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