Week 5 : Asia Deli (South China)

After last week’s disappointment my expectations were lowered. China came up for this week and I set to work researching where to go. The options were of course vast but my reading informed me that the number of actually decent options was very low as Berlin doesn’t have a good reputation for Chinese food. After reading this blog entry which talks about the top three we decided upon Asia Deli in Wedding. Firstly it wasn’t in Wilmersdorf Charlottenburg (not a fan) and secondly it is very close to Vagabund – one of our favourite craft beer bars. Asia Deli is famous for its Hunan specialities so we decided that this will count as South China as it is such a huge country it would be unfair to try just one regional cuisine and declare it wholly ‘Chinese’.

We didn’t book which it turned out was a mistake as the restaurant was packed full with people waiting outside. This was a good sign but unfortunate. We spoke to the waiter in German and found out we could come back at 10.30 (two hours later). Not being particularly hungry we agreed and went off for some craft beer.

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Two hours later we came back to the restaurant and I realised my German is not all I thought it was. When the waiter had said “halb zehn” (half ten) I took this as the English ‘half past ten’, when we arrived to a nearly empty restaurant and an annoyed waiter we realised our mistake that in German halb means before not after. Thankfully he kept the kitchen open and some delicious food ensued.

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As for the detail…well the facts are a bit sketchy as during the two hour wait we had consumed a large quantity of tasty strong craft beer and we were ravenous and pissed. We ordered ribs, pork, king prawns and something else I can’t remember. It was all fresh, yummy and the spicy food was indeed spicy. The beer was cheap, the service was quick and friendly (after we were forgiven) and the bill for a mountain of food and three beers was 37 euros. We tipped big, vowed to return sober and waddled home content and very full.

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Week 4 : Genazvale (Georgia)

The random number generator is being very kind to us. This week it landed on Georgia, a country whose cuisine I have never tried and whose history I know little about other than a Russian incursion in the 2000s. We were both looking forward to this one. There are two Georgian restaurants in Berlin, we chose Genazvale based on slightly better reviews and a less cheesy website.

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We were off to a really good start. The restaurant which is in a particularly unattractive part of Wilmersdorf was full of customers and bustling which was encouraging as all the other restaurants nearby were empty. We were seated at a well dressed wooden table in a traditionally decorated room. It was nice to step our the bright lights of generic West Berlin into rural Georgia.

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The menu had lots of options on the theme of grilled and stewed pork, lamb and chicken. There were also some fish dishes which didn’t really appeal. The prices at an average of 15 euros were a bit of a shock compared to what we’ve been paying in other places. OK, so maybe we’ve been a bit spoiled living here!

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We decided to go with a lamb shashlik menu as it seemed like to best way of trying lots of things for the best price as we’d never tried the cuisine before. This was where things started to go wrong…

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Minutes after ordering the first part of the menu arrived. Radioactively pink cabbage, some steamed dumplings sitting in a bath of pan water and some lumps of cheese, aubergine, spinach and beetroot pâté accompanied by uncut giant radishes, whole spring onions and half a bunch of coriander. Hmmmn. It was all a bit weird. The dumplings had a good meaty taste but were watery, the cabbage was simply vile and the pâtés whilst edible had a musty taste. The cheese was okay though! Some slightly stale bread arrived next followed by two separate but interchangeable bowls of soup. One calf and one bean. Both weird. In my experience Central Asian food is reliant on fragrant subtle spicing which can be sublime when done well. Both soups were overly fragrant almost perfume like with over the top spicing. I did not enjoy them leaving half a portion and hoping things would improve.
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Next came some cheese filled pastry slices which were filling and inoffensive and then the main guy; the lamb shashlik. I am possibly being a bit too negative about the food, it was ok if not to my taste perhaps. But it was the lamb that was going to make or break this meal and unfortunately the stingy, tough cut of meat that arrived accompanied by a cold cooked tomato was an utter disappointment. For 37 euros we felt as though we had paid for a succession of side dishes we didn’t enjoy at the expense of a decent main course. The menu had been a bad decision. We paid our bill which included three beers and a glass of average Georgian house wine, tipped and sloped off back home to Kreuzberg, still a bit hungry and 50 euros the poorer. I don’t know what to think about Georgian food. Was this a bad example or is this as good as it gets; the jury is out.

Week Three : Pho Phan (Vietnam)

This week a craving for fresh Asian food coincided with the random number generator landing on number 16 Vietnam – brilliant! A quick google search of ‘Vietnamese restaurant Berlin’ brings up at least 30 places so we had to narrow it down. We chose to go local and picked a place in Neukölln called Pho Phan based on reviews and claims of authenticity. We traveled to Hermanstrasse at the end of the U8 and then crossed over the ring-bahn. This place was literally on the wrong side of the tracks in deepest, least gentrified Neukölln and we decided that this was a good sign as so many online reviewers had traveled here just for the food.

The door was hidden behind scaffolding so we nearly missed it. Inside was a very simply decorated restaurant with plenty of tables half full with people from all around the world. We were warmly greeted and given menus. We chose to try the Vietnamese beer which was good and tasty, much better than the bland Korean Hite that we have tried before. It was cheap too at two euros a bottle. There were lots of fresh teas and milkshakes available.

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The menu (German only) was long with lots of variations on salads, stir fries and curries with tofu, fish, prawns, beef, chicken and duck. The prices were unbelievably cheap so we went a bit crazy and ordered three starters of satay chicken, spring roll with prawn and chicken won tons with sweet chilli as we couldn’t decide. The starters came quickly and
were really tasty and huge portions! The salad that came with everything was really tasty and fresh with mint running through it. Very impressed already.
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For mains we chose a duck massaman curry (31) and a beef, peanut and chilli stir fry (28). They came soon after the starters had cleared and were again really tasty and fresh. The curry was rich and fragrant with lots of duck and vegetables. Small issues were that the duck was a bit over and Richard was annoyed at the lack of chilli in the stir fry and realised that as we are in Germany we should have asked for ‘extra spicy like you serve in your country’ as everything here is cooled down for the German palette.
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We left almost half as the portions were so big. If you are a small eater you could definitely share although you would feel as though you were being tight as it is sooooo cheap. The bill came to 25 euros with a generous tip and we left very full and very pleased at our find. Very happy with the mission so far.

Week Two : Gastón (Spain)

Week two came and went very quickly and by the Saturday we still hadn’t completed our mission. We wanted to meet a friend for dinner with her visiting brother and his husband so we needed somewhere flexible and with lots of options for everyone to enjoy – so naturally we thought of tapas.

Gastón is on the corner of Weserstraße and Weichselstraße in Neukölln and I have cycled past it quite a lot on the way to the swimming baths. It has a really inviting exterior and from the reviews seemed to be a good authentic tapas bar unlike some of the more formal tapas restaurants which I find a bit pointless. Tapas is supposed to be enjoyed in a noisy, busy bar alongside drinks as and when you want to nibble something.

The start was not great, we had booked a table for five and tried to inform the busy staff but were repeatedly ignored. The place was heaving though with other people constantly trying to get tables so we decided we had made a good choice and forgave the flustered staff. Eventually we were seated but the table was super small and very cosy. We found that the busy waitresses were really hard to get hold of which meant we ordered lots of things at once to save the hassle of trying to get their attention which is not my idea of real tapas!
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Week One : Abissinia (Eritrea and Ethiopia)

(from 24th October – delays have prevented me from posting)

The occasion of the first meal finally arrived and I fired up the random number generator to provide inspiration. The number that came out was 17 which corresponded to Eritrea/Ethiopia on my list. I had decided to combine them as there are not really any distinct Eritrean restaurants in Berlin and the cuisines are very similar. The two countries only became separated in 1993 sparking a war which killed over 70,000 people. I am particularly interested in this area having worked with many Eritreans at a refugee project and I was looking forward to learning more about their culture through their cuisine.

We looked online and came across the well reviewed Abissinia restaurant in Schoneberg just up the U7 metro line from our flat in Kreuzberg. The restaurant claims to represent both countries and the website does into the history of the area and why the cuisine goes across borders. The menu on website was also fairly comprehensive and the food looked delicious and fairly varied. We have eaten Ethiopian before and this menu seemed to have a few additional dishes we hadn’t tried; perfect.

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We were pleased we had booked a table when we arrived at the pleasant looking restaurant on Grunewald Straße as it was almost full. It was warm and inviting and decorated in a distinctly East African way without falling into the naff category. The staff were really welcoming and we felt as though we had made a good choice.

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We ignored the starters which didn’t really appeal (soups, samosa type pastries and salads) and went straight for the mains. We wanted to be able to try lots of things so we went for a mixed platter of different types of beer – fried with onions and peppers, raw with spices and homemade cheese and a thick stew. We also chose a dish of Yebeg Alitscha Wott which was lamb pieces and lamb ribs in a mild curry sauce. Everything came with a decent portion of delicious injera bread. We were very pleased with the food that came, everything was tasty, distinctive and well cooked but the star was the Kifto raw beef which was perfectly spiced and made us both wish we had ordered a whole portion. We would have preferred the injera separate to the plate as it did become a bit soggy towards the end but that was the only issue in an otherwise great meal.

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Beef plate

Drinks were reasonably priced and we spent 40 euros total including a 4.50 tip and two beers each. We were given homemade popcorn at the end of the meal and offered some Eritrean roasted coffee.  It was a great start to the mission and somewhere we would love to return to.