La Soupe Populaire, German Food, Prenzlauerberg


The Menu at La Soupe Populaire
Tim Raue’s newest venture is at the Bötzow Brewery.  Championing German food (yes – apparently it’s possible) in the original space of the former brewery.

Two of us sit perched up high on leggy metal work.  Surrounded by Futuring, an exhibition by Eva & Adele (who were described to me as Berlin’s answer to Gilbert and George when I asked Sylee what on earth was up with the bald couple in drag?)  The sharp acoustics of cutlery and voices in the cavernous space are offset by the rain coming down in a persistent rhythmic patter.

Futuring exhibitionAt lunch time on Saturday, there are 4 tables occupied besides our own.  The customers are all german, slim, elegant and wearing navy.  The men have either allowed themselves to go silver, all the more to set off their naturally tan (not sunbed or spray on) skin.  And the women have silky blond hair, the kind that can be washed in the morning  and suffer no ill effects when exposed to 24 hour downpours.

La Soupe PopulaireI want to invite the female Maitre D’ to the bathroom so I can bop her on the head and steal her outfit: blue peep toe wedges on top of which she wears skinny trousers with a blue flowered pattern that looks like it would be equally at home on fine bone china.The ladies toilet at Bötzow Brewery

I resist the urge and apply my attention to the business of ordering.  There is the Prawn Cocktail KaDeWe (€14) which comes with prawns bigger than my thumbs, the dressing enlivened by punchy Piment d’Espelette (a spice I own and love often).

Konigsberger KlopseFor the main course, two handsome Königsberger Klopse appear wearing crowns of fluffy crumbs, a third sphere made up of thinly sliced beetroot nestles at the top.  Besides being the most attractive plate of meatballs I’ve ever seen,the perfectly seasoned mash that comes with them and the sauce they are bathed in are utterly delicious.

My dish is rabbit liver with tiny pearl onions, dyed red from the vinegar they have stewed in and manifesting more as an unknown berry than an alium.

Amuse of white asparagus, pork fat and home baked breadGerman fare is hearty stuff, even in these delicate portions.  Especially as we started the meal off with a plate of pork fat (Schmaltz) in place of the more traditional butter.  And yet.  It’s all been good enough to prompt me into dessert.

Bee Sting Cake at La Soupe Populaire 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

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

Nazuna, Japanese Deli, Prenzlauerberg


Phew.

Excuse me as I breathe a very audible sigh of relief, that for once, a new place has opened that is not doing some variation of Alpine food, Swabian food or falafel.

I mean finally!

The Japanese Deli: Nazuna, is on Danzingerstrasse.  In a mint ice cream coloured building with speckled walls that make it look like it has perpetual goosebumps.  The tiled walls and floors of the former butcher’s shop have been kept intact with a new addition of a large bar, painted in a thin layer of matt white paint so that you can still see wood blemishes beneath.

Shuffling back and forth behind this space, with a brightly coloured scarf tied around her head, was Tsuki.

Everything in the glass cabinet was laid out with care, like they were of great value.  I ordered a large bento box (€7.50).  (I love bento boxes, they are like an advent calendar except you get to open it all at once. )  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.

Read more of this post

Brunch at Weltempfaenger

What  a mouthful!  I’m not talking about the actual breakfast, just the name of this trendy brunch place in Prenzlauerberg.  It means “world receiver” according to Babel Fish translation services.

We are lucky that we have one extremely “branche” friend here in Berlin (I am using the French colloquial here as our source hails from France).  When my hubby asked where we should go for brunch this morning I piped “How about Anna Blume, I have read about it in my guide books and on Slow Berlin.”  Our fashionable French friend had something else in mind…

We snagged an outside table at Weltempfaenger overlooking the Sunday flea market.  Where we could gawk at the people walking by.  And there was a lot to stare at, believe you me!  Prenzlauerberg is like an amalgamation of Notting Hill (for the cool set), Belsize Park (for the baby aspect) and something that is distinctly Berlin – a combination of ragged clothing, Rolexes and body tattoos. Read more of this post

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