Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The taste of Berlin

As I posted before we left for Berlin, I was “looking forward to enjoying a cuisine that is often overlooked when people discuss European food.” And sure enough, I managed to taste vast amounts of it.

Maximillians and Gendarmerie were both so good that we visited twice.

In the case of the former, our second visit saw me opt for a lighter meal, of Brotzeit – a platter of cold meats and sausages, with raddishes, pickles, excellent bread and cheese. I actually thought that there were two sorts of cheese on the board that it was all served on – one cubed and a second grated. I was wrong though: it was grated horseradish, as I found out when I forked a generous load into my mouth.

I took considerably greater care with the next mouthful of it – powerful stuff.

Our return to Gendarmerie on our final night in the city produced another excellent meal, sitting inside this time after torrential rain during the day.

I ordered the spargel with hollandaise – the waiter who delivered it questioned whether that was what I’d really ordered and not meant to order it with, say, a schnitzel. I had to reply that I don’t have a very Germanic appetite, so yes, it was just the spargel and sauce. Well, plus some new potatoes. Which were lovely anyway.

I followed that with a dish of calve’s cheek – having heard cheek meat recommended by assorted TV chefs and not having had the chance to taste it. It was really tender meat, very tasty, and was served with an intriguing snail ragout, puréed potato and spinach. An interesting and tasty dish.

The break between courses worked well again and I opted once more for the chocolate torte. Really good stuff.

We also lunched at KaDeWe on the legendary sixth floor – a fabulous food hall, which includes a number of mini eating areas: kitchens with benches or stools around them, serving a range of freshly-cooked food.

I had excellent matjes herrings, served on a bed of sour cream and sliced onion (very refreshing) and with a mass of pan fried, sliced potatoes.

One wasn't really supposed to take photographs inside, but I managed to sneak one.

We also had wurst at a biergarten in Tiergarten, the city’s vast park. It was served in the cooking water, in bowls, was as light as a feather and went down fabulously with a pretzel, two sorts of mustard and good beer.

Then there was currywurst at Berliner Republik on the Friday evening, surrounded by Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen fans arriving in town for the German cup final the following day. Plenty of tales exist about how this particular Berlin speciality was created – most via accidents – but it was a very light curry sauce, tangy and rather tomatoey.

The culinary disappointment of the week was Lutter & Wegner. A very old and well-known restaurant, we expected great things. The spargel soup was an intense flavour, but rather salty (suggesting it had been hanging around for some time) and there was far too much of it.

Unlike Gendarmerie, we were rushed between courses. I thus fail to agree with the Time Out guide that the service is excellent: efficient, yes. But too rushed.

Having quaffed my soup, I moved onto Himmel und Erde.

Now, this was being offered as a speciality of a smart restaurant. And I was thrilled that, even after being handed an English-language restaurant, I knew what this was and could order it in German. As a German friend tells me, it’s winter food for manual workers. But I was falling over myself to try such a traditional dish.

A long, single black pudding, halved lengthways, served with apple and pureed potatoes, it was tasty – but sat incredibly heavily. As did the red wine. I thought I was going to be ill.

The Other Half, who had chosen the same main course, also felt ‘heavy’ for about the same length of time after. We left without finishing the wine – and certainly without even considering a dessert.

In Potsdam, there was a very nice piece of grilled salmon, with spargel and potatoes, followed by a slice of Black Forest Gateaux.

The zoo supplied a decent, slightly spaced wurst on our first visit (chips rather hard and chilled given so few customers that day) and, on the second, a very decent frikadellen. On that second visit, cheeky Berlin sparrows came and grabbed food from our plates and fingers.

And a rather smart restaurant on Charlottenstraße served up a very pleasant lunchtime dish of Nürnberger Rostbratwurst, served with excellent sauerkraut and potatoes, as we sat outside, watching the rain from beneath a canopy, a stone's throw from Gendarmenmarkt.

I enjoyed a few glasses of Berliner Weiße mit rot (white beer flavoured with raspberry syrup), which were very refreshing. But after getting over the novelty, I stuck with more traditional beers for the rest of the trip.

But without doubt, the culinary part of the trip was a roaring success.

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