Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The German Gymnasium provides a perfect culinary Christmas work out

Kholrabi and beets
Back in the dim and distant past (late 1999 to early 2000, to be precise), I worked in Camden and travelled there daily via two buses. The second was a 214 and I was often joined by a colleague at the time.

He was German – complete with huge, soup-straining moustache. And, as the bus turned down Pancras Road, he introduced me to the German Gymnasium – the first purpose-built gymnasium in England, and key in the development of athletics in this country.

Designed by Edward Gruning, it was built in 1864-65 for the German Gymnastics Society, at a time when there was a large German population in the city – and it was funded solely by that community and was used by both men and women (women’s classes were first held there in 1866).

It ceased to be used for its original purpose at some point before WWII and subsequently played a variety of roles, from office space to storage space to exhibition space.

But, with the regeneration of the whole King’s Cross area over recent years, the building has, in the past 18 months, been reborn as a cafe, bar and restaurant, with a menu that more than nods at German and central European cooking.

The Other Half and I, having some schooling in German food, had always intended to visit, but you know how it is, and it was only on a work-related Christmas lunch today that we finally made it.

It’s a wonderful space: cafe and bar on her ground floor and the restaurant at mezzanine level. Amazingly, it manages to feel spacious but without any overt echo.

The OH started with a smoked pork sausage salad, which I am assured was very good, while I opted for marinated kohlrabi, sweet and sour beets, horseradish and rocket.

There was too much rocket. However, the beets were beautiful – so earthily sweet – and the kohlrabi, while thick, was very, very tasty. It’s probably the first time I’ve really appreciated horseradish, and it complimented those sweet beets so well. All in all, it was remarkably light, yet perfect for the season.

Venison Baden Baden
For a main, we both opted for Venison “Baden Baden”, which was centred around two lovely pieces of meat (cooked rare, as asked), and with sprouts, a halved pear stuffed with sharp lingonberries, Germany’s noodle, Spätzle, and a juniper jus.

This was simply wonderful, seasonal food. The flavours sing – the pear and lingonberries are such a good compliment to the meat, cutting through its sweetness at slightly different levels, while the Spätzle was not overdone and added a fine extra component, and the jus was simply divine.

Accompanied by a glass of Gewürztraminer from Italy, this was a truly excellent dish.

For dessert, I opted for a sea buckthorn mousse, with a pumpernickel ice cream, Glühwein gel, spiced sponge and pistachio shards – and it was also a delight.

Now, I’m a raving Germanophile – as regular readers here will know – but this is a fascinating restaurant, taking German food and showing its haute cuisine side for sceptical Brits.

Its worth noting that we were some such diners – who had little familiarity with the reality of German food and only a British stereotype, and they were equally impressed if certainly more surprised.

Service was excellent and, to be frank, it was the best Christmas work-related lunch I’ve ever had.

I doubt it’ll be the last time that the OH and I dine there – and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone.

My late German friend, though he might have found the food itself a little fussy, would have bristled with delight at the thought that such a building, with such a German heritage, is now showing Brits just how good German food can be.

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