80 – Germany – Part 4 – Gugelhof – Alsace

The region of Alsace (“Elsass” auf Deutsch) borders France and Germany and much of the border here between the two countries has been regularly redrawn especially over the last few centuries following the Franco-Prussian and First and Second World Wars. The majority of the area of Alsace is now on the French side of the border, however it is culturally still very strongly German whilst also being uniquely French. This all makes for an interesting and rich culture, history and cuisine.

Gugelhof in Prenzlauerberg is a perfect representation of this French-German melange offering German cuisine from the Elsass region with a French flair. We visited on a Saturday evening in May and we pleased to have reserved a table as it was almost full at 7pm. Unfortunately we soon realised that its popularity at this early hour was due to its family friendly nature. This is not a negative for all but was less than ideal for a childless couple wanting an intimate meal without shrieking toddlers in stereo. We asked to move tables and were given a slightly better spot but could still hear one particularly loud young chap from the other side of the restaurant.

The menu is heavy on flammkuchen which are an alsacienne speciality but also features other Franco/German staples such as schnitzel and coq au vin. For starters we chose a duck liver creme brulee and a bacon wrapped goats cheese parcel, and for mains (which we were supposed to fully share) we had a classic alsacienne flammkuche with creme fraiche, bacon and onions plus a pork knuckle with black beer sauce.

Everything was super tasty but there was a ridiculously long wait between the starter and the main and Richard ended up hogging the pork knuckle. We also tried some of the fresh white wines from the open list and enjoyed a Grauburgunder and a Riesling.

As the evening went on the families left and they were replaced by locals who seemed to be a but older than the average Berlin demographic and the atmosphere became more intimate with candles flickering on wooden tables. It was on the whole a nice experience and I would recommend to those living on that side of town but not to go out of your way to visit.

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

Rating: 7/10

Address: Knaackstraße 37, 10435 Berlin, Deutschland

Website: http://gugelhof.de/

 

76 : Odessa Mama (Ukraine)

This entry is otherwise known as the weirdest acid flashback of a restaurant visit I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) to visit. Initally I was delighted to find a new country so late in the day as I wasn’t feeling particularly enthralled with the idea of visiting the Singaporean restaurant over in Prenzlauerberg I had found that does cheap cocktails (not a sling though!) and creamy identikit curries. Odessa Mama which had previously hidden itself from my Google searches appeared to me as if by a miracle after one more attempt at “Ukranian food berlin.” It wasn’t too far away in Schonberg, so we decided to cycle over one russet coloured autumn evening after Richard had finished work following the sinking sun west across the city.

After 40 minutes of vigourous cycling with some uphill sections and lots of traffic we were hungry and ready to eat and the menu of Odessa Mama promised to feed us well. We decided upon Solyanka soup, and a kind of chicken parcel in chicken skin as starters, and then some pelmeni dumplings and that world renowned classic: the chicken kiev, as main courses. We just chose German beer and fizzy water for drinks as there were no Ukrainian options. After deciding on our food we waited, and waited and waited…

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Pelmeni with homemade mustard and sour cream

At least 20 minutes later our order was finally taken by a camp sailor-suited waitress, and then it was another 10-15 minutes before any drinks arrived. Had this not been a blog mission we would have given up there and then and gone elsewhere but instead we stayed and we waited for what seemed like an eternity in the strange dining room which was decorated as if a cruise ship had collided with a Ukranian farmhouse. In one corner was a giant TV screen showing music videos with the sound turned off but at some point during our wait, two men came in, turned the sound on and put on a DVD of Das Zigeunerlager zieht in den Himmel” (the gypsy camp moves to the sky) but they failed to press ‘start’ so we had 20 minutes of the title page and it’s strange music on loop over and over and over again while we waited and waited and waited. By this point we thought perhaps we might be tripping or someone is playing a cruel trick on us.

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Solyanka soup with meat, and a chicken parcel (topsy turvey starters)

Our descent into madness was aided by the arrival of the food: the main courses! Hurrah! But what about the starters? We asked the waitress who checked the order, nodded nonchalently, shrugged her shoulders and went off to tell the kitchen. Puzzled, we took refuge in the food that had arrived as by this time we were starving. The food seemed tasty and came in good portions but we would have enjoyed anything at this point. After finishing the mains, the waitress told us the starters were ‘on their way’ – cue another 25 minute wait by which time the main event; Das Zigeuner… was playing. A wonderful Ostblock creation from the 1970s with exotic gypsies singing, dancing, fighting and making love against a green-screen background. By this point we agreed we were definitely tripping.

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Run for your lives, don’t look back…

When the starters arrived (again tasty, but who knows?!) we dispatched them quickly and swiftly asked for the bill. No apologies or explanations or free drinks were offered and we paid as soon as it arrived, left a mildly insulting tip and got the hell outta there cycling back to Neukolln, later than expected, quite full and mildly bemused.

 

 

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 7 : AmmAmma (Tamil South India)

Winter has truly arrived in Berlin and kindly brought me a sinus infection which meant we were a little late with week seven. Also this means that we are feeling less inclined to trek across the city on the whim of a random number between one and fifty-two, so locality has started to become more of a decision factor. With this in mind we found a well reviewed South Indian restaurant just round the corner from us called AmAmma. We had a small debate over whether this  restaurant would count for the whole country of India but decided that the Tamil South Indian region was distinct enough to warrant its own week and we will save North/Central India for another visit. If anyone thinks this is cheating we can leave the rest of India from the challenge?

I have read and observed that Indian cuisine in Berlin seems to suffer from similar problems of ubiquity vs authenticity as Chinese food. This blog sums it up rather scathingly well and might be useful when we decide to go for North Indian food. AmAmma seemed like a good choice because it didn’t double up as a tacky cocktail restaurant-cum-bling Buddhist shrine. The interior was simple and warm with only one Buddha discreetly watching over us and no umbrellas, tacky exotica or animal skins (Berliners know where I’m talking about).

Richard’s eternal Berlin quest now seems to be finding food that is actually scharf (spicy, hot) to a non-German palette. Only one dish (Chennai) described itself as such so he chose the duck version and when asked if he wanted it truly spicy he insisted on having ‘the version you would do back in India’. I went for the lamb jajfna which contained okra (my favourite) and was described as ‘mittel-scharf’ . We also ordered some puffy bhatura bread and starters of lentil balls and mutton croquettes.

The menu also had a good selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes but as always we chose the meat option like the dreadful carnivores we are! The service was friendly if at times patchy and we were impressed with the low prices which included the drinks at 2.50 for a large Weiss beer.
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The starters arrived suspiciously quickly and tasted as though they had been hanging around all weekend and had been microwave reheated. Both dishes were bland and heavy and rather unappealing. Thankfully the main courses made up for the disappointment with huge portions of meat in delicious, fragrant coconut thickened gravy served with rice and salad. The spicing just about delivered although if they were served in the UK (or South India I suspect) they would be much more zingy and pack more of a punch. The bread was really yummy and we could have devoured a lot more if we weren’t so full. If we return we will skip the starters and enjoy a cheap, filling and tasty meal. We were so impressed that we even pointed out that we had been undercharged and left a decent tip.
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