80 : Germany – Part One – Brandenburg – Gustav & Gold

Apologies that these are embarassingly late. I have no excuses…

As part of the final Germanastravaganza I wanted to find restaurants in Berlin that represented the many regional faces of German cuisine. More than most other cultures, Germany suffers from a culinary misnomer of blandness and uniformity and I wanted to show that this was not fully the case.

My first opportunity to try some more modern and fresh German food was courtesy of Travelzoo who offered an excellent value dining voucher for a Berlin restaurant which took local, regional food from Brandenburg and gave it high end presentation. Gustav & Gold is a fairly new restaurant situated between Mitte and Kreuzberg which offers a small menu of delicious local food, cooked well and beautifully presented, which should be pleasing to vegetarians and meat eaters. The decor was quite classy but didn’t seem very modern or ‘Berlin’ and had a bit of a 90s elegance feel which I believe was unintended and would perhaps appeal more to their other customers who all seemed to be middle aged, middle class suburban Berliners on a rare special night out.

Our offer meant that we got to try a starter, main and dessert each for an incredible price of 55 euros including wine, a welcome cocktail and a soup. For starters Richard chose the young Mecklenburg bull tatare and I had the fried duck liver both were very delicious. This was followed by a tasty beetroot soup which was very rich, especially as I ate two portions because Richard was not a fan.

Afterwards we chose lamb rack with swede and herb crust and the whole sea bass. The lamb was pink and well cooked however the pepper in the swede was a bit dominating. Richard’s bass was really well cooked and tasty, but having a whole fish served up seemed a bit out of place with the more precise and elegant plating of the other dishes.

For dessert Richard chose the chocolate dirt cake and I had the lime mousse. They were good but not memorable as I cannot remember much about either, writing this three months later! The same goes for the wines which were okay but could have been more interesting.

I would recommend seeking out a voucher for Gustav and Gold as they seem to feature regularly on travelzoo and Groupon. The food was very tasty and for what we paid it was awesome. If I were paying full price I think I could find better places to spend my money. The concept of local Brandenburg food in Berlin is good however I think that perhaps we are not the demographic they are aiming to attract and it would be a great night out for someone whose food tastes were developed 20 years ago when a decent rack of lamb and a seabass would impress.

Price for two course meal with drinks for two persons: 70-100 euros

Rating: 7/10

Address: Stresemannstraße 48-52, 10963 Berlin

Website: https://www.gustavundgold.de/

80 – Germany – Part 3 – Black Forest – Schwarzwaldstuben

Schwartzwaldstuben is an authentic restaurant representing the Black Forest region of Germany with its Schwabische-Badischer cuisine. The restaurant is situated near Rosenthaler Platz in Mitte and is extremely popular and busy as it offers slow food in a homely and cosy environment.

The beer on tap is the extremely tasty Rothaus Tannenzäpfle Pilsner from the Schwarzwald which is famous for its happy, smiling lady on the logo. They also offer a great selection of wines by the glass as this area borders on the Rheinland which is famous for its white wines.

For food we chose to share the regional platter which featured Black Forest ham, Tête-de-Moine caramelized goat’s cheese, chutney, herb butter, lentil salad with suckling pig and smoked trout.  For a main Richard ordered “Badisches Schäufele mit Sauerkraut und Bratkartoffeln” which was a huge-old, smoked pig knuckle with roast potatoes and I had the venison maultaschen (filled dumplings) from the specials board with salad. We washed everything down with several Rothaus vom Fass.

The food was fresh and tasty and we enjoyed it, however it was pretty standard German fare and offered no suprises. I was jealous of Richard’s food as my maultaschen were quite small and not very filling. Other people were eating Flammkuchen which looked good and maybe we would try these if we went back again. I would recommend this to people as a good standard of German regional food with nice surroundings however we won’t be making a special detour to return.

Price for two course meal with drinks for two persons: 50-70 euros

Rating: 7/10

Address: Tucholskystraße 48, 10117 Berlin

Website: www.schwarzwaldstuben-berlin.com/

74 : Dottir (Iceland)

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We planned this visit to coincide with our 4th wedding anniversary on 3rd June as the Icelandic restaurant Dottir is a one of a kind, expensive dining experience.

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On this balmy early summer evening we arrived at 9pm to a fully booked out restaurant over in Mitte near the Brandenburg gate. As we waited at the bar for our table we sipped yummy, well crafted cocktails; Richard had something with champagne and I had a gin and cucumber concoction. Both were delicious. The decor of the restaurant was very cool with simple design, stripped bare plaster walls, large pieces of feature lighting and huge, interesting artworks.

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The restaurant serves a single set menu mixing Icelandic and Scandinavian ingredients and flavours at a set price with no deviation other than to accomodate allergies. This week’s menu was exactly to our taste with a starter of scallops, then roe deer fillet,  monkfish, and white chocolate and berries for dessert. We chose a good value Riesling to go with our food from the cheaper end of the menu which rose to the kind amount that we would spend on a new fridge freezer or a week’s holiday.

IMG_2999 The food was very much worth the high price because every mouthful was intricate and delicious and the ingredients worked really well together and the presentation was beautiful. The roe deer and the monkfish dishes were our particular highlights. The wine we chose was also very good and went well with everything. By the end of the meal we were quite satisfied and a bit drunk (hence the wonky shots and general lack of photos). I would certainly recommend Dottir as a great choice for a special occassion or if you have the money to spare but you might want to check the menu before you reserve in case it is not to your taste.

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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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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

Week 53 : Tadshikische Teestube (Tajikistan) 

Seeminlgly one of the more obscure findings for the blog, this traditional tea-house on Oranienburgstrasse in Mitte was donated to East Berlin by the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan in 1976. A bit of internet research told me that far from being obscure this novelty cafe is listed among the ‘hidden gems’ in the more alternative tourist guides and seemed well known and well reviewed.

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image from http://www.tadshikische-teestube.de/

I met a friend there for a late afternoon tea on a cold early December afternoon and it felt like the right time of year to cozy up in the warm, ‘Oriental’ style salon. (Using the word oriental conjures up exactly the images I want to convey here but I use inverted commas because of Edward Said and how Oriental can be seen a powerful, negative discourse)

Anyway, I digress. One can choose between sitting on cushions on the floor or on  a few proper tables, even at 4pm just after opening it was busy with several reserved signs on the tables. We left our shoes and coats by the door and sat at a small table at the back, there was a lovely booth behind us which I imagine would be nice to book if you were with a largish group. The decor was very opulent as you would hope from such a place with mahogany wood floors with huge embroidered Persian rugs, emerald green walls furnished with tapestries and paintings, and the low wooden tables had cushions for sitting and were jeweled with sweets and nuts.
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There was a lot more alcohol than I imagined on the menu with different vodkas and liqueurs featuring as part of some of the set teas. It was also a bit expensive with pots of tea averaging at 5 euros and some of the more extravagant samovar tea ceremonies costing 9 euros per person. I resent paying for tea when someone has just put hot water on a tea bag so was hoping that we would get at least something more than some PG Tips in a pot. We chose the appropriately named ‘Five O’Clock’ tea partly because it seemed one of the more authentic offerings and partly as it was early and we didn’t fancy any vodka. It came with with fresh cream, lemon-cheese marmalade (lemon curd), biscuits, toast and orange and ginger marmalade. We also took a plate of Wareneki with potato and mushroom to share as we were not so hungry to try many thing and hadn’t tried this variety of dumpling before.
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The menu as a whole was a real mishmash of Uzbek, Russian, Eastern European and Iranian cuisines which is unsurprising considering Tajikistan’s location on the silk and spice trails. You could really imagine traders from all over the near East stopping off for tea somewhere like this, their camels tied up outside expecting home comforts, vodka and hot teas to warm them on their way. I guess this place is like an ancient form of a motorway service station but with fewer blow up neck cushions and less varieties of pick-and-mix. If I went back I would like to have tried the Plov which is an Uzbek dish of lamb and rice and the pierogis with meat.

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The five o’clock tea was lovely. Tasty black tea and slices of wholemeal toast and biscuits with yummy marmalade. The wareneki were okay but nothing special, the texture was nice, the potato filling tasty enough and the mushroom topping was interesting but we had unthinkingly ordered the vegan version so we couldn’t help but think about how much better they would be with cheese or sour cream to give them some moisture. The value for money wasn’t so good either at over eight euros a plate but I guess the prices reflect the surroundings and being in a nice part of Mitte.

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I would come back here but maybe for a special occasion with a group and book a table with a full tea ceremony as this seems to be the essence of the place. It is a certainly special place to visit, evocative of another time on a distant windswept Tajik plain where moustached men on horses with their precious cargo of spice and silks would stop off to  refresh themselves and share their tales. And that is not something you get to experience every day, especially not in the centre of Berlin.