Shunka, Japanese, El Barri Gòtic

ShunkaI had a birthday to celebrate a few Friday’s ago (mine) and while I dithered about whether I should take a short trip somewhere, book a night in a hotel with a massage thrown in or… Well I couldn’t make up my mind (libra). That Friday was also the Mercat de Mercats which was a pleasure to poke around in while I hemmed and hawed about which foot I should start my “older but not wiser” journey on.  Then we turned the corner and saw the slate coloured noren of Shunka gently rippling in the breeze and I thought: sushi, what an age appropriate dinner to have.  Shunka, the best seat in the house is at the barCompared to its elegant sibling, Koy Shunka, Shunka is bare bones. The food is similarly not as breathtaking in presentation nor conception. They serve a simple traditional menu here. However the quality and execution is outstanding. In everything. The Unagi Nigiri (€5.15) are tender and generous.  The rice that accompanies the sushi and food is firm, glistening and although there is some rice vinegar in there – it doesn’t overpower it.   Read more of this post

Sasaya, Japanese, Prenzlauerberg

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). 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

Dinings, Sushi & Japanese Tapas, London

My sister and I were reading on Avlaki beach in Athens the other day when she looked up and said, “I’m trying to figure out if I’m a fox or a hedgehog?” ” Heh? What’s that now?” “Well,” she continued “the ancient Greek poet Archilochus said ‘the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing’ Isaiah Berlin (his real name, not making it up) expanded on the idea in an essay.”

“Well I’m definitely a fox!” I declared.  I’d already penciled my character into this column when I had read Sasasunakku’s recipe for Toffee & Pear Spice Cake which referred to Sarah Wilson’s blog post on ‘scanners’.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in my choice of reading material, the magazines I’ve brought along on this trip include: Apartamento, Bon Appétit, Oh Comely and the FT Magazines.  The books I have read this summer are King Abdullah’s, Our Last Best ChanceThe Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh and on to Michael Caine’s, An Elephant in Hollywood.  (There’s a point to all this, I promise.)

I was reading that Michael Caine is an avid gardener who loves the British countryside. But he can’t stand the long damp winters. Solution: he has a sprawling country home in Britain and winters with his family in Miami. Ping! Went the light bulb over my head, that would be perfect!  That way, I could opt out of 6 months of snow and sorrows in Berlin and the lack of dim sum, sushi and good cheap eats and love it instead for what it does have, turning a blind eye to what it doesn’t do for me.  (Hmmm, I’ve just realised this is probably what French men think as they build up their pyramid of wife, mistress & alternative sexpot – managing to love the first two simultaneously!)

Here is how those first 3 paragraphs relate to Dinings.  When in Berlin, Dinings (followed by Yauatcha and Barrafina) is probably the restaurant I miss the most.  And nothing, nothing, nothing even comes close to it.  To the point that I find sashimi in Berlin so lackluster that I don’t bother.  (Yes I know about Sasaya in Prenzlauerberg and yes, the people who work there are indeed ‘really Japanese’ and the quality is good but it’s too traditional for my taste.)
I love Dinings because:

1. They make stuff I can’t. I will never get the quality of fish they have or be able to prepare it as well as they do.
2. It’s simple stuff and that is the hardest food of all to pull off because you can’t masque imperfections
3. It’s a most plain, un-embellished place. The restaurant is in a basement on a residential street behind Edgeware road. There is nothing on the walls, the seating is wooden, the tables are small, and the ceiling is low. One side has a small window where you can see people’s feet as they walk by. And it doesn’t matter at all because the food is so captivating.
4. This one is kind of a sub-point to 3. It’s not a reverential place; you don’t go there to genuflect at the altar fine dining. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to how I feel when I eat at home, except I’ve got no washing up to do.
5. They have flavor combinations that I love, relying a lot on sour whether through lime, lemon, yuzu or even vinegar and mostly doing away with perennial (and much too salty) soy and the neon wasabi. Read more of this post

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