thing they keep going on about is? Say Magnolia to me and I think of Tom Cruise, it’s raining frogs or red armadillo wedding cake and Julia Roberts looking fresh and happy, like a bright yellow daffodil (obviously less so by the end of the movie).  But neither of those two images come into play, at Factory Girl, Magnolias are a riff on tiramisu but with flavours like apple crumble or cookies and cream.  They come dolloped on top of bespoke ceramic square plates.  I was served by a very friendly man, who kept plying me with free samples of Magnolia in a bid to get me to commit to one, which I couldn’t because although they are pleasant, they don’t have much texture, like Eton Mess without the meringue and I am always going on about how I’m a texture girl.  I ordered a coffee to go.  It wasn’t stellar.

Cruelly I am at once entirely addicted to coffee (seriously, I wake up in the morning thinking ‘coffeeeeee!’) while being simultaneously very sensitive to the effects of caffeine, meaning I am dead tired yet hyperventilating lying down.  Not fun.  Therefore, if I’m going to mess up precious R.E.M time (not the shiny happy people kind) then it’s gotta be – outstanding!  I won’t go so far as to say ‘God in a Cup‘ level but let’s say, I’m discerning.I take my Factory Girl coffee for a walk around Friedrichshain.  It’s keeping my hands warm but I’m not drinking it, which is making me feel guilty about having spent 2 Euros whatever and then not drinking it (Sometimes I think  I could run circles around Woody Allen’s racing thoughts).

I see Melt.  I walk in.  I set my cup on the counter.  The young French man who owns the shop comes over to me and says hello (auf Deutsch).  ‘Hi!” I chirp (in American), it comes out a little loud, perhaps a bit black labrador seeing it’s about to be taken out for a walk.  There’s a split second where he realizes I don’t know what I want yet, there is a flicker of annoyance, perhaps it’s his nostrils that flare.  All of a sudden I am back in Paris, where this kind of subtle jousting between customer and shop owner is a given.  It’s not rudeness, no it’s more elusive.  It’s a weighing up that takes place in a matter of – well in a second, where they decide how they will interact with you.  Possible categories include, like a piece of gum lodged in the grooves of their shoe, like an imbecile, like you are a C. Deneuve – although it goes without saying that the last one almost never happens.  I take a few moments to reminisce about my University days in Paris.  He tidies.  He has that clipped walk that I remember so well.

I get his attention and order in French.  A galette with Emmental, ham and egg.  And I ask him to throw away my cappuccino and order a cappuccino.
“It’s full?” he inquires.
“Yes.”
“You didn’t like it?”
“No.”  I throw down my gauntlet.
“You will like ours.’ he picks it up, dusts it off and hands it back with chin held high.Alrighty then, how I miss the psychological finesses of Paris.  Well, sometimes, when I’m being romantic about it and because I don’t live there anymore. Read more of this post

Friedrichshain: Aunt Benny’s, Cafe; Kinkibox, sewing cafe; La Récréation, Ceramics; Hops & Barley, micro-brewery; Olivia, Chocolate & Cafe; Goldschmiede, jewellery

At this juncture, I would say that I know Mitte inside out; Prenzlauerberg very well; I am surprisingly well-informed on where to eat in Kreuzberg; Charlottenburg is pretty shaky; Schöneberg, vaguer still; Friedrichshain had been blank (with the exception of Cupcake which I visited only once); don’t even get me started on places like Wilmersdorf it might as well be a different city, in fact from what I hear – it kind of is.While the weather was ‘Fa la la la la, la, la, la, laaaaaa‘ glorious, I took out my new copy of Tip’s Speisekarte (in which I got a mention on a special they did on food bloggers – Yay!) and plotted out a few addresses to try out. Then I printed out the google map and off I went with a girlfriend to explore.Yes, I’m a geek of epic proportions. Something it’s taken me a long time to embrace but now that I have, you know what? Geeks have much more fun.Annoyingly, two of the places I had been looking forward to trying were closed on Tuesday (Factory Girl! and Melt) but Aunt Benny’s was open. It has a similar aesthetic to places like The Barn or Bäckerei from the Alpentstueck group, namely, black painted walls, designer bare bulbs, good staff / service. I was still full from tasting a lot of mediocre food along our tour (places I won’t name because they were unoriginal even in their shortcomings) but I couldn’t resist the chickpea and kidney bean salad with rocket in a large weck jar.At that point the tour was over and it had been disappointing. The extraordinary number of young Europeans on the streets told me that there was more to Friedrichshain. Layla nodded off in her pram which gave me ample time to follow my nose.

(Note to self: always rely on the nose!)

I turned up some truffles, not all culinary but you don’t mind if I go off brief every now and again?

First up: La Récréation, a ceramic workshop with dishes so pretty they made me think of pastel coloured, Pierre Hermé macaroons. I wanted to buy a set then and there and thankfully was impeded from doing so by a man who actually was buying an entire dinner set.

Read more of this post

Cupcake – Friedrichshain, Berlin

Saying you don’t like cupcakes is like admitting you don’t like puppies or -gasp- babies! It’s a declaration that you are a sociopath of epic proportions.  One that only goes out on even-numbered days and eats white foods on a Wednesday, green foods on a Thursday and so on.  Say it out loud and you will be ostracised!

Whatever the consequences, I am willing to own up to it in full view of cyberspace.  I DON’T LIKE CUPCAKES! Read more of this post

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