Traube, Alpine (?) Food (Set Lunch), Mitte

I walked into an opticians the other day, on the Oranienburger Tor side of Friedrichstrasse.  The visual clues of the store told me I would be able to purchase something a little out of the ordinary and of good quality.  The frames are mostly stored in drawers so you have to enlist the help of a salesperson.  This I did, a young man with large frames, with lenses so thin they looked like dummies.  He picked up a pair that he thought looked great (Lindberg, large, thin metal frames.  He stood back and looked at them on my face, nodding appreciatively.“Yes, yes.”

“Don’t you think they look too big?” I asked

“Big? No. It’s only because your frames are so old-fashioned (read narrow), your frames must be at least 8 years old.”

“They are 3 years old actually.”

“Well, the model is 8 years old. These are so modern.”

We get to talking about prices. €30 for the eye test. €405 for the frames. €285 per not-made-in-china lenses. I skewer one eye shut and cast the other one heaven ward why I work out the cost.

“That’s €1’000 for a pair of glasses.”  I’ll readily admit the price caught me off guard.“Let me check.” he says reaching for a calculator (this just in- expensive glasses don’t make you any smarter). “No - €975, the €30 eye test is a gift.” (A gift? That’s like Louis Vuitton giving you a handful of lollipops with the purchase of one of those wallets - Umm, I’m pretty sure I’ve paid for those lollipops!)

I didn’t walk out of there with a new pair of glasses, not that time nor the next when I took along my good friend, a woman of many talents - one of which is the ability to speak the truth without hurting anyone’s feelings.  There was no hesitation, the verdict was a resounding “No!”I recapped the experience, astronomically priced glasses, that didn’t suit me because they were on trend?  Snobs are a funny bunch.  Clearly I had landed on a frame snob but the characteristics are the same whether you are dealing with a highbrow literature snob, or a “I make more money than you” snob, or a “I only eat organic foods, cycle everywhere, have a 0 carbon footprint and when I die I am going to be buried in a cardboard box - which will be recycled.” snob or ‘my marble collection is shinier than yours” snob.

The whole thing put me off, snobs in general on any subject, put me off.  Which is why I when I had to pick a place for a lunch date on Friday I went for something decidedly unhip - Traube.I had avoided it in the past because it just seemed too stiff, an ‘elbows off the table’ kind of joint.  And too expensive, judging from the Michelin stickers by the door (it turns out it doesn’t have a star but a crossed fork and spoon, meaning ‘charming restaurant‘).  Would I have to dress up?  It seemed to be occupied exclusively by males, in their 40′s, wearing navy blue suits and red ties.

All I can say is I was wrong on all counts.  I went there for lunch with my new friend Lucy (who writes a wonderful food blog called The Colour of Pomegranates).  I was slightly nervous that I had corralled someone I didn’t know all that well into an awkward lunch but €15 for 2 courses and coffee on starched table cloths seemed too good to pass up.

Here is the thing about Traube - it’s good.  It’s supposed to be Alpine by the way (I know. Right? Because that is what we are missing in the city of Berlin) but what we had for lunch was far removed from the Alpine fare I normally eat.  A lot of the food had garlic in it, good garlic, properly cooked, adding flavour in all the right places.  It was intensely coloured almost mediterranean in some cases and full of textures - my potato rösti had a homemade potato chip on it.I started with a salad and Lucy had a cup of what had been described to us as a red pepper and tomato soup.  When it came to swapping plates, it tasted differently from what I had imagined. Sour for example with droplets of oil jostling with the spreading sour cream.  ”What’s this meat?” (Polish Kielbasa I found out later) I asked holding up a morsel.  Then “Is this salami??” And finally “No way, did they put pickle in this!?” (they did and pickle brine)  I motioned the (incredibly nice) waitress over and asked her to confirm all the ingredients I had identified.  ”It’s called Solyanka, it’s a soup from the Ukraine.” she explained. “Oh! I love Solyanka, it’s the only thing I enjoyed eating in Moscow.” Lucy added.  It’s also one of Angela Merkel’s favourite foods (see this article in the Guardian ‘East Germans are still different” - thanks Lucy for the link). Read more of this post

Auf Die Hand, Fine Fastfood, Mitte

Auf die hand is my local. Unexpectedly, it means I rarely eat there  because it’s so close to my house that it seems lazy not to take a few more steps to my flat and make my own lunch.  On the other hand, its proximity comes in handy on occasions when I need to meet people for coffee and don’t know them well enough to invite them to the flat or on one of those exceedingly rare occasions when I am running out for an early appointment or best one yet, when I am going to the Zoo or any other such  destination where the food is bound to be inferior.I was underwhelmed by auf die hand when I first moved into the flat and everyone kept telling me it was there.  It just seemed like a gussied up Pret a Manger and there was no way I was going to miss the bane of the triangle sandwich chain or so I smugly thought…  Smugness it turns out, is closely related to Pride - one of the seven deadly sins.  (I don’t need a film starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman to know it’s bad form to indulge in these bad boys)  Now I often find myself hankering after a free range egg salad sandwich or a chunky humous salad wrap.  (Although I would still insist on the sandwich coming to something resembling room temperature)Like the Prets and Eats of the UK, auf die hand does soups, stews, cakes, cookies and a warm meal of the day which goes for around €6.50 (It bears noting that for €3 more, you can go around the corner to Traube and have the special of the day or for €4.50 you can descend into the subterranean world of Persian food at Sabzi- open for lunch only and then there is the newly opened Jones Food Store on Reinhardstrass which I’ve yet to try but looks promising).  The €6.50 hot lunch price tag garners a lot of disapproval from its benefactors who are sensitive to the unspoken lunch rule of nothing over €5 that persists in Berlin.  Despite this, they are heaving at lunch, throw a little sunshine into the mix - when auf die hand put out their candy coloured chairs - and the shelves are bare by 3.  Which is just as well since they shut at 6. Read more of this post


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