Chicago Williams, BBQ, Mitte

Chicago WIlliamsWhile I would argue that America’s soft power has taken some considerable hits over the last decade, its food culture is thriving abroad.  It crops up in the most unlikely places- like on Hannoversche Strasse.  A street that even a die-hard Mitte resident will struggle to locate.  There on the former site of BarCelona next to the cutsie Maialino is Chicago Williams.

Its walls are bare brick.  There are meat hooks to hang your coat on.  And a giant Beelonia smoker, hunched against the back wall like some sort of dormant beast.  Behind it,  “Don’t mess with the chef!”  is spray painted onto the wall.  (Because you might end up in the smoker?).

You place your order at the bar.  There is a wonky shelf, affixed at such an angle that the carefully stacked ceramic beer mugs seem sure to slide off with a crash.  There is a lot of humor in that shelf.   2 slushie machines whir and churn like fat hula dancers promising perfectly icy Margaritas.   When I try to order a diet coke for my husband I am told that it’s bad for you and they don’t serve it but would I like an Africola instead?
“What? And a platter of smoked meat is good for you?” I quip.
“It’s good for your heart.” Comes the answer. Read more of this post

Du Bonheur, Patisserie, Mitte

Canele from Du BonheurFew sweet pastries have the ability to dispense with my good grasp of self-control – except for Canelés.  The outside made up of a maximum caramelized, crunchy, sticky surface.  And the inside, solid custard, flecked with black vanilla seeds, yielding.  It’s a creme caramel you can hold in your hand, improved by texture, beveled edges, sharp ridges – pockets of bliss.

Not that I had to battle with lost self-control since the last Canelé I ate was at Dabbous, almost a year ago (post here).Du BonheurExcept, there is this new place that opened up on Brunnenstraβe.  With a striking fuchsia pink awning and tea roses on the tables.  There is an exposed brick wall, rough and dusty  which sets off the slick white counter with glass thick enough to safely display diamonds.  Within the cabinet are elaborate cakes, striking enough that they look like large fancy brooches more than anything edible. Read more of this post

District Môt, Saigon Street Food, Mitte

District MotSo District Môt.  On the former site of Chi Sing and from the people who brought us Si An Trà Café and Chén Chè Tea House.  The design is like being whacked in the face with a bag of obvious.  District Mot

It’s street food – so the whole place is meant to emulate that.  I’ve eaten street food in Vietnam and the experience is really not complete without the stench of Durian, a table of expired canines piled high with an oblivious boisterous puppy frolicking happily next to it (which makes me think the Universe is not a nice guy).  Oh and your eyelids should be stuck firmly open with sweat, so that to blink means to exert super human power.  For good measure, there should be a street urchin circling around you trying to sell you a) a bottle of tap water, its seal deceptively but meticulously glued back together, b) what looks like the Rough Guide but inside contains blank pages (actually fell for this), c) a tour.District Mot

You’re not going to get authentic and that’s fine.  If you can still get good.

But can you?

There were some dishes I liked at Chi Sing.  Enough that I took some friends from London the winter before last.  But the food was bland at best and plain old bad in other cases.  And the service was obnoxious.  That’s how it was with Chi Sing, I never knew which side of the coin I was going to get.

What to expect with District Mot?  More of the same I believe.

Mango saladI went for lunch, ordered three small dishes (€4 each).  The green mango salad was in fact ripe mango salad with what looked like Mickey Mouse ears, delicious all the same – although fish sauce and lime juice could probably make styrofoam taste good. Read more of this post

Mogg & Melzer, Delicatessen, Mitte

The hallway outside Mogg & MelzerI once attended a wedding where I was thoughtfully placed next to another woman with whom I had a lot in common. The two of us should have had a convivial evening. Instead we were like two positively charged magnets, repelling each other no matter how hard we  tried.

Equally confounding was my experience with Mogg & Melzer. A delicatessen in a former Jewish girls school, the hallway dressed in emerald-green tiles that go positively Wizard of Oz in hue when they catch the sun.  A place that serves a chicken liver creme brûlée.  What’s not to love?The space at Mogg & MelzerExcept I found the pastrami sandwich dry and didn’t touch the bland coleslaw.  The volume of the music was better suited to “I’m home alone packing up the flat” than a public space where people were trying to socialize.

That was 3 months ago.  I went back again this week.  And although I was irked that the solitary waitress was asking about my drink order before I had even taken off my coat (for the rest of the meal she would be mostly MIA) the two women in the corner were sharing a shakshuka that appeared to be delicious.Caesar salad, Mogg & MelzerThe menu reads really well.  I was torn between the golden beet & goats cheese salad (€6.50) and the Balsamic lentils, baked Crottin de Chavignol & wild herbs (€11).  (I’ll readily admit that when I read the descriptions, I imagined La Fromagerie calibre salads.) The menu at Mogg & MelzerI went for the lentils with the crottin. I received a plate with a stingy ladleful of lentils, doused in too much balsamic vinegar served on a papadum (?) . The wild herbs turned out to be a few leaves of bagged salad so generic they hardly needed a special mention on the menu. I forgot the lentils came with a crottin until I started to prod what looked like a mummified egg yolk perched on top.Lentils with goats cheese
That was the crottin? This crottin? And if it was the famous Crottin de Chavignol of the Loire Valley, how had its mottled exterior turned smooth and why exactly was it orange – instead of white or even white with blue?

Can I chalk up my lukewarm experience to a dud dish? Read more of this post

Galeries Lafayette, Food Hall, Mitte

My husband gave me a Nike Fuel band as a gift.  It stayed in the box for about two weeks.

All I could think of when I saw it was: Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart dumbstruck that anyone would willingly don a shackle that monitors their movement, when she had to forcibly endure a home incarceration bracelet.  Martha Stewart whose business lost $50.7 million against revenues of $43.5 million in the 3rd quarter of 2012 and still felt upbeat enough to take the FT’s reporter along to check out ABC for inspiration on what to do with twigs. (I want whatever anxiety suppressing drugs she’s on!)

When it became obvious I wasn’t going to do it, my husband took it out of the box and loaded it onto my computer.Nike Fuel Band“See you can Twitter it and Facebook it.  You can even see what your friends are doing!”  I was going to explain to him that my friends are not 17-year-old girls and they would probably appreciate something that kept count of how many diapers they’ve changed or noses they’ve wiped and which counts down days since last pedicure, but I didn’t have the heart to deflate his considerable bubble.IMG_3843I’ve been wearing it regardless because around 10 o’clock in the morning, I press the white button and it says G*O*A*L and the letters do somersaults to a line of reggae colours at the top.  That is the why this bracelet will succeed, not because it motivates you to exercise but because it gives the wearer compliments.

Vanilla eclaireI wore it to Galeries Lafayette yesterday to buy Layla her weekly eclaire. She believes that their food hall makes the most sublime eclaires. I think they make damn good ones for Berlin, my favourite is coffee and hers is chocolate.  Yesterday the lady at the patisserie took a liking to her and gave her a chocolate macaron.

I’ve never written about the food hall here.  It’s small, but I love that by focusing on France, it makes sense.  You know what to expect.  Cheese, of course.  A good butchers, expensive but if you are clever, you can pick up some chipolatas or Merguez sausages and liven up a pot of lentils because sometimes (often) I just need a break from all the wursts.  The chiller cabinets stock things like thinly grated carrots with some raisins and a few parsley leaves masquerading as salad. Or expensive pots of yogurts or puddings.IMG_3842 Read more of this post

The Barn – Roastery, Mitte

The Roastery
I was sitting inside the child friendly Ginger and White in London when I read that Ralf Rüller had banned prams in his coffee shop. “Big deal!” I thought and soon tweeted – it’s not like prams fit in the teeny tiny Augustrasse shop. Only much later, while I sat with a group of bristling mothers, did I understand that there was a new bigger shop, The Roastery and that it also did not allow prams. Nor did they let you use their toilet, allow dogs, provide sugar, use soya milk and if you wanted to use your computer – you had to wait in line for the one table where it was allowed.IMG_1275

“Do you know that they deleted all the negative comments off their Facebook page?” one said “I mean if you are going to do social media, then you have to do social media!”

A big no!Even more confounding was the chosen location; the Mitte end of Schönhauser Allee – the other end of which is Prenzlauerberg.  Prenzlauerberg.  As in the bastion of designer babies and prams.  The styling of the babies and The Barn is nearly identical with a preference for wood (Prenzlauerberg babies don’t play with plastic), clothing in muted hues, even for the girls (especially for the girls) and no sugar allowed (The Barn because it thinks that  sugar would ruin a perfectly balanced coffee and the parents because they are trying to channel Gwenyth Paltrow).  Not allowing prams in that part of town  is like banning gambling in Las Vegas: absurd.

I set out for a weekend coffee in my SUV (3 kids people, need a big car) with Layla in the back so as to avoid the “what to do with the pram” conundrum.

There housed in a now defunct pharmacy was an extremely large coffee shop. I could have easily driven the Lexus up to the counter and placed my order without making a significant dent in the enormous space. Clearly the pram ban is not a space issue.

The set up is meticulous. The milking stools are lined up straight, with their legs crossed in a way that makes me think of how women used to be taught to cross their ankles demurely in finishing schools.  There is a young man exerting tremendous concentration over each cup of coffee.  He seems to be weighing every loaded portafiler then scooping out minute quantities of ground beans.  I have a lot of time to observe all of this because perfection takes a while.

IMG_1284At some point, a customer returning his empty cup drops a balled up paper napkin onto the floor, Rüller, who is operating the roaster, hones in on it immediately. He can’t leave the roaster (I know this because he’s already warned me in an overly weary tone that I must mind my child and that should she trespass into the space he will not be responsible because his first priority is the beans) but I can feel his irritation.

It lays there for maybe 5 minutes, all the while Rüller is shooting it harried glances. Until finally he catches the eye of one of his cowgirls, holds it, then casts his eyes down to the ground. She bends and covertly scoops it up. Read more of this post

Wiener Brot, Bakery, Mitte

Wiener BrotOn Tucholskystrasse, there is a little brown fox with what looks like a button mushroom (but is more likely a chef’s hat on one ear) surreptitiously climbing up the shop front of Wiener Brot. Inside the shop there is a shelf into which loaves of bread are filed vertically. Large red swirly lamps that look like thick brushstrokes hang from the ceiling.  A colour picked up in the lipstick and cat’s eye glasses of the buxom woman behind the counter.

On the back shelves are jars of Berliner Honig (a perfect Berlin themed stocking filler) and Berliner Bären Gold.  Then I spot a hoard of Sarah Wiener books.

“Is this a Sarah Wiener shop?” I ask the shop assistant
“Yes.” She beams back.
Oh.” I think flatly.

I had high expectations for another Sarah Wiener place Das Speisezimmer and although the design of the place was nice, the food was less than lacklustre.  Still that was over a year ago and I had only eaten there once.  I could be wrong about Sarah Wiener.

Except I’m not. Read more of this post

OSLO kaffe bar, Coffee, Mitte

I was picking my way through the wreck that is Chausseestrasse, trying to get to Bondi Cafe. Two women walked passed me, lovingly cradling white paper coffee cups with what looked like the word “Oslo” stamped on them.

There was a lot of love in that embrace between woman and cup.  As I turned the corner onto Eichendorffstrasse, there it was: OSLO kaffe bar.  The styling of the cafe vaguely reminded me of Nordic Bakery in London but when I stepped inside there was no food bar a heel of dried up loaf cake.

“Do you sell food in here?” I asked “Like croissants or cake?”
“We used to have croissants.” the barista replied “but our focus is coffee.”

I looked at the black board behind her and tried to work out what I wanted. Instead of Lattes and Cappuccinos, there were ratios 1:0, 1:1, 1:2, 1:3 indicating the ratio of espresso to milk.  I order the 1:2 single origin Ethiopian coffee for €2.90 (the blend is €2.60).

I was told to expect a strong blueberry aroma.  A comment which brought to mind my wine diploma, when a red wine might be described as having tobacco and leather notes.  Attributes I could find no trace of when tasting the wine.  Looking at my classmates, they would all be vigorously agreeing with the pronouncement while I scratched my head in wonder.

Read more of this post

Business Lunch at The Ritz & The Hyatt, Potsdamer Platz

There is one thing you can say about hotel eating: it’s consistent.  Which is like hearing the person you’ve been set up on a blind date with is ‘nice’.  At least in hotels, the concept of service exists (that at the Ritz far exceeds that at the Hyatt – more later) and the lunch prices are a steal!

At Mesa the 3 course lunch is  €15. The portions are petite, especially by Berlin standards. At the Ritz  lunch is €14 for the special, a non-alchoholic drink and coffee.  It’s less food, with my portion of Quiche Lorraine, pivoted in such a way as to visually occupy maximum space on a busy plate and a fluffed up bit of herb salad (quite nice it was too) and some creme fraiche piped onto the plate in a fat braid.

Mesa does German food ‘family style’. I know the last bit because my father and I were stumped when the waitress kept putting all our food beyond our reach on the left side of the table. I figured there must be some reason to the contrived plate handling, so I looked it up on their website and there it was: “German dishes served family-style in the middle of the table”.

Even the small serving of pumpkin soup.

It’s an amusing illustration of how things are often followed to the l-e-t-t-e-r here, even though sometimes it might not make much sense to do it exactly the way you’ve been told.  But deviation is not common.

Neither are smiles. The women serving us are pretty, trim blondes with their hair neatly bound and their cheeks rouged but in the two hours that we sit there, not one of them smiles maybe that doesn’t come with the lunch deal? Maybe you have to go for the more expensive dinner if you want a smile? Read more of this post

Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle, Mozzarella Bar & Bottega, Mitte

Al contadino sotto le stelleWe are finally back!

Next time I decide to move to London temporarily while 7 months pregnant with twins, have them there and then move back to Berlin – slap me will you?

But we’re here.  And just in time to catch the tail end of a glorious autumn before Berlin descends into the numbing gloom that is winter.IMG_3632

Layla started nursery on Wednesday and I paced and fretted my way around her school in case the teachers called me to come collect her.  She took it better than I did.  Except for the part where she has to have lunch and the food they serve is not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  She just stared at her vegetable soup, horrified.  A helpful little boy told her that if she didn’t eat all her food, she wouldn’t be allowed to have any fruit for dessert.  Which prompted her to shoot me a perplexed look that said “If fruit is dessert, what do they do for fun here? Self-harm?”IMG_3628

Hovering in the general environs of her school allowed me to poke my head into Mogg & Melzer, have a couple of silky coffees at The Barn and try the new Mozzarella Bar on Auguststrasse (it opened in June).

Food occupiers of August strasse tend to be trendy and overly self-aware design wise.  Much like the folk that mince around in tight trousers and tiny coats even though it’s freezing outside because “Hey – I look good in it.”  Sotto Le Stelle is more grandma but you know, grandma does new, like maybe she tries out a new shade of purple hair dye.  When I walk in, Italian rock music is blaring.  Al contadino sotto le stelle Read more of this post


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