Friedrichshain: Aunt Benny’s, Cafe; Kinkibox, sewing cafe; La Récréation, Ceramics; Hops & Barley, micro-brewery; Olivia, Chocolate & Cafe; Goldschmiede, jewellery

At this juncture, I would say that I know Mitte inside out; Prenzlauerberg very well; I am surprisingly well-informed on where to eat in Kreuzberg; Charlottenburg is pretty shaky; Schöneberg, vaguer still; Friedrichshain had been blank (with the exception of Cupcake which I visited only once); don’t even get me started on places like Wilmersdorf it might as well be a different city, in fact from what I hear - it kind of is.While the weather was ‘Fa la la la la, la, la, la, laaaaaa‘ glorious, I took out my new copy of Tip’s Speisekarte (in which I got a mention on a special they did on food bloggers - Yay!) and plotted out a few addresses to try out. Then I printed out the google map and off I went with a girlfriend to explore.Yes, I’m a geek of epic proportions. Something it’s taken me a long time to embrace but now that I have, you know what? Geeks have much more fun.Annoyingly, two of the places I had been looking forward to trying were closed on Tuesday (Factory Girl! and Melt) but Aunt Benny’s was open. It has a similar aesthetic to places like The Barn or Bäckerei from the Alpentstueck group, namely, black painted walls, designer bare bulbs, good staff / service. I was still full from tasting a lot of mediocre food along our tour (places I won’t name because they were unoriginal even in their shortcomings) but I couldn’t resist the chickpea and kidney bean salad with rocket in a large weck jar.At that point the tour was over and it had been disappointing. The extraordinary number of young Europeans on the streets told me that there was more to Friedrichshain. Layla nodded off in her pram which gave me ample time to follow my nose.

(Note to self: always rely on the nose!)

I turned up some truffles, not all culinary but you don’t mind if I go off brief every now and again?

First up: La Récréation, a ceramic workshop with dishes so pretty they made me think of pastel coloured, Pierre Hermé macaroons. I wanted to buy a set then and there and thankfully was impeded from doing so by a man who actually was buying an entire dinner set.

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Buchholz: Gusthof Britz, Refined Simple Food, Neukölln

UPDATE (OCT 10, 2011) I went back to Buchholz this weekend and found a few changes I wanted to share with you. The Bratwurst plate had changed from 1 large sausage to 2 small ones, that could have just been a supplier issue. More irksome was that the pear and chocolate dessert I had lauded so vehemently in my last post had been struck off, replaced instead by a very ordinary (in comparison to the pear dessert you understand) plum compote, topped with cream and crumble, in a glass. *yawn*

Mysterious things continued to happen when I went upstairs to visit the loo and found a door ajar, leading to a beautiful dining room with some beautiful books by Oscar Marti in the bookshelves and an entirely different menu from downstairs.  I scratched my head, returned to our downstairs table and instructed my husband to quiz the waiter.

“Where had the wonderful dessert gone?”
“It’s been taken off.”
“What’s upstairs?”
“A restaurant.”
“Is it a different menu from this one?”
“Yes.” (also about 30% to 40% more expensive upstairs)
“When is it open?”
“Thursday through Saturday.”

The conversation didn’t exactly flow. But what I surmise from that is that there are two distinct restaurants: a more upscale and pricey one on the first floor and a simple, rustic, cheaper one on the ground floor. You may find some gems in the rustic ones or you might not. It’s slightly frustrating, especially that I was so enthusiastic about my first experience there and am feeling considerably subdued after my second visit.

I feel the two places need to be more clearly delineated, nothing worse than a confused brand. Maybe they aren’t clear themselves what they are going for. I still like it enough to keep an eye on it.
So will go ahead and report any further changes back here.
After just one visit, Buchholz’s Gusthof Britz hurtles to a prominent position on my ‘Berlin: Favourites’ page.Mainly because it’s the closest approximation to the British gastropub I’ve found here (albeit the German version of one). Unexpected, because it seems to me, most chefs cooking at this level are chasing the golden ladle at the end of the rainbow, they want the big dining room and the blockbuster menus. (I think two notable exceptions to this are restaurant ETA Hoffmann and Renger Patzsch.)

In an admirable act of restraint, the menu lists only 9 dishes, 3 each of starters, main courses and desserts (I read online somewhere that the menus will change often). I sidestepped the starters because I was going to a special El Celler de Can Roca evening at Aqua; I didn’t want to run up the bill; but also because, in this city, starters can often resemble main courses, I imagined the celeriac soup would be served in a bucket, that the veal roll would be the size of Layla’s thighs. Undeterred by portion sizes and un-hampered by future dinner reservations, my husband ordered the veal (€14) and it turned out to be a perfectly manageable 6 slices, with firm lentils - delicious.

We were lucky with the weather and were able to eat in the gorgeous courtyard, with gravel scrunching under foot and a pert box hedge dividing the space into 4 rectangles, the chairs set on red herringbone flagstones. The tables were set simply with green disposable table mats, potted flowers in the middle and a handful of chestnuts scattered on each table: which I found to be a pretty, almost feminine approach, something I would expect to find if I went round to a friend’s house for lunch. I ordered the bratwurst with potato puree and sauerkraut (€7.50) it came with a side dish of pungent mustard. Hrabi had the talioligni with rocket pesto, I appreciated the inclusion of oven dried tomato and the bright runny pesto but that pasta shape is not a favourite, there are often pockets of raw dough at the twists and simultaneously overcooked extremities. (I should mention that a friend went the next day and had the crispy pork with potato cucumber salad and found it to be on the dry side).

I am not knocking it down, just trying to give you and indication of where to set your expectations so you can love it as much as I did. I’m planning to go back every weekend that the weather allows us to sit outside (I’m hoping there will be heat lamps in the subsequent cooler autumn months?).

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Vern Summer Festival, Outside Berlin

Sylee and I went to the Vern summer festival this saturday.

We won the lottery on the weather, it was sunny the entire day, with fat fluffy clouds gliding lazily against the back drop of endless blue sky.

We stopped by the Brodowin farm to see some cows, get an ice cream and soak in the country side. We gushed and cooed over how beautiful the country side is and mentally I chided myself for not going into it more.Calling it the Vern summer festival made me imagine an entirely different event. Homemade jams being hawked, open expanses with bales of hay, maybe some music, certainly some flags. I think I am guilty of watching too many American films and reading too many lifestyle magazines. The Vern festival was very modest. A stall each for honey, smoked fish, tomatoes, eggs, potted flowers and potatoes. Proper country folk, with sensibly short haircuts for men and women.

The garden is tiny but grows a wide variety of heirloom plants. That’s what Vern is all about, preserving these varieties.

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