Cuines Santa Caterina, Mostly Spanish with some Asian, Barri Gòtic

Cuines Santa CaterinaMy friend Giulia and her family were in town a couple of weeks back.  I whizzed them through some of the best streets in Barcelona, with a snack in mind for practically every street.  Regardless, when it was lunch time, we were all famished.  I quickly decided on our spot – a quick tour beneath the stunning undulating roof of Santa Caterina Market and then we would grab a table at Cuines Santa Caterina (From the Tragaluz group).IMG_5980 Read more of this post

Pakta, Nikkei Cuisine, Poble Sec

PaktaMy two favourite Japanese restaurants in London are Dinings and Yashin (in that order).  Both are generous with the citrus and easy on the soy.   I know that the executive chef at Dinings (Masaki Sugisaki ) worked at Nobu and that Nobu Matsuhisa was heavily influenced by Nikkei cuisine (a symbiosis of Japanese and Peruvian food).  So it is with very high expectations that I walk into Pakta on a sunny Saturday afternoon.    That and it’s taken me over a month (as usual) to get a table at this Adria brothers spot (no it’s not your imagination, they do seem to own every restaurant worth going to in Barcelona).  
The starterThere are two prix fix menus to choose from: the Fujiyama (€90 VAT included) and the Machu Picchu (€120 VAT included).  We opt for the latter and begin with the Honzen Ryori.  Which is an elaborately arranged tray of 5 small dishes the like of ‘Avocado tofu with sea urchin, yuzu and wasabi’ and ‘sweet corn cream with caviar’.  There are different spoons for different dishes and an order in which the 5 dishes should be eaten.  There are so many instructions to follow that our server uses a baton to point to the dishes as she explains what’s what, what’s first and with what – oh and don’t eat the tuft of leaves which is just a tuft of leaves. Read more of this post

Caravelle, Coffee and Food, Raval

CaravelleIs it the lack of Australians or the lack of hipsters in Barcelona that can explain away the absence of 3rd wave coffee? Because samples from both these groups are present in Caravelle, the second best place to get a coffee in Barcelona after Cafe El Magnifico. They use a La Marzocco machine and source their coffee from a small roastery called Right Side (girls – I think you should click on their link just to get an eyeful of coffee-taster/roaster-in-lilac-shirt.)  Their flat white is the real deal while their version of a cappuccino is made with rather more milk then I like (same like the flat white in fact but with only one shot of espresso) and comes with a sprinkling of cocoa powder.  

Coffee at Caravelle Read more of this post

Adlon Kempinski, Breakfast, Mitte

The adventurous spirit I have with regards to eating leaves the building when it comes to hotels.  I would rather stay in a Marriott with its floral prints and its thick carpet than in some designer led incarnation where it is easier to locate the bathtub than the bed (remember my experience at the Delano in Miami?).  Over the last few years I have stayed in the Adlon a couple of times.  None of the rooms had a ‘view’ (I am not sure that crowds of tourists lining up for a Starbucks coffee constitutes a view even if it is set off by the Brandenburg gate) but that in no way hampers the room layout –  quietly brilliant in their clever use of space and deliverance of comfort (for example Mühldorfer bedding also used in the 7 star Burj Al Arab).The buffet breakfast is another perk.  Table after table, stacked high and deep  with neat lines of cold cuts and cheeses.  A dozen glass carafes filled with juices.  A wall of bread.  An army of jars, lids off, sitting on a paper doily – spoons at the ready with tiny little dishes for spooning dainty quantities into stacked off to the side.  A whole human being to make you eggs, any way you like.  Triangles of watermelon, bowls of segmented grapefruits and oranges (some poor hotel school student probably got carpel tunnel doing those).  Let’s say you find nothing you fancy in that room of food, you can always order ‘a la carte’, eggs benedict say or a white tureen with two bloated weisswurst floating in a sea of finely minced chives.I start off with fruit and a mixture of yogurt and one of the four kinds of bircher muesli, move on to eggs with some cold cuts on the side before I have to concede defeat and fight the urge to get horizontal and groan.

Last Sunday, my father was visiting Berlin and  he invited us to have breakfast with him.  I packed in as much food as my compromised stomach could manage but instead of saying ‘uncle’ and going for a lie down, I left that table and went to another breakfast.  Hosted by Marguerite’s on her blue polka-dotted oilcloth tablecloth.  Luisa made apple scones from a Martha Stewart Recipe.  I spooned on Sylee’s delightful strawberry jam with strawberries she had picked the weekend before in Vierfelderhof and drank too much coffee from the French press. 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

Carmens Restaurant, Regional Food, Eichwalde

Where I live in Mitte, it’s all concrete, grit and black snow, I was hankering after something different – probably spring but I was willing to settle for a foray outside Berlin.  And not Potsdam.  (Heaven preserve us from overly sweet hot chocolate and towering ‘kuchen’).  My husband, having grown up in a suburb, within a suburb, within a suburb, in other words 3 houses clustered together or where the fox says goodnight to the owl – has an acute fear of anywhere without a Starbucks.  Not that he has a thing for Starbucks per se but you need a certain population density for a crowned green mermaid to take over a coffee shop near you.  I on the other hand grew up in Athens, up in the mountains.  From the age of 5, I could walk out by myself and get a Snickers bar from the kiosk to sustain me on my 5 minute amble to the video store.  So I want a garden and he dreams of living in a hotel, where the ketchup and shampoo is miniature and sealed.Predictably, I started cooing over all the tree houses I saw in the large gardens.  “Imagine how much fun children must have out here!’  He got tense and started driving faster, presumably reasoning that the faster we got there, the faster we could get out again.  “And how did you hear about this place again?” he asked.  “Someone I follow tweeted me the recommendation.”  “You and twitter.” he mumbled.  (See “I Tweet, Therefore I Am” in the NY Times)Carmens is about an hour outside Berlin.  It is, as my husband’s rigid body language testified, very rural.  A former butcher’s is now home to a restaurant specializing in regional cuisine.  The Michelin guide lists it under best value and charming restaurants.  We walk in, Hrabi carrying Layla, Layla carrying an armful worth of Disney characters, a Muller yogurt and a plastic spoon. A roomful of older people, stop eating, cutlery poised mid-air and breathe a sigh of relief when we are discretely shown a table on its own by the window.  Not a place that welcomes children then.  The feeling I got is that Carmens is a place that families (with older children) go for special occasions and where they eat food like they used to find in an interior that would go well with the outfits in Debbie Gibson’s 1989 video Electric Youth.  Remember that time? The chairs are metal and painted in matt black paint, circular metal cabinets with glass shelves hold rows of glasses.  The carpet is blue, the tablecloths are yellow.  It has been a long time since the place was updated.

The food was similarly nostalgic.  The components of the salad that came with my fish were all peeled.  Everything; green peppers, tomatoes (deseeded), cucumbers (deseeded).  The fish had been wrapped in an intricate confetti of potato and fried in butter.  Fried in butter was the theme of the our main courses, it was wafting out every time the kitchen door swung open.    Hrabi’s schnitzel had been similarly bathed in butter, the potato salad came with the superfluous addition of mushrooms.   Read more of this post

3 Minutes sur Mer!, French Food, Mitte

*Update (March 2012) 3 Minutes sur Mer now have a lunch menu.  

3 Minutes sur Mer!

Exclamation point indeed.

Ask and certain people will tell you.  Berlin isn’t ready for pricey restaurants.  That is why so many places open up only to close.  The market is just not here yet.  Give ‘em cheap and give ‘em lots.


Exclamation point.I made a lunch date at 1:30 with a girlfriend.  “Should I call ahead to make a reservation.” she asked.  ‘Who needs a reservation for lunch in Berlin? On Torstrasse? On a Wednesday?  Even for an offshoot of Bandol Sur Mer, bound to be popular.’  That was my thinking at least.  Flawed thinking I soon came to realize, as I huffed and puffed my way up Torstrasse in my two pairs of trousers, 4 shirts, 1 fleece and 1 coat and a cashmere pashmina wrapped around my waist to combat the devastation this arctic weather is wreaking on my lower back (Born in Kuwait people – which by the way – is where you will find me if this cold doesn’t let up.).The place was throbbing with custom.  Screen away the surrounding buildings and 3 Minutes could have been off the Seven Dials in London or in the Latin Quarter in Paris.  Blockbuster cities with a fair number of wealthy inhabitants.  I snagged the only table just in time. Read more of this post


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