One year on from our last stay in Germany, we return to lay our critiquing eyes on some more restaurants. Only this time, we have taken to the capital, and not alone…
Aside from being the year that Expensive Tastes was born, 2012 was an eventful year. The Olympics were in London, the Queen had her Diamond Jubilee, and I spent a week in Devon with a few close friends. As a sort of five-year anniversary celebration to that, we combined the idea of going abroad with my plan to visit our German correspondent Jon Appleby in Berlin. Killing two birds with one stone, as it were – for me, at any rate.
From the previous Devon-based trip, Aaron Hayes and James Boxall were the ones reprising their roles as travel companions, alongside another very good friend of mine, a débutante to this site, Shahan Ahmed.
Our AirBnB was situated a short way out of the city centre in an area called the Platz der Luftbrücke. Like Munich, Berlin is deceptively and unexpectedly rather quiet, if more urbanised as you would expect of a capital city – still, much the opposite of our own noisy and bustly London. Our host was a friendly non-German gent whose name escapes me now, who told us, among other things, where we could find cheap prostitutes and cocaine. We naturally dismissed it as a joke, of course.
The plan for that evening was to meet up with Jon in Alexanderplatz, a relatively-central part of the city, which, at the time, was in the middle of a sort of mock-Oktoberfest. But before that we had a brief impromptu sightseeing tour — in particular, the Brandenburg Gate (pictured above), but also inadvertently the Topography of Terror, alongside which a part of The Berlin Wall still runs to this day (pictured right). The museum is actually free of charge to enter — if we had had more time, we would have paid a visit.
After meeting Jon at the mock beer festival, he led us in the direction of one of his favourite restaurants – a Vietnamese place called Chén Chè. I know what you’re probably thinking – go to Germany but have Asian food. To be honest, the traditional German dishes are sold more-often-than-not in kiosks and, at best, chain restaurants. Berlin is the site of some very worthy establishments and I think it would be unfair to ignore them based on their cuisine.
First thing that attracted us was the entrance – a quiet little oriental water garden that exudes Asian authenticity. Like a little window from urban capital city life to the incomparable Southeasterly part of this world. One could be forgiven for forgetting you were in Germany at all.
A Wagamamas breakfast at the airport taught us that at least one of our party would have trouble with chopsticks. Tofu was on the menu to meet the vegan needs of Jon and the Muslim needs of Shahan, while I was immediately enamoured by a dish on the specials menu. It was called Ga Sot Sate (see pictured), in short a Chicken Satay: chicken breast in coconut cream, flavoured with coriander and mint and served with jasmine rice. A little bowl of rich food heaven.
Since my adventure in Camden in our last issue, I find I have fallen in love with not only Asian cuisine but coconut cream. That which enhanced the flavour of the rice in my Lamb Rendang so much did wonders for this Vietnamese dish too. It was so flavoursome and rich; I could not waste a single grain of rice – however difficult that may be with only a pair of chopsticks to hand.
Dessert was to be found elsewhere – what Jon called “a famous ice cream shop”. This came in the form of Amorino’s – a gelataria of which there are only a few across the world. I think when it comes to chains, I can make an exception here. The ice creams are served in the standard scoop as you would hope to find, or in a stylish floral arrangement as you will see from the image. It makes the mind reel as to who came up with that.
If you would like a different standpoint on Berlin, let me point you in the direction of Jon’s own more-culture-oriented article for us on the very subject – A Bad Tourist’s Guide to Berlin