Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Berlin: Prenzlauer Berg

When I lived in Berlin, it was ALL about Prenzlauer Berg. Getting an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg was the aim of most Erasmus students. Friedrichshain was second rung, Kreuzberg third. Anywhere else was met with derision - you live where?! I lived on the borders of Prenz and more elegant Mitte, and couldn't believe how affordable my rent was compared to London. Oh and what quality you got too.

Eating out back then was all about cheap Thai restaurants, Vietnamese noodles Turkish fast food, and many mid price places made without love. An old favourite back then was Gugelhof, which stood out from the crowd. It served up food from Alsace, and boasted of being the politicos favourite - Chancellor Schroeder took Bill Clinton here one time when he was in town.

Now, Prenzlauer Berg is post-gentrified - it's a little bit like an affordable version of Notting Hill, losing a bit of its edge in favour of mainstream bohemianism. It's still very lovely - glorious streets, a still scruffy epic Sunday fleamarket, and, with its post-gentrified state: good eating options.

Particularly nice was Les Valseuses, a newish French bistro opened up on Eberswalderstr. It has a super short, regularly changing menu - three starters, mains, desserts and a few daily specials - which I consider to be a good indication of quality. We shared a run of tapenades and a salad of buffalo mozzarella, jerusalem artichoke, pear and a light curry sauce. The tapenades were inspired - not something you often see in restaurants, but tasting of salty, summery indulgence. The salad was a really unusual combination but worked really well together.

I had steak with bernaise butter and frites. Very simple, but everything bursting with flavour. The chips tasted like they'd been fried in beef dripping, and had perfect crunchiness from triple frying.

Desserts included classics like creme brulee, but I opted for candied pumpkin with whipped chestnut cream and candied nuts. It was sensational - earthy, sweet, crunchy, burnty.

We loved the service - very jovial and informal, especially for the double whammy of being a French restaurant in Berlin (definitely not famed for service culture). And the interior was very East London - plane white walls, bits of chipboard and vintage fixed gear bikes dotted around.

Kauf dich glΓΌcklich is a twee German mini clothes chain, but it's store on Oderbergerstr is home to a cafe too - serving some of the best waffles in Berlin.

We dropped buy after the fleamarket for some - there was a 20 minute queue to order, and then a 30 minute wait for them to arrive. But at around 3.50Euro for a decent portion of waffles, with ice cream and warm cherries, it was well worth the wait.

Round the corner from my old flat is a new coffee bar like no other. At The Barn, coffee is taken so seriously that small children aren't allowed in because they'll spoil the peace. There's a bollard at the door, blocking the entrance to prams. Coffee is served as pure as it comes - no milk, no sugar, no nothing.

The coffee makers (I daren't call them baristas for fear of being reductive) used traditional paper filters and other drip systems to give the coffee the ultimate treatment. After about 20 minutes - waiting mostly  not brewing - my chic black jug of coffee was ready. I was recommended to let it sit for three minutes while it reached its optimum temperature - and yes, it was very nice - caramelly, woody, complex. I enjoyed the ceremony, and it was an incredibly peaceful place to enjoy a coffee and contemplate its every nuance.

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