The food scene is on the rise and part of what has made Berlin approachable for tourists and visitors from all over the world. How is the gastronomic culture developing, and where is it going to lead us in the future? We will aim to provide restaurant reviews or simply share our opinion on the newest gastronomic projects that we have discovered.
For the special occasion of our lovely friend Fousieh’s birthday, our little group hopped into the rental car (still a big fan of Drivy, by the way) and drove towards the very renowned Forsthaus Strelitz. The little cabin at the cross of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is only 90 minutes away from Berlins city center, if you’re lucky with traffic, and famous for its ‘brutal lokal’ Michelin-star awarded restaurant.
Now usually, Michelin-star restaurants are tainted by a stiff reputation of fine dining atmosphere, but Forsthaus Strelitz is a delightful exception to the rule: the re-transformed country house in Neustrelitz is basic and comfortable, easy going but completely satisfying – just like the 4 course menu offered by Wenzel Pankratz, who took over the little inn from his father.
As we arrive on Sunday afternoon, the captivating autumn light tempts us to explore the surrounding estate of Forsthaus Strelitz, where we discover the rustic and charming garden. Here is where the magic happens, and where chef Pankratz sources most of his ingredients for his guest’s dinner.
But as we still had a little bit of time left until we could dig into the famous cuisine of Forsthaus Strelitz, we hopped back into the car to see what else the region had to offer. We ended up going to the quaint little village of Carwitz, which – being so close to the Mecklenburgerische Seenplatte – was conveniently surrounded by lakes and yellow blooming rape fields. And so – as it goes at the end of September 2018, after months of heat and sunshine – we decided to gracefully conclude the summer season by skinny dipping in the FREEZING ICE COLD LAKE.
The nice thing about being in Brandenburg (or Meck-Pomm, as it was) is that skinny dipping is not only not frowned upon but also very much a “Volkssport”, which translates to “if you’re not naked then people will look at you funnily”. Coming from the former German West, it took me roundabout 10 years to get comfortable with that mentality, but now I embrace it. Never again having to schlepp bikinis, and done with the tan lines! Unfortunately, being completely unprepared for a spontaneous dip into the water, we had also neglected to bring any towels. In hindsight, it was funny, but for someone who will freeze even in the gulf of Mexico (me), it was quite torturous.
After our little outing we returned to our night’s refuge for the highlight of our trip: the dinner at Forsthaus Strelitz.
The inn’s dining room is almost austere – a lot of wood, candles and restored furniture – but nevertheless charming and key to feeling right at home. Quite a change from other set course restaurants. No dress code, no pretentiousness. The ‘brutal lokal’ concept feels much more at home here than, say, at Berlin counterpart Nobelhart & Schmutzig – not because the food is any worse in the city (quite the contrary), but because seeing those lush vegetables grow in such close proximity feels more authentic than being in a thoroughly designed and kind of generic “contemporary fine dining” setting. Yes, I said authentic.
The menu started with a serving of a very light linseed cracker and a yogurt dip, a very refreshing and innovative snack to start out with. Despite being to nibble on, I was also relieved when the sour dough bread was served – warm and soft and rich, just the way I expect my bread to be. And up until that point, everything had already pretty much guided us to the general idea of the menu: fresh, earthy, and Brandenburgs finest produce.
And our expectations were definitely met – the fish, the meat, the exceptional red beet, the dessert – everything simple, but just so good. I don’t want to spoil the food by talking to much about it, as my culinary writing hasn’t always proved convincing. But let me tell you: for roundabout 70 Euro per person (sans drinks), this is a meal that comes highly recommended.
Unfortunately, we had to go back to work, life and Berlin on the Monday after our precious time together at Forsthaus Strelitz (not without an important detour – but that’s a story for another blogpost). I was once again convinced of the power of escapism, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. It doesn’t always have to be over the top luxurious or a decadent spa to unwind and relax – sometimes a good meal and a walk through the garden will suffice.
That said, I was just slightly disappointed with the amenities of our room. While the inn is definitely renowned for being simple and without much fanfare, I do expect at least a comfortable mattress and a cozy room, especially when you’re sharing it with friends (a bath tub in the middle of the room can be romantic, yes, but it’s also highly inconvenient if there’s not an alternative shower option). At 80 Euro per night per person, I’d think that there’s a bit more that could go into the rooms.
Nevertheless – I will cherish the memories of our trip and hope to do it again sometime soon. The dinner, at least, would be worth it for sure.
I have to admit, my palate for Chinese cuisine is rather undeveloped. I am possibly traumatized from countless years of mediocre ‘all you can eat’ standardized suburbian Chinese buffet deals my family would drag me out to on any given occasion.
Thankfully, Chinese food is much more than fried rice, greasy noodles and fortune cookies. At Da Jia Le, it is a variety of incredibly exciting and absolutely new tastes from the Northern parts of China. It’s a very special mix of spicy, simple, hot and absolutely new to me.
Da Jia Le, located in a strip of no-mans-land between Yorkstraße and Pallasstraße in Schöneberg, looks from the outside like a very forgettable and totally regular experience of a Chinese restaurant. But don’t judge a book by its cover!
One of of those last sunny summer days, we opted to sit outside, discarding the practical Lazy Suzie (a rotating tray that is put on the table to facilitate sharing food) option which is usually served inside. Once we ordered, it took only around 5-10 minutes for all of our orders to arrive.
The most important dish on the cold entrée menu is, by far, the tofu leaf salad. I haven’t quite figured out if its actual tofu or yuba (tofu skin), but whatever it may be – it’s a fantastic, lightly tart and mildly spicy option to begin your session with.
I like to visit Da Jia Le with a group of friends, as the portion sizes are respectable and there’s just too much excellence on the menu for one person only. While I prefer the vegetarian options at any Chinese restaurant (there is something about glibbery and sauced up meat that I can’t do well), Da Jia Le also has a few tasty and hearty stir fries with chicken, beef, pork and a few additional stews with fish as well.
Generally, you shouldn’t miss out on the cold potato strips and definitely not on the fried and spicy aubergine. Additional stars on the menu are the cucumber salad, the marinated tofu and pretty much anything else you can find on the menu that looks enticing to you – I yet have to experience a dish that wasn’t at least superbly interesting (although, truth be told, I am still very picky when it comes to Chinese culinary expeditions).
Although Da Jia Le is definitely something you would categorize as ‘authentic’ Chinese, they’ve really invested towards a wide beverages menu. There are at least 2 or 3 pages exclusively dedicated to German Craft Beers and selected wines – two things that pair really well with seasoned (and a lot of fried!) Chinese food.
One of those spaces is the Eisfabrik Berlin, an abandoned complex on Köpenicker Straße. As the name implies, the location was once one of the largest artificial ice factories, but the area at the Spree has been empty and in ruins for quite a while. The prime location has been often used for legal (and illegal) raves, parties and urban exploring.
The history of the Eisfabrik Mitte
The Eisfabrik was built in 1896 as an essential pillar of Berlins exploding growth: there were no fridges in the 20th century, and people – restaurants, bars, clubs, private citizens – had to rely on ice to keep their stuff cooled.
Since 1995, the Eisfabrik had been abandoned by the original factory owner (Berliner Kühlhaus GmbH), given back to nature and decay. The idea was to take it down entirely eventually, but what’s left of its structure today will be saved and redeveloped instead – a big win for a (protected) landmark like that. The developing company is going to rename the site as “Eiswerke” to be the new home of clubs, cultural spaces, living spaces and shops.
For a while, it was nearly impossible to get back into the building (I think they locked it up and began with the brickwork in 2014, at least that’s when I was inside the premises for the last time).
For those who want to experience the incredible spot (with that magic touch of Berlin history) before it begins its new life as Eiswerke, I suggest a trip to the 3rd Bites & Vibes street food market hosted by foodora. On Sunday, June 10 2018, you can enjoy some of the best and most delicious food stalls of the city at work, in what will hopefully be a chill and sunny atmosphere right at the water.
Of course, no street food market is complete without a lavish program: local artists, DJs and entertainers – Vallentina Beleza and Marvin Game, to be exact – will provide the necessary background noise for a wholesome day out.
Furthermore, some of my blogging colleagues are hosting an exciting art exhibition “The art of foodporn” in collaboration with whitewall, in which influencers put their best digital food works on display.
Brasserie Colette by Tim Raue is a solid restaurant for French classics and modern variations of them. It’s also part of the Tertianum project, a premium residency complex and retirement home for the elderly. I met Steve Karlsch, culinary director of the Colette franchise, for a little chat about the restaurant and the project.
Notoriously famous for his “Berliner Schnauze”, Tim Raue isn’t exactly an underdog of Germany’s culinary scene. Even so, one of his youngest enterprises – the Brasserie Colette, vis-à-vis of the historical KaDeWe luxury shopping mall – doesn’t adhere to his typically star-awarded vision of fine dining. In fact, the French bistro-restaurant is a wonderfully casually and relaxed place for lunch and dinner in a comfortable but refined atmosphere, run by Raue’s hand-appointed culinary director Steve Karlsch. Yet – apart from bringing the philosophy of the charming Brasserie back into the limelight – Colette is especially interesting due to its unique location: the Tertianum retirement home.
“The restaurant was part of the project from the beginning”, explains Karlsch during our lunch visit on a calm Saturday noon. We’ve arrive in a quaint side street of the Ku’damm, where a Russian delicacy store and a sleepy café seem to be the only neighbours. The restaurant does stand out with its black facade, but if you didn’t know there was a whole world (of old people) hidden behind the residential complex next to it, you would think it’s stand-alone.
Tertianum, an apartment complex project for the elderly, was founded in 2005 and is connected to Colette by a backdoor through its lobby. It’s not just a retirement home – it’s a first class housing enterprise that puts most hotels to shame. “There’s a library, a spa, and a service contract connected to the lease of the apartments – and of course, the Brasserie Colette.” The project isn’t exclusive to Berlin, as there are other dépendances of Tertianum – including franchises of the Brasserie Colette – in Munich and Konstanz as well.
Although jokes have been made about the quality and novelty of the concept (a quick Google search reveals that all local newspapers were eager to spin another joke on ‘dining with the elderly’), our host insists that it has been a rewarding challenge to create a restaurant that would appease the regulars from Tertianum as well as outside guests.
A sneak peek into the Tertianum lobby
“Logistics were difficult, because we’re actually sharing a kitchen with the Tertianum canteen”, Karlsch says, “but we were also dealing with a very new situation: unlike a regular hotel-restaurant, we’re cooking every day for the same people. And they’re not just any people. There are certain things we had to learn about the diet and the comfort foods of older generations.”
Some of the Tertianum guests missed their mashed potatoes, others complained because their fake teeth didn’t go well with rice kernels. Karlsch had to adapt to his new guests by changing his ambitious culinary plans from the beginning. “We had to get to know each other and find out what works, but we’re definitely in a good place now.”
Thankfully, patrons who aren’t 60+ mustn’t fear any compromises: if you didn’t know that Colette was part of a senior residence, you wouldn’t notice from the menu’s balanced composition of French classics, the modern and sleek interior and that slight fetish for Asian flavours that Raue’s cooking is known for.
Octopus, Tomato & Crêpes
Despite his international fame, I’ve never managed to visit any of Raue’s restaurants – presumably because I don’t dine out at star-awarded restaurants as much as I would like to. Fortunately for me (and for my wallet), the Brasserie Collette is, as Karlsch emphasizes, “a restaurant for every day”, and after my visit, I can whole-heartedly agree: optics, taste and accessibility, Colette is composed to make anyone feel at home. The food is easy to understand – a good mix of French elements, more refined and perhaps even a little uplifted, but never at the loss of familiarity.
Of the dishes that we tried, my favourite was definitely the juicy and spicy grilled pulpo with topinambur from the evening menu, although the starters weren’t half bad either: The tuna tartar’s faint Sriracha component wasn’t my thing, but the sweet and tangy tomato salad with passionfruit hit the spot. Accompanied with attentive service in a relaxed environment, there is nothing to complain about at Colette.
The golden finish was delivered in form of the dessert – the Crêpes Colette – which was the perfect symbiose of sweet and salty and, obviously, the name-sake of the restaurant. “When Tim was a child, he ate his perfect Crêpes on a French beach, made by the famous Madame Colette”, Karlsch explains.
Tuna tartar with crispy bread
Tomato salad with passion fruit
The Brasserie Colette makes for an ideal lunch stop while touring Charlottenburg, the Ku’Damm or KaDeWe on a Saturday afternoon, or for a night out with friends. While certainly not as expensive as other localities in the vicinity, Colette nestles itself in a mid- to high-range category. And for everyone who keeps asking me where to go for a “Beuster or Goldener Hahn style” dinner out in the West: here’s your answer, finally.