Average Alpenstueck

A small deer on a white sign on a typically dark Berlin street marks the spot for Michelin Bib Gourmand recommended Alpenstueck. I was scheduled to meet Jo, Nigel and his wife after their viewing of the Blue Man Group and although they asked if we had a reservation, tables on a Sunday evening were quite easy to come by.

The deer motif runs throughout all of their menus, representing an icon for their focus on South German foods.

The others were running late, so I had a bit of time to take in the atmosphere. They brought bread, not accompanied by oil or butter, but by a mayonnaise blended with, what I think was some fresh dill. The bread tasted like it was freshly made, my guess is on the premises given they also have a bakery open from 7 in the morning during the week.

Another thing I noticed was the open kitchen views from our table, something I really appreciate when dining in any restaurant. The waiters were very friendly, checking to make sure I had something to drink or if I needed anything whilst waiting. More on that a bit later.

Several things caught my eye on the menu, and since I hadn’t had a schnitzel for sometime, I figured this place would be a great place to try it. When the others arrived, we placed our order and waited for a while. Unfortunately we sat, waiting for our food, until the waiter came back to our table with bad news that he’d somehow lost our order and needed to take it again. Being that it was already a late meal, I was a little disappointed by this and we were offered no recompense in our meal.

When the food finally arrived, the schnitzel was freshly cooked and quite delicious. I’m guessing that it’s not that hard to cook well, but the meal was definitely flavourful and not excessively over cooked. The swabian potato salad was nice, although strangely cold in contrast to the rest of the dishes. The food elements to the meal were quite reasonable although slightly more expensive than your average Berliner restaurant (€19.50 for the schnitzel). The killer though was the bottles of water, not realising each 750ml bottle cost €7.50. Extortionate! I’d rather have had a bottle of wine from their extensive list instead.

I’d like to offer them another chance, but on this visit, they managed to disappoint in a couple of areas.

Name: Alpenstueck
Found at: Gartenstrasse 9
Website: www.alpenstueck.de

No Fire No Glory

Berlin has plenty of good coffee places around. I’m very thankful for this given that London used to struggle with only a handful actually serving decent quality coffee and Berlin seems to be ahead of the game. The latest on my list I tracked down was one with the awesome name, No Fire No Glory. Located much further out than where I’m working, it was nice to visit a different part of Berin and experience yet another side to the city. I think they’ll be moving soon but the information right now is correct.

Upon entering the cafe, a large old fashioned cash register confronts you. It’s a wonderfully old working piece with each item entered resulting in a very satisfying click, and the turn of a handle, a very loud bang as the cash drawer opens. Behind the til sits a large gold-plated mirror opening up the space of the already well sized cafe. Soft, calming music pipes in the air, a pillowy blanket punctuated only by the sound of the coffee grinder and milk steaming.

I hung around for a while, working on a presentation for a conference, and it looks like this place is licensed as well serving alcohol and non alcoholic drinks in addition to sandwiches, cookies and slices of pie.

More importantly they list a whole bunch of different coffees for sale. The flat white is the most expensive I’ve seen around so far ringing in at €3.50 per cup. I wonder if it has to do with an extra shot of coffee as I definitely felt the caffeine hit when I finished drinking my cup.

Name: No Fire No Glory
Found at: Jessnerstr. 35, 10247 Berlin (nearest UBahn Frankfurter Allee)
Website: www.nofirenoglory.de

Thai in Transit

Several people mentioned the popularity of the Thai food place called Transit. I remembered it when I walked past its foggy exterior one night, observing the large groups of people waiting inside. Rachel and I went in for a late lunch on a Saturday, to find it less busy and much easier to find a table.

Tables look like they could be communal, and I was thankful that it wasn’t as crazy busy as I’m sure trendy Vietnamese serving Monsieur Voung would be only a handful of streets away. The menu provided serves up small plates, and you decide what you’d want by marking them on a piece of paper, reminiscent of several London dim sum restaurants too small to have carts. I figured this would be a great way of trying several Thai dishes from what they had on offer. Thai, tapas style.

I think I ended up ordering three dishes as did Rachel, turning out to be slightly too much despite the assurance of our waitress who thought perhaps we’d eat much more. I really enjoyed the chicken satay – definitely recommended. Grilled and seasoned and slathered in a lovely peanut sauce who’s only fault was that it needed that much more of the kick. I’d skip the pork rice rolls next time. They reminded me of a stewed pork dish, rolled together in sticky rice reminiscent of a Chinese style sushi roll that didn’t quite work out.

Their green chicken curry also disappointed me. Perhaps I ended up where they’d definitely toned down the spices for the local market and it really needed much more heat. The fact they also served fried chicken instead of stewing chicken on top instead of in the curry where the flavours of both components should fuse together beautifully, it seemed a little.. uhn.

Our waitress proved friendly and seemed pretty good for the typical German service. I’d like to try a number of their other dishes yet there are many more places to try in the area.

Name: Transit
Found at: Rosenthaler Straße 68, 10119 (Mitte) Berlin, Germany
Website: http://www.transit-restaurants.com/

Awesomeness by Antiopodes

Two of the friendliest shop owners greet you as you walk into this wonderfully warm cafe found conveniently right around the corner from where my current client is working. Everything they do is home made and prepared with care, particularly their all day breakfast, a much healthier and hearty breakfast that you’ll ever eat in England.

Best yet, they also do a mean flat white for an extremely reasonable €2. This lets you spend more on their awesome little cakes, slices and biscuits instead.

There’s plenty of seating available in this cafe, and even with free wi-fi that many of their visitors seem to occupy themselves with.

Name: Antipodes
Found at: Fehrbelliner 5, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Link: http://www.exberliner.com/locations/antipodes

The Barn in Berlin

Located in the middle of trendy Mitte district, close to Hackescher Markt is this wonderful cafe serving great coffee and food to be had all around. Whilst not the biggest of cafes in Berlin, it has made the most of its interior serving a constant stream of customers.

Throughout the day, they serve coffee and tea alongside many impressive looking cakes and slices with a handful of sandwiches thrown in at the same time. The walls also offer up many products, many of which looked like local products. On the other side, closest to where the caffeinated beverages emerge, another wall offers up coffee products, tools and accessories – something for everyone including the closest coffee aficionado.

Here’s my lovely flat white. Perfectly made, dark and delicious. Prepared by an Australian barista (they’re everywhere!)

Arriving for breakfast, I went for the muesli – a toasted concoction served with thick creamy yogurt, in addition to a glass of milk I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. The pre-sliced half apple provides the final fruity touches.

My German isn’t very good so couldn’t tell if they constantly serve Square Mile coffee (from way across the pond) but I’m impressed to see the beans hit this city. The beans are really good stuff.

This isn’t the cafe to bring twelve of your friends but is a great place to catch up with a one or two, or to drop in for a really well made coffee.

Name: The Barn
Found at: Auguststrasse 58, 10119 Berlin
Website: http://www.thebarn.de/

Cocolo Ramen

Looking for a light dinner, Alex suggested we head out after our evening Tiergarten run to Cocolo Ramen for, as you can guess, some refreshing Ramen. It’s a tiny little place, just down from the hotel I was staying at and next door to a nice sushi place (I’m guessing owned by the same folks). It doesn’t look particularly look big from the outside, although I think they had tables at back. We got to sit at a full counter experience where you pretty much look at the people preparing your meal. Very Japanese style.

Soft techno beats pulse from a tiny ipod nano into the surrounds, and I start to notice the interesting mix of artistic Berlin fusing with the traditional Japanese styled restaurant. Like the napkin holder, for example.

The menu is short and simple, and just like a proper Japanese restaurant, focusing on a small set of variations of the same dish – ramen.

Alex orders some edamame whilst we wait although it’s not too long before the ramen arrives.

Viola. Rich hearty broth. Being on my vegetarian day, I crossed my fingers hoping the broth was vegetarian as I didn’t quite understand the German-Japanese-English trifecta of message passing. Oh well. It was still very good.

With people constantly popping in, even as we left our reasonably late dinner, I’m guessing this place is doing pretty well. Try the calpico soda here too! Mmmm. I love that stuff.

Name: Cocolo Ramen
Found at: Gipsstrasse 3, 10119, Berlin, Germany
Website: http://www.oliverprestele.de/

Kim Chi Princess

With the upcoming Chinese New Year, Sha Sha and I decided to host a closely related celebration at a Korean restuarnat, one that I’d found called Kim Chi Princess. Owned by the same people that own Angry Chicken, I thought the food was going to be pretty good. Located in Kreuzburg, literally next door to Angry Chicken, Kim Chi Princess focuses on the more traditional side to Korean food including individual meals, and the Korean BBQ that we all love and adore.

In this case, they bring portable gas BBQ plates to grill at the table, unlike the ones that have it embeded. Just like one would on a Chinese New Year, we seemed to over order on the food but walked away very satisfied and extremely happy.

Along with the meat, we somehow managed to get through quite a few bottles of red wine…

The result of over ordering on the meat meant that we ended up almost surrounded by portable grills of various kinds though due to various diet restrictions kept the beef down one end, and pork down the other.

The over ordering probably started with the appetisers, not realising how big their Korean pancakes were and some of us also ordering a set of dumplings. Here you can see the Kim Chi version, although I went for the more traditional seafood one.

Someone (Rachel!) couldn’t wait to dig into their dumplings. She did pretty well with the chopsticks don’t you think?

Unlike in London where you have to order a side dish, they brought out five or six different Bon Chon and an awesome salad that I couldn’t get enough of. Felix, commenting its similarirty to German sauerkraut, this cabbage version had enough sesame oil, plenty of spice and good depth of flavour that added to the meat.

Little rice bowls arrived as well.

Finally we have the meat grilling. We went for two different types of beef, and two different types of pork, although each plate is designed for two people. The pork belly, crisped up wasn’t as good as the other marinated pork, and the beef that I tried fell in between. I think the thinly slice Entrocote (that I didn’t try) probably wasn’t as nice as it was almost instantly cooked on the grill in its very thinly sliced form.

Not the cheapest of our meals in Berlin, I think it’s still pretty good value for Korean food when the equivalent in London for the food alone probably would have seen us hit £40. I think we paid EUR45 including four bottles of wine at the table, a number of bottles of sparkling water and the giant amount of food that saw, at least me, feeling like I needed to be rolled out.

For Korean food, I was quite surprised at how good it was. Not the best I’ve had but much better than I was expecting to find in Berlin.

Name: Kim Chi Princess
Found at: Skalitzer Strasse 36, Kreuzburg, Berlin, Germany (between Kottbusser Tor and Gorlitzer Bahnhof U-Bahn stops)
Website: http://www.kimchiprincess.com/

Vegan Viasko in Kreuzburg

The Happy Cow has proved to be an essential partner to easily finding some vegetarian places in Berlin. The lastest on our trail was another Kreuzburg location called Viasko. This place serves entirely vegan food and had a reasonable selection of different things to please the appetite.

They’re interior’s really interesting and we couldn’t work out if effects were intended, or simply painted over effects. It fits in almost too well. I booked us for a table of eight, and we took up one side of the restaurant. I’m guessing that they probably can cover about thirty people before running out of room.

Several of us ordered the gyro which tasted so good and realistic than we had to confirm that it was definitely made out of tofu, and not some magical meat mixture. The portion sizes were huge and defeated me that I couldn’t really think about dessert.

Other people got some dumplings served with some potato salad. Apparently pretty good but very stodgy and filling.

I was pretty happy with this place. It’s not quite as high end as several people thought I’d make it, but the prices were very reasonable with dinner for eight of us including a few beers and various drinks coming to about €150 (and some people managed to fit in dessert).

Name: Viasko
Found at: Erkelenzdamm 49, Berlin, Germany (closest U Bahn being Kottbusser Tor)
Website: http://www.viasko.de/

Dining at Dos Palillos

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in Berlin’s Casa Camper for the last couple of weeks. It’s voted 7th traveller’s favourite hotel in Berlin on TripAdvisor and it’s definitely my favourite so far. Their restaurant, under renovation during my first week’s stay reopened last week and I asked reception about it as the chef’s jacket with El Bulli’s name caught my eye.

Apparently the head chef, Albert Rauric worked at El Bulli as their head chef, traveling back and forth between Spain and Berlin to attend to his restaurants. Inspired by Spanish tapas style, and enthused by Asian ingredients (perhaps via his Asian wife) each plate extremely well executed and well deserving of their Michelin Bib Gourmand award.

Above is a photo looking down the long bench where you face the chefs as they prepare your food in a wonderful open kitchen format. Everything is bright and glittering, a stark contrast to the dimly lit streets of Berlin and a warm welcome from the outside cold.

Three of us dined here and rather than sitting all directly in front, we took the corner of the bench enabling the perfect balance between intimate dinner conversations and opportunities to watch our delightful meal being prepared.

We started with a glass of German equivalent prosecco, although they also brought us a brightly coloured pink grapefruit aperitif. Slightly tart, and perfectly refreshing, the bubbles in this small shot glass helped prepare our palettes for the journey to come.

Above are some of the small sauces that would later be used to accompany the various dishes. But first, our first dish arrived, tsukemono or marinated radish, green apple and wasabi. I’m a big fan of radishes and expecting perfectly crunchy small bites, each of these had slightly softened from their dressing and at the same time retaining the perfect amount of bite. The apple adds a slightly tart dimension and the wasabi used to lift the dish just that little bit more. A starter that showed us what a journey we were in for.

Soon arriving was chicken skin, deep fried with curry and served with sweet sour sauce. It’s hard to argue for the flavours and crunch by any skin deep fried, yet these small bites weren’t in the least greasy to eat. Extremely moreish.

Next arrived Sunomono or Japanese style salad marinated with rice-vinegar vinaigrette and smoked mackerel. This was perhaps my least favourite dish because I’m not the biggest fan of seaweed however I still appreciated the complex flavours and differences provided by the complex textures and flavours from each seaweed variety.

We moved from Japan to Vietnam with these Vietnamese Summer Rolls – rice paper, omelette, chicken, basil and coriander with crushed peanuts and slices of chilli. I have to say these disappeared almost instantly. They were that good. I could have appreciated more heat, but I’m guessing a lot is adapted for local tastes which don’t include huge degrees of spice.

We moved onto the aemono or octopus cucumber salad. Toasted sesames added a rich nutty flavour to the dish, and each bite filled with umami provided by the miso paste in the dressing. The cucumbers brought freshness and the octopus so tender and soft each piece almost melting in the mouth. I particularly enjoyed picking up each piece of this dish, savouring every last element.

Just like at Noma many of the chefs deliver the food. In this case, a small tray topped with four small bowls and a tea pot. Three of the bowls filled with contents for a fresh soup, and the soup poured out in front of us. The last bowl, filled with coconut cream, our chef spooned on completing the thai soup (tom kha gai) with prawn tofu and fresh herbs. We oo-ed at the finishing touches at the table and the photo really doesn’t do it justice to the complex flavours that laid in the broth. Their interesting twist was to add small pieces of grapefruit.

Our tempura dish turned out to be filled with sardines that we dipped into a ginger soy sauce.

From where we sat, we could see the robata grill and on top, pieces of pork slowly roasting. We could see the smoke wafting to their ventilation fans and two of us (the ones who could eat pork) hoping with all of our might those pieces were destined for our plates and bellies.

But first arrived the prawn dumplings filled with prawn and pork belly. Expecting a stronger pork flavour, Sha Sha duly noted that it tasted much more like prawn, touched with a bit of pork fat instead of a stronger pork flavour than expected.

Stef, unable to eat the shellfish ended up with some nice vegetable dumplings.

More fun arrived with a version of te maki that we turned into a Do-It-Yourself sushi dish.

Here was the result of one of my attempts.

They even provided fresh wasabi, something I know particularly hard to come by and appreciated and savoured in each of our mouths.

Closest to us from the kitchen stood the wok station, and from here we could see one of the chefs prepare our next course.

Baby vegetable wok. We could tell it focused on root vegetables (perfectly in season) including carrots, parsnips, celery and what we think was chestnut and a gourd of some kind. Slightly smoky, just cooked yet crisp, this dish was perfect.

Another fish dish arrived in the form of char grilled mackerel with red onions and miso mayonnaise. Not much to say here other than noting how beautiful the presentation was and another perfectly executed dish.

Sha Sha doesn’t eat beef, so she received a chicken yakitori grilling over the same coal robata as the pork soon to arrive.

For the rest of us, we got a “japo burger” – homemade steamed bread, beef, ginger, cucumber and shiso. I loved this concept. Somehow they captured the lightness of bao-style bread, slightly toasted each side and the perfect bite-sized portion filled with juicy beef lightly seasoned with that ginger flavour. A whole plate of these near me would not have lasted five minutes. Fortunately we only had one after so much food.

Our final dish was hong shao rou or braised pork jaw, laquered cantonese style and finished on the charcoal grill. This was our dish! Sliced into delicately thin slices, each piece melting perfectly into the mouth and packed with flavour. Being our last dish I definitely took the time to draw out all the flavours in this one. Stef, the non-pork eater, got a “char xiu bao” made vegetarian style although Sha Sha and I seemed confused since “char xiu” means BBQ pork. He assured us their interpretation was not.

A long slew of dishes later, we arrived at dessert. Our first being a small mango flan. Made with coconut milk and mango essence, a surprise laid at the bottom of the bowl of slightly caramelised ginger pieces.

Finally wrapping up our meal, we finished with pandanus ice-cream, tangerine compote and “burnt” milk skin”. Not on the menu, they finished the dish off with crushed coffee beans, and what we confirmed with them later, crushed cardamom. The “burnt milk skin” tasted slightly malty and not burnt at all and I am always a huge fan of anything with pandan.

Looking back at what we had it was a bargain meal for their EUR60 price. They had many reasonably priced wines and sakes, and several interesting alternative aperitif (try their yuzu tonic if you’re into your bitter citrus fruits like I am). Service was extremely friendly, the atmosphere warmed by the open kitchen, the fact that chefs deliver the food they cook and the depth of flavours from every single dish.

I’m definitely going to try to return before I leave Berlin, knowing that you can also order a la carte tapas or full dish style.

Name: Dos Palillos
Found at: Casa Camper Hotel
Website: http://www.casacamper.com/berlin/dining/dospalillos-en.html

Cookies Cream

“It was destiny,” they said when two things came together tonight and we dined at Cookies Cream. One, a preference for vegetarian fare, and another, trying to tap into the wonderfully hidden subcultures of Berlin. Seeking vegetarian fare in Berlin, Cookies Cream is one that you would eventually stumble upon. It had good reviews on both Tripadvisor and The Happy Cow, although it’s “vegetarian fine dining” that you don’t really run into that often. I’d been to Vanilla Black in London, so I kind of knew what to expect. Trade off in quality for portion size, but that’s fine with me.

I’m pleased that our table of ten didn’t have too many problems finding the place. It is, after all, located right next to a set of dumpsters around the back of the Westin Berlin Hotel, and the least expected place you’d find. You walk through, what I think is, the club part of Cookies, ascend a staircase and open up into a warm and modern dining room with tables lit by candlelight. Exposed ceiling and industrial brick wall surrounded us although I noted a number of art pieces hanging.

Service was excellent for a place in Berlin, where I’m starting to expect even worse than that you’d get in the UK. Not because people are rude, but often because the wait staff seem to always be disproportionately outnumbered by the diners. We were offered a wonderful aperitif – the house cocktail made out of vodka and rhubarb. I hadn’t expected such strong rhubarb flavour, although I also wasn’t expecting the strength of the vodka to hit me so quickly.

Originally offered the tasting menu, I’m pleased that they opened up the a la carte menu where we had a lot more variety and the kitchen wasn’t going to be too fussed. We all had three courses in the end so saw a good variety of the menu. Many of the dishes made me think about definitely returning someday.

I started with the Vacherin Mont-d’Or in brick pastry with salad of Jerusalem artichoke with vinaigrette of truffles, and pears marinated in pepper. I had no idea what would come in the “brick pastry”. What it ended up being was a very thick custard filling where you could really taste the truffle infusion that I love. I’d definitely get this one again.

Many people also went for the red lentil soup with beluga lentils, apricot goat cheese and basil.

We also got some nice heavy bread to go along with a strong curd (ricotta?) in some sort of green mixture that we guessed as avocado mixture.

For mains, I ordered the parmesan dumplings with braised artichoke, a BBQ tomato sauce. After having this dish, I’m compelled to know how they made them. My dumplings were light, full of flavour and the artichoke and tomato provided perfect balance with that hint of bitterness and tang. I would have been very happy with the dumplings.

I liked the look of the brussels sprout cannelloni, cassis apple, black walnut and truffles cream sauce as well. Good choice Sha Sha. I think someone also got the Potato tarte stuffed with winter asparagus but I didn’t get a chance to take a photo.

I’m pleased that everyone really enjoyed their meal, even the self-proclaimed anti-vegetarian diner at our table. It must have been that good!

Everyone tempted by dessert, we got a good mix of all at our table including the toffee cheesecake, marinated kaki (persimmon) and raspberry sorbet.

I couldn’t help but go for the chocolate slice with acacia honey ice cream, cocoa tuile in old balsamico marinated blackberries simply because you don’t really find honey ice cream nearly as much you should. Without that, I would have opted for the final dessert.

Curd cheese dumplings with blueberrymousse, saffron vanilla sauce and butter cookie crunch. This last dish would have won me over with the saffron vanilla sauce and crunch providing texture.

We had fantastic wine recommendations, lovely surroundings and I’d definitely come back here for vegetarian fare you wouldn’t get every day.

Name: Cookies Cream
Found at: Behrenstrasse 55, 10117 Berlin, Germany (behind the Westin Berlin Hotel)
Website: http://cookiescream.com