Anna Durkes, Italian Ice Cream, Kreuzberg

Ice Cream!Anna Durkes in Kreuzberg makes gelato.  It’s smoother than your average Berlin kugel and creamier, its richness coats the mouth like butter.

The shop isn’t your average eis laden. With an island of cream painted metal furniture looking like oversized stick insects in repose at its center.  On one side is a pale blue wall with hovering plugs to power some hanging lanterns which have bright orange power cords.  In the window there are a couple of oversize plastic cups in the same shade of orange as the cords.

Flavours are concentrated around nuts and chocolates, to the point that a pair of young women come in and after saying how nice the shop is, leave because there are too many chocolatey types and presumably they were in a sorbet frame of mind.  Read more of this post

Barcellos Salon Sucré, Pastries, Kreuzberg

SucreéBarcellos Salon SucreBarcellos Salon Sucré is open 4 days a week, from Thursday to Sunday.  On those days, Eric Muller wakes up at 3 a.m. and works 14 hour days.

When I visit on Saturday, he is scooting around frenetically.  Having baked most of the pastries on display earlier that day, he is now in serving a steady flow of customers.  Most of whom speak French and appear to be regulars.  Muller addresses everyone with Monsieur or Madame and it seems to be part of the treat, for French customers to interact in their own language and non-French to resuscitate forgotten snipets and fragments.CrémantNormally, I don’t make people aware that I will be writing the visit up for my blog.  In the spirit of  preserving my instinctual reactions rather then getting muddled between liking the people versus the restaurant or whatever.  But in this case, photography is forbidden without permission so I begin to speak to Muller.

“Let me explain my philosophy” he quickly interjects.

“Life is short and money is not the most important aspect of it.  My wife and I decided to open this place.  She has her hair salon, I have the shop.  4 days a week, we work hard, close to each other.  The rest of the week we are free to spend quality time together.  And, December and January we close and go to Brazil (where Katia Barcellos is from) and spend time exploring.”

Pain au chocolatI’m winded by such a sensible awareness of life, of how to best parcel it up so that you are almost able to eat your cake and have it too.  I mean we all – somehow – are aware that life is short.  And  just as that awareness sets in, life ups the pace, so that it feels like you are stationary and it is hurtling past.  But kids, deadlines, mundane things keep you from stepping off to the side for a moment or two and thinking of where you are actually trying to get to. Read more of this post

Cocoro, Japanese Cafe, Kreuzberg

CocoroI feel like we are starting to have real choice in Berlin.  Gone are the days where lunch options were limited to schnitzel, ungainly maultaschen or the abiding curry wurst.  We have a street food market, how San Francisco of us!  We’ve got so many pop ups it’s like that video game with the moles or rabbits or whatever.  On Sunday I went to Gourmandise 3rd pop up at the Beta House where there were at least a hundred people queing with their Tupperware (as requested by the organizers) to buy cake.  I can’t afford to throw away a half hour to line up for cake when I’ve got a babysitter on the clock at home.  Instead,  I went round the corner to the adorable Ganz Wien and had coffee on a silver tray and found the lopsided home-made Sacher Torte endearing.
Ganz Wien, KreuzbergSomething else is happening. The bubble tea shops are closing en masse, leaving plenty of well-appointed store fronts for rent. On Mehringdamm strasse a Japanese Kitchen named Cocoro has opened. I nipped in on that first sunny Sunday to grab coffees on the way to our maiden visit to Tempelhof Freiheit (I know! It’s taken me 3 years to visit!).Salad at CocoroI was dubious about the extensive menu of beverages on the wall. Listing everything from coffees, to matcha soya latte (€3.60 -had it, not for me) or that David Rio Chai brand I would sooner associate with the Balzac chain then someplace I might want to eat. I saw cakes from Nazuna, organic power bars from Foodloose and macarons from Makrönchen.  IMG_2081
I’m suspicious of too much choice. Often, the more choice there is, the poorer the quality is. This is true for fashion and for food.  But then I saw a copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss and that made me decide on the spot to have lunch there. Read more of this post

Companion Coffee, Coffee, Kreuzberg

Companian CoffeeWhen I saw the boys behind the bar at Companion Coffee I thought to myself, I know you two…  Aren’t you supposed to be wearing brown plaid shirts?  And taking away my sugar? Because of course Shawn and Chris used to work at The Barn (yes, that Barn).

I only know that their names are Shawn and Chris because of Mary Scherpe’s blog Stil in Berlin.  To me they were just: ‘the only guy in Berlin who does not (mercifully) have that hipster haircut’ and the other ‘one that wears a hat indoors’…who take my sugar away.Companion CoffeeActually I am not that fussed about the sugar but I’m about to oust myself from the coffee closet of shame by admitting this:

Two shots of espresso in my small cappuccino is too much for me.

I feel like it’s stripping the enamel clean off my teeth and my normally happy burbling stomach goes kind of quiet, like “what was that?” before conspiring with my other organs to keep me running to the toilet – diuretic indeed!  Companion Coffee Read more of this post

Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, Arte Sucre (Macarons) & More, Markthalle Neun, Kreuzberg

Big Stuff Smoked BBQSylee suggested we meet at Markthalle Neun on Saturday.  “I’m obsessed with the place!” she enthused.

It’s evolved considerably since my last visit.  The USP’s of the stands are distinct from one another and reel the Markthalle Neun consumer mercilessly hook, line and sinker.The pulled pork sandwich At Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, there is a line of hungry punters wrapped around the corrugated shack, as tinny Charleston music blares from speakers located somewhere behind the chicken wire that makes up a big part of the shop.  The Italian girl at the cashier is wearing a flat cap, her sweater sleeves are pushed to the elbows exposing a full arms worth of shirt sleeves – she looks like she should be hitching a ride on the back of a Ford Model T truck circa 1920.  I inch ever closer to the guy with the black latex gloves pulling pork apart for the sandwiches.

Sadly for me, Big Stuff has had a good day and they have sold out of everything except the pulled pork sandwich, so I miss out on the matt aluminum tray loaded with mounds of sauerkraut and squirts of bbq sauce (€12 for the regular, €16 for the large).  I get the pulled pork sandwich (€5.50) and a side of smoked potato (€1).  It’s good.  Not shredded to the point of resembling candy floss the way I experienced at Pitt Cue in London but delicious in a less complicated way.  My mother has her sandwich with a glass of ale from Heiden PetersA beer from HeidenpetersI appreciate that the brains behind Markethalle Neun have been considerate enough to provide ample seating, with feisty coloured plastic chairs so I don’t have to scan the hall long before finding somewhere to sit.Mini macarons from Arte SucreLayla choses to get her sugar fix from Arte Sucre in the form of mini macarons (heaven preserve us from trending sweets: whoopie pies, cake pops, marshmallows – I mean you!). As I try to identify and retrieve the perennial coffee flavoured one, the French woman selling them begins to rattle off flavours: lemon, cassis, chocolate, mandarin mint…

Mandarin with mint? I think, intrigued as I immediately commandeer that flavour and take half a bite.  The other half I hand to Sylee.  “These are good right?”.

Her eyes grow round. “Really good.” she agrees. I turn on my heel and return to Arte Sucre, this time to buy a pretty box of choux buns (6 for €7.80) to go with our excellent coffees from Kantine 9.

Choux pastry buns Read more of this post

WestBerlin, Coffee & Cakes, Kreuzberg

IMG_1314I got a big kick out of the post I wrote on The Barn because so many of you left comments.  I like when this blog generates a dialogue and I get a chance to exchange thoughts directly with some of you.

When I first came to Berlin in 2009.  The only place you could get a flat white was Bonanza Coffee.  Like The Barn today, they did away with any modesty and strutted around like they had invented coffee.  I remember being shamed when I asked for a decaf and I haven’t been back in 3 years.Coffee and CakeIt’s a very different landscape in Berlin these days.  There are plenty of great coffee places around.  They get coffee.  They have a slick machine.  Square Mile or Monmouth beans.  The baristas with the trendy hair cuts that waffle on to each other about the beans and the tiny nuances they are detecting.  And they are nice to you.  You don’t have to fiddle nervously at the bar, wondering if you are going to get the lingo right?  If they can smell the instant coffee you had 3 days ago when you were absolutely dying for some caffeine and your grinder was on the fritz (Really? You have a grinder? You’re such a coffee nerd.)

IMG_1313I mean – sometimes you just want a coffee?  Am I right?  A good cup of coffee, somewhere nice.  You don’t want to feel like you are being screened to join your local Scientology branch. Read more of this post

Horváth, Austrian / German, Kreuzberg

The former food critic of the New York Times, Frank Bruni, visited Berlin a while back.  He ate at Noto, Tim Raue, Horvàth and Hartmanns and then wrote an article: “Sorry to Disappoint, but I Ate Well in Berlin.”  (I suppose that ‘You’re right, it’s not great’ wouldn’t have been interesting enough to write-up.)  In the almost two years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen small improvements.  Still when I recently came back from a 3 day trip to London a couple of weeks ago and my husband texted me:

“I’m going to treat you for an early Valentine’s. (13 of Feb) Where do you want to go to dinner? Anywhere you want!  My treat.”  3 hours later I still hadn’t replied.

“Hello?! Did you get my message?!”  Came another text.

He walked in early at 7 asking “Hey – don’t you want to go out?”

“No! There is no where I want to eat in Berlin!” I wailed dramatically after which we settled for Hartweizen where, except for the enormous drawing of an Egon Schiele style entwined couple but with much more meat on their bones, there wasn’t much to report.Bruni is right, Berlin restaurants are taking great strides but my (trying for humble) opinion is that the improvements that are occurring are within the relatively safe niche of hearty Austrian / German cooking.  Which is precisely my problem with eating out here.  I don’t have memories of jolly knödel rolling off plates and pork knuckle so large you can’t see over the top of it.  I buy kohlrabi good-naturedly, only to find it weeks later, when I’ve used up all the other vegetables in the drawer, once erect fronds sagging sadly.  Then I google recipes, usually find a salad where it’s cut into matchsticks, make it, eat it and then return to google to find out nutritional value because surely there must be a more compelling reason than taste to eat this funny looking Brassica.  Stodge is not my friend, portions with no regard for where the plate ends and the rim begins have me reaching for a paper bag to hyperventilate in.

The kind of food I like to eat – small portioned, light, high quality seasonal fare, in a non fussy interior, preferably employing the no-reservation and better prices policy that has become popular the world over (see Nicholas Lander’s latest column in the FT for more on the subject) and therefore allowing me the freedom to indulge food urges at short notice – has yet to arrive in Berlin.I hadn’t come to that conclusion yet.  I was still rather thrilled by the former NYT food critic eating in Berlin and liking it!

I picked Horváth (having already eaten at Noto and Tim Raue and having deemed Hartmann’s a bit pricey ).  You can order a la carte at  Horváth but seem to be discouraged from doing so as main courses carry a surcharge of €5.  Alternatively, you can choose from a 3 course traditional menu for €40, a 4 course vegetarian menu for €46 lastly the ‘innovation’ menu 5 courses for €62 or 7 courses €76.  I find the menu’s architecture convoluted, I don’t necessarily like the combinations on the cheaper menu, it’s already 9pm and I can’t fathom making my way through the 5 course menu and paying a surcharge of €5 on what seem to already be healthy main course prices brings out my inner Ebenezer (although two of my companions who are not similarly disabled order the Pike-Perch / Zander and are charged €28.50 instead of €23.50) that only leaves the vegetarian. Read more of this post

Coledampf’s & Companies, Kitchen Accessories & Cafe, Kreuzberg

Coledampfs third store (this one with partners) in Berlin, is in Kreuzberg and it is incredible!  I’d heard about its imminent birth for some time but I just though “bah”.  I never imagined something of this retail magnitude was what they had in mind.  I would stick it up there with Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table.  A toned down European version of course because no one can compete (or tries to) with the volume, the ‘oh so shiny and new’ and bright displays that instantly convince you (me) that: Yes, you (me) absolutely must have the electric Zoku popsicle maker with accompanying book. (Even though the last time I ate a popsicle, I still had some of my milk teeth in.) of the American market. This Coledampf doesn’t have the variety that the Savignyplatz shop has, notably absent are plastics (spatulas, Tupperware, moulds).  Instead there is a stunning collection of de Buyer pots and pans; chefy tools, about 10 formats of conical strainers; glassware; dishes; German wines, from the 13 growing regions; a tower of Cynthia Barcomi’s aluminum bakeware; and books – 1 shelf of which is in English.There is a focus on craftmanship, environmental sustainability and regional goods.  As I understand it, Coledampf’s & Companies is a collaboration between the big, the good and the virtuous; bread from Beumer & Lutum; the culinary bookstore Kochlust; a range of edible products from Essbare Landschaften, I gathered that they are the ones that run the cooking school; something (opinion maybe?) from Garcon magazine.I don’t really need the partner credentials, it could be a collaboration between the 7 dwarfs and I would still love it.  The enormous space (500 sq ft), the large communal tables, the freedom to amble along slowly and peruse the contents of the shop without being verbally tackled by an exasperated sales person that wants to know if ‘you’re just wasting their time or what?!?!’.

But the best part?

You can order food.There is a cafe on the ground level and a warm food cafe upstairs.  From memory, the menu upstairs went something like this: a celeriac soup, a pan-fried salmon, a regional duck dish, a pear dessert. Entirely seasonal, with not a raspberry or asparagus spear insight to dilute credibility.  With dinner at Renger Patzsch not far off on the horizon of the evening.  I ordered a soup and a dessert.  The kitchen is open and has some super strength extraction because although the salmon was coming out with perfectly crispy skin, I couldn’t smell it being cooked.  The chefs plate up on the open pass, as professional as if it were the pass at Maze, then *ping* goes the little silver bell and the order is expedited to the table. (Mains are in the €12-€15 range but look to be worth every euro.) Read more of this post

Sale e Tabacchi, Italian, Mitte / Kreuzberg border

George Vernon Hudson, I don’t like you. So it’s 1898 and things are a bit dim, you don’t get enough daylight hours after work to pursue your entomological pursuits, I get it. But why, pray tell, are we still doing this? This being ‘daylight-saving-time’. I’m no scientist but my instincts tell me that if the days are getting shorter in the winter anyhow, perhaps if we are going to be screwing around with time, we should be doing it the other way around so that we add an hour of sunshine rather than subtract one? I don’t know, just and idea.My other big gripe with the lack of light is the murky yellow photos I will now be posting on the website. Speaking restaurants, I would hazard a guess that a good 70% of Berlin establishments are closed for lunch opening only at 6:30 for dinner. Meaning my pictures look like they were taken by a cusk eel, which is a misleading name because it’s not an eel but a fish which has been spotted some 8,000 meters below sea level, get it? Really deep underwater hence the dark pictures?! (David Lebovitz wrote a great guide to blogging, in it he quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald who said “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” Too late, silly is the fabric from which I was cut.).Back to the review. I’ve been to Sale e Tabacchi a few times, usually when friends suggest it as an eating spot. The only colour present in the front and back dining room is blue, the blue of the Sale e Tabacchi sign. There are no paintings, the large half orbed lights that line the walls and ceiling are so striking, I can’t imagine any art that would stand up to them. The waiters are all male, in floor length white aprons, they address everyone in Italian, and if you don’t order properly (Primo, Secondo and so on) they just hover over you, pen poised until you (I) succumb to the guilt and hastily add a dish.

For all that authenticity in decoration, waiter behavior and menu, I don’t like the food. I was trying to figure out why that is last week. As a table of 15, I had a good overview over what the dishes looked like (good) and everyone seemed to be enjoying them. I ordered 2 starters. Octopus with celery (€11.50), which was bland, the only highlight being the inspired addition of celery which I had never encountered before. Then I had the vitello tonnato (€10.50), which came straight from the fridge and whose puddle of tuna sauce was too reminiscent of something else. There were two slices of seedy lemon so mangled, they looked like they’d been fished out of a bin somewhere when the kitchen ran out of lemons (I’m sure that’s not the case but that was what the story their appearance told me).

Read more of this post

Kjosk, Mini Street Food Market, Kreuzberg

This was a Sugarhigh tip: a mini street food market in front of Kjosk.  Kjosk operates out of a white double-decker bus on a corner plot which used to be a garbage dump.  Presiding over the scene are graphic black and white depictions of hanging animals, 3 stories high, painted on the outside of the adjacent apartment building.

Entirely surreal and to me a so typical “only in Berlin” scenario.  Sure, big companies all over the world are trying to thrill us with pop ups, props and oddities of all sorts.  But this place felt uncontrived, authentically odd if you will.I read in this article in the New York Times that the Kjosk is the brainchild of Rosmarie Köckenberger and is simply a convenience store housed in a bus.  There are picnic tables, buckets of straggly plants, dirt – lots of it and a ping-pong table.

I didn’t expect much of the mini street food market.  I’ve been to a few of these Facebook food events this summer in Berlin and it’s usually not much more that a guy with a stack of Tupperware boxes serving food that has sat around for too long in the heat.  I’ve also been to the fancy ones, like Pret at Diner and have considered myself lucky to come back with my wallet even if the contents had been thoroughly emptied. Read more of this post

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