Week 61 : Yarok (Syria)

I couldn’t help but wonder about the life stories of the employees in Yarok, one of Berlin’s few Syrian restaurants over in Torstrasse in Mitte. Might they be former engineers, doctors and lawyers, making the best of it in Berlin while they waited indefinitely to return home? Due to the current war, Germany has accepted record breaking numbers of Syrian refugees, many of whom are vastly over-qualified for the work that they are able to do here.  I also wondered whether the refugee crisis might bring us more Syrian restaurants over the next few years? Considering how delicious the food was here, this would be one tiny positive outcome from an otherwise unimaginably horrendous situation. Yarok, according to the restaurant website, means ‘green’ in Hebrew  which symbolises solidarity between different peoples. This feels all the more poignant and important in light of the current crisis in Syria itself and with the refugees coming to Europe.

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Yarok is in Mitte on North Torstrasse a ten minute walk away from Rosenthaler Platz . The restaurant seemed like a green beacon of light on an otherwise fairly dull residential area on the way towards Wedding. We arrived on a Monday evening to a fully packed restaurant which had simple imbiss style seating and swirls of bright paint on the walls. A couple were just leaving so we grabbed a table and looked at the fairly large menu. It seemed so busy that a one-in, one-out policy was in operation, but with the swift service nobody had to wait for long.

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We chose the Yarok platter at 18 euros for two people as it seemed to have a bit of everything for us to try. I had a beer and Richard went for an ayran yoghurt drink. The plate arrived quickly to exclamations of ‘wow’ as it looked so appetising and was very large. There was kofte, shredded lemon chicken, falafel, meat filled phyllo pastry cigars, tabbouleh salad, bulgur salad, grilled vegetables and four dips; hummus, aubergine, yoghurt and a tangy mystery yellow one. Everything tasted really great and we mopped up every last scrap with the pitta we were given on the side. The highlights were the fresh and zesty shredded chicken, the delicious phyllo pastry parcels which were filled with aromatic lamb, and the smokey babganoush. There is not much else to say about the experience really, just that it was simple middle Eastern food from Syria done really well and we left feeling full and very satisfied with another great find.

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60 : Dwin (Armenia) – update now closed

Having checked the menu of Dwin online many times and feeling rather uninspired by it, we finally decided to visit Dwin as we were running out of other options and fancied something simple. The only Armenian place in Berlin, it is over in Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorf in an area we generally avoid and the menu seemed pretty boring so we had delayed visiting here.
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On a Monday evening half the tables were reserved and a few were occupied which gave us reason to be hopeful. We were greeted very well by a proud proprietor who insisted when we tried to order our starters that we must try the aubergine dip because “you will love it”. Not wanting to offend we went for this, and some tzaziki and a pinto bean dish as well as grilled lamb and chicken from the extremely one dimensional main course selection.

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We swiftly discovered that whilst the menu is simple, it is executed extremely well. The starters, especially the smokey aubergine, were all delicious and came served with these amazing small scone like things. The main courses were grilled to absolute perfection like the best BBQ you’ve ever been to. They were served with the distinctly un-armenian but super tasty dauphinoise potatoes and that’s it. No unnecessary garnish just simple perfection.

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My only gripe was that there were no Armenian wines or beer to try so we went with Rothaus. It wasn’t cheap at 15 Euros a main for not massive portions but I’m still salivating at how good that meat was grilled so maybe we will return.  I’m not sure how much of a taste of Armenian food we got but we certainly loved what we had.

Price for two course meal with drinks for two persons: 60-80 euros

Rating: 8/10

Address: Uhlandstraße 157, 10719 Berlin

Website: http://dwin.de/

59 : Melbourne Canteen (Australia) – now permanently closed

Happy Belated Australia day! Or is it Happy belated ‘Commemorating the Commencement of over two Centuries Worth of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing’ day? We decided to visit one of Berlin’s few Aussie restaurants on the 26th January which also happened to be Australia day. A national day which courts controversy from those who feel as though Australia should change the date from the 26th January because this is the exact day upon which the British arrived and began to dispossess, enslave and slaughter the indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Peoples whilst wearing top hats and cravattes. This year even Google weighed in on the debate featuring a commemorative Google Doodle featuring three aboriginal women with tears in their eyes. For others Australia Day is known as the ‘non-stop drunkenness resulting in many unfortunate intoxicated casualties and a Rugby star ruining his career by commiting a lewd sex act with a dog’ day.

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Real live Aussies wearing national uniform in the background

Anyway less of the politics as this is a food blog. The main tragedy on our minds on 26th January was how awful the food was that we were served at Melbourne Canteen on a day in which the menu which was supposed to exemplify Australian culture and offer Berlin’s Aussie ex-pats a comforting taste of home. On the special menu were Fish & Chips, Beef or Veggie Pies and Melbourne Chicken Parmagiana. So far, so uninspiring. We went for a beef pie, chips with ‘chicken salt’ and the chicken parmagiana which we were intrigued by the origin of. Had it developed independently within Melbournes large Italian population or was it a Teeside import from Middlesborough ex-pats bringing a taste of home to the outback in the shape of the famous Parmo? I like to think the latter is true.

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Firstly the highlights…. ummm….the chicken wasn’t entirely dry, the rocket was fresh and the pastry was cooked. I cannot really say much else about the food. The chips were the worst kind of cheap, pallid, french-fries, the breaded chicken was covered in a sickly red sauce which might have seen a tomato once in its sad life, the cheese on top was not even close to being parmesan as it tasted like bland rubber, the chicken salt was no more than an oxo cube added to some salt, and the pie filling was grey and bland. To make matters worse they didn’t even have any mayonaise on offer to accompany the bland, dry chips. Instead we got three small bowls of rank ketchup. We did enjoy some nice imported Aussie craft beers but at 5 euros a bottle they were a bit pricy for Berlin and you can get some much better German rivals at bars close by for less. I must admit that the photos make things look pretty bad as they are a bit shit and blurry but tbh we wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible as the whole place smelled like fried vinegar and I didn’t want anyone to catch me taking photos of this food.

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‘Chicken parmagiana’

I’m not blaming Australia per se for the bad food as I have not heard many good things about the normal menu at Melbourne Canteen which is a favourite brunch destination of the expat that doesn’t know any better. I’m sure if we were really in Melbourne by the sea we would have access to a whole array of delicious seafood and tasty bbq’d meat. But we are in Berlin, in winter, and I’m sorry that this mess of a cuisine found itself on the list of places to visit. If only the Berlin Malay restaurant Amy had not closed down two years ago this place would have been bumped off the list and we would not have wasted a Tuesday evening. Also potentially coming up are Berlin’s versions of English and Irish cuisines which fills me with a deep sense of unease and stomach ache.

Price for two course meal with drinks for two persons: 30-50 euros

Rating: 2/10

 

*Update* As of Summer 2016 the Melbourne Kitchen is closed. Not sure whether my vitriolic blog was a contributing factor but am not really sorry as we had a pretty poor meal there and most people I know didn’t enjoy the food. G’day and g’bye!

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Beef pie and chips

Week 58 : Sababa (Israel)

Snow had fallen on Berlin with the temperature well below zero and the pavements a slippery death-trap. Where better to visit this week than a brightly lit temple to hummus and the flavours of the Mediterranean, situated between Mitte and Prenzlauerberg, owned by Israelis. I read about this place in the same blog that had recommended Azzam the Palestinian place that we visited. Whereas Azzam was cheap, happy and hectic, Sababa was a bit calmer and trendier with a sleek, pastel interior and a slightly more varied menu which featured many different incarnations of hummus.
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Maija came with us on the visit which allowed us to try more things. For starters we all shared Masabacha (hummus with warm chickpeas), grilled aubergine and Labane (a yoghurt dip with mint and zatar). For mains Richard chose the marinated chicken with hummus, I chose Tel Aviv Kebab with hummus and Maija went for a sort of tomato stew called Shakshuka with feta also served with hummus.

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Labane dip

The starters came one by one and we were delighted by each, especially the smokey aubergine and the thick, comforting, creamy hummus with chick peas. We were also given a lemon dip on the side which was tangy and spicy and complimented the creamy hummus perfectly. Richard’s and my main courses were a bit disappointing unfortunately, not because there was anything wrong with them but because they didn’t really provide anything more than the starters had done except some adequately cooked meat sitting on some more hummus costing double the price. A salad or something to elevate the dish would have been welcome.  Maija’s dish was a bit more interesting but they forgot to serve it on the hummus and so we had to ask for it and were given a bowlful as a bit of an afterthought. Halfway through the main courses Maija and me were thoroughly beaten by the hummus and had to ask for doggy bags to take home. Richard bravely soldiered on and finished his. We ordered a half litre of Israeli Syrah red wine as an accompaniment which was drinkable but nothing more. They had a nice selection of soft drinks and the homemade lemonade sounded good although a bit pricey. I couldn’t help but think about the free sweet tea and 80 cent Sprite that you got at Azzam.

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Smoked aubergine

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Masabacha

I would definitely recommend Sababa on the strength of the starters alone and will be heading back one day if I am in the area. Athough sadly for Sababa, it does compete directly with the delicious and better value Lebanese restaurant Babel further along the same road towards Prenzlauerberg. For me, in the age old hummus war between Israel and Palestine, I must admit that I preferred the Israeli hummus at Sababa than that served at the chaotic but cheap and cheerful Azzam. But there really isn’t much in it and Azzam is ten minutes from my house and is cheaper so this is where I will continue to get my humus fix. I guess I’ll call it a draw!

 

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Hummus Tel Aviv

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Shakshuka

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Hummus with marinated chicken