Phoebe in Berlin, Chinese Supper Club, Friedrichshain

Expectations are a funny thing. Honed over years of living to have the smallest margin of error possible. People rely on preconceived expectations to a greater or smaller degree, depending. I rely on them a lot, have become adept at gathering information and vetting the personalities who may have offered me the tip to come up with as accurate a picture as possible.Consequently, I am not often surprised. Or let’s put it this way, I am rarely positively surprised.

Caroline and Tobias of the Thyme Supper Club recommended Phoebe in Berlin’s. Their words “It’s something different. She’s a professional chef, not an enthusiastic amateur. She does French food and Chinese. The Chinese is special, not like any Chinese food we’ve ever eaten before.”It wasn’t.

It took a couple of months, a flurry of emails and one cancellation for enough people to be interested to make the Chinese themed evening viable. Good things are worth waiting for and the shifting date meant that I didn’t go into overdrive imagining what it must be like. In fact when the email finally came: “Hallo! Happy to see you! Tomorrow night 7:30” it caught me totally off guard, I didn’t even know if my husband was in town to watch Layla.We were asked to leave our boots at the door and invited to help ourselves to a pair of slippers from an overflowing wicker basket (love that, stealing that! I too make people take off their shoes but I don’t provide any slippers).Phoebe is from Taiwan, where she ran a successful French restaurant (Louis XIV) for over 10 years. Her apartment is large, bright and Ikea free with plenty of unfamiliar decorative pieces that give the place an Asian flair. Not Asian like you or I could achieve, trawling the shops around here, more like bits and pieces you might find in a Mandarin Oriental in Taiwan.Phoebe struts decisively in knee-high black boots with waist length hair and an awesome air of authority. I have an odd thought, primal in nature: ‘if we went into battle, I would follow Phoebe’ – which is weird really, because normally I would expect people to follow me into battle. All these thoughts tumble into my consciousness in the hallway, in a matter of seconds.Phoebe has already left us to speak to the journalist that is doing a piece on her supper club for a Norwegian publication. She is showing them ingredients that will feature in tonight’s meal. She speaks quickly, gesturing a lot, often hard to understand. Even though I am speaking to other guests, I catch snippets of what she is saying “this is like lychee, we dry it…this is a special pepper…good for skin, gets rid of water.”I had been expecting a nice Chinese meal but this sounds medicinal, mystical.

When the rest of the guests arrive, we are invited to start with the canapés. Peeled tomatoes in vinegar, to get the appetite going we are told. Deep fried green olives in a Parmesan and wasabi crust. Ricotta and soy panna cotta with a sprinkling of cracked pepper in a pool of vivid grassy olive oil. Read more of this post

Peking Ente, Chinese Food, Mitte

Chinese restaurant = chopsticks - right?

Well not necessarily.

Go the cheap Chinese take away route and you get plenty of them.  Even if the only vaguely Chinese thing about the food is a splash of soy sauce and bean sprouts. Visit one of the hipster pan asian restaurants instead (Kuchi, Dudu or Transit, say) and you are free to help yourself to the chopsticks huddled in a pot on the table.  Actual Chinese restaurant, where the titles of the dishes don’t read like a possible contender for the name of the next Kung Fu Panda, not a chopstick in sight.  Nor any dinky miniature bowls which you can bring up to your mouth to snarfle up that rice with minimum droppage.  You get a flat plate so that your piping hot food is arctic and congealed within a matter of minutes.

Chinese food eaten off the tines of a metal fork isn’t the same.  In the same way that Arabic food eaten with cutlery is just wrong (and no you don’t stick your fingers in your mouth and then in the food, you use flat bread as a scooping device and put that into your mouth or else use the flatbread as an edible handkerchief to remove big pieces of food).  Dealing with Chinese food in Berlin, the lack of chopsticks is almost besides the point.  It just doesn’t taste like Chinese food.  Or rather, the Westernized version of Chinese food that I’ve become accustomed to over 13 years of living in London.  It mostly tastes like something that would come out of a jar, overly sweet, too much cornflour.  I almost hear the thwak of the suction going as they open the jar, the bloop bloop bloop as the gloopy contents spill out into the pan.  I can’t.  Seriously? Just can’t.  Not worth it, just hand over the sausage and the bratkartoffeln and leave me to my memories.Still, I break down because  I need Chinese food even more than I need Arabic food (although someone please tell me where I can get some good humus and labneh around here? Turkish supermarkets don’t seem to carry it.  Are there no Arabs in Berlin?).

Peking Ente was recommended to me by a friend from Hong Kong, the same one that took me Tian Fu.  And I’ve been there about 5 times now.  I even celebrated my birthday there.  I wanted somewhere laid back and Chinese food is so congenial and promotive to good times and easy laughs.  But also, I wanted to know what they thought.  Because having been here a year, I wasn’t at all sure whether Peking Ente had become my regular weekend haunt out of desperation or because it’s good. Read more of this post

Ming Dynastie, Chinese Food, Charlottenburg

Here is the thing, I hardly ever get sick. All winter long, everyone sniffles around me and I bustle around them making them tea . But two days ago, I caught a cold.
“You sick?” My husband enquired, smirking a little.
“No! It’s just a cold, it will be gone by tomorrow.” Ha! I was up all night that night and the next because I couldn’t breathe through my nose. If I did fall asleep, my exaggerated loud snoring would wake me up just as I began to drop off.

Yesterday I had a plan. I was going to annihilate this cold with a coup de force of spicy food. Ming Dynastie (specializing in Szechuan food) was the place to go according to numerous sources.  We parked our car on Marburger strasse.
“There it is!”  My husband pointed.
“No, that’s Ming’s Garden, the place we are looking for is called Ming Dynastie. I think it’s in that shopping mall.”
“Really? Because this place looks good. Look at all the Chinese people in there.”

And he was right, through the carved wooden partitions we could see a dozen large families, twirling lazy Susans, chopsticks swooping deftly in and out. We reluctantly left and went into the Europa Centre.  I groaned audibly when I saw the sign for all you can eat buffet for €12.80.  I am just not the target market for that kind of promotion. I am similarly not enticed by the multitude of 50% off sushi signs I see everywhere in the same way I wouldn’t be excited if I saw a dentist advertising ‘pay for one tooth extraction, get two free!’   Read more of this post

Restaurant Tim Raue, Kreuzberg

I understand now why I thought that Uma at the Adlon, Kempinski was a bit average (see what I thought of it here).  Because when Tim Raue left to open his own place, he took all the kitchen staff bar two. And most of the front of house. And the guest data base (making an educated guess here). And most importantly, himself.

The new place, behind checkpoint Charlie and across the street from trendy Sale e Tabacchi is technically Kreuzberg but feels like Mitte.  The interior looked cold and sober in the images I saw on the internet, like a Swedish airport business lounge from the 50′s.  In reality, the felt fabric on the swivel chairs and banquette, the warm hued American walnut tables and the soft lighting all make it comfortable, elegant and contemporary.

It’s a large restaurant, I would guess 200 sqm, but it doesn’t feel cavernous.  The furniture language changes ever so slightly as you move around, breaking up the linear monotony.  It was a far cry from the very “Asian” feel of Uma which feels almost Disneyfied.  As you go down the stairs to the bar and toilettes, there is a wall crammed full of chinese type porcelain and the women’s toilet has a bright red laquer table and Yue Minjun paintings (pricey paintings these, his piece Execution became the most expensive work ever by a Chinese contemporary artist, when sold in 2007 for £2.9 million).*

The  kitchen is huge, with glass fronted fridges, visible through a large glass window from the Krug table.  The restaurant recommends it for parties of 4 or more and there is no extra fee levied for sitting there.

I liked the choice of waiting staff (apparently the domain of Raue’s wife).  They are all real people, no waifish vacuous aspiring actresses, models or singers here, thank god!  Great attention to detail, young, attentive but not intrusive.  Our dinner companions were delayed flying in from Vienna, so we killed an hour chatting with our waiter and filling up on Berlin restaurant gossip and the pickled vegetables, spiced nuts, and sesame dressed field lettuce salad.  I was struck by how much they adore their head chef, I had the impression that they would walk into a burning building if Raue asked them to. Read more of this post


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