Rick Stein embarks on a series of culinary long weekends in search of food excellence and brilliant recipes, heading to markets, restaurants, wineries, cafes and bars. He begins his third adventure by visiting Berlin for the first time to enjoy a winter break.
Chef Rick Stein’s brand new series is a wonderful gastronomical journey through some of the less obvious destinations for a weekend foodie break. Rick began his series in Bordeaux, which is often referred to as “The sleeping beauty of France”. On week two, Rick visits Reykjavík, the capital and largest city of Iceland. In this third part, Rick visits German capital city Berlin.
Rick visits Berlin for the first time and checks into the quirky Bikini hotel and is greeted by an old mini in the main entrance. It’s classic post war modernism and typical of the quirky nature of Berlin that Rick will find. The ceiling in the hotel bedroom looks like an old car park with pipes and wires everywhere. A very inviting hammock overlooking a view of Berlin zoo is another nice touch to the room.
Rick was tempted by an early night but decided to eat a hot meal at “Noble Heart and Schmutzig” in Berlin. The set menu is local and the kitchen is at the centre of the restaurant. At “Noble heart and Schmutzig” the chef becomes waiter and interacts with the customers. To start, Rick has slices of smoked eel with ice wine vinegar jelly, garnished with fresh raddish shoots. Then barbecued baby leeks that are later fried gently with slices of speck lard and crushed fennel seeds. The leeks are served with pork stock. Next Rick has neck of saddleback pork – barbecued initially for five minutes – and then finished off in the oven for a further five minutes. The pork is served with blanched salad leaves, garnished with frozen pine needles and a reduced pork stock made with meat juices and wine. Wild trout is next which is very lightly seared and quite raw in the middle and this is served with a smokey flavoured mashed potato and a puree of kale. Rick decides to mop up the kale sauce with some fresh bread!
After a good sleep, Rick has a light breakfast of some smoked salmon, cold ham and cucumbers.
He then heads out for lunch and to enjoy one of the most popular dishes in Berlin – Currywurst. It’s not to everyone’s taste of course, the food critics in Berlin absolutely hate it. But nearly a billion Currywurst’s get sold in Germany each year. It’s one of the most comforting street foods in the world, especially in winter when you need something hearty and warm. It’s a savoury and simple dish of Bratwurst, Tomato Ketchup and curry powder. Currywurst was invented in the late 1940s by Herta Heuwer after she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. It became a cheap but filling street food.
Rick then heads out into town to visit the Berlin wall. It was the wall that split the city in half and spawned a thousand spy novels. Parts of the wall are still standing and it serves as a reminder to very different times and attitudes. The wall separated and divided roads, rooms, neighbourhoods and families. It’s a monument to travesty that lasted for nearly 30 years. Rick speaks to a local taxi driver who tells a moving story about his grandparents being at the other side of the wall when he was a small boy. East Berlin was a no-go zone with endless stories of desperate people trying to get across the wall. When the wall finally came down there was a mass exodus to the west. You could then get homes for next to nothing in East Berlin where rents were either very low or non-existent. This led to lots of young people coming to East Berlin and opening up clubs, discos and restaurants. This led to a massive revolution in East Berlin of fun and excitement because buildings were so cheap.
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Rick visits La Soupe Populaire (French for soup kitchen) which is home to one of the new trendy restaurants in the city. It’s very popular with cool young diners who seem to love lots of concrete and old industrial paraphernalia which creates a scene that is fit for a film noir shoot out. Every dish at La Soupe Populaire is inspired by the chef’s mothers and grandmothers and is a twist on old favourites. Rick is served Königsberger Klopse. In a bowl containing a kilo of veal mince, chef Michael adds chopped head meat and tongue for texture. Michael then adds capers and parsley. Next up is two eggs, 100g of breadcrumbs, some salt and white pepper (about 20 turns) and two tablespoons of sweet mustard. Michael mixes and forms the meatballs using wet hands and then simmers the meatballs very gently in chicken stock. For the sauce, Michael heats half a litre of chicken stock and some single cream, some butter and then adds some Semolina and whisks until the sauce thickens. Then Michael adds some sweet white wine (about half a wine glassful). The meatballs take about 20 minutes to cook through. The mash potato looks light and silky and then the sauce is added. The final arrival to the dish is breadcrumbs lightly fried in butter and a little ball of shaven beetroot and apple salad with a touch of strawberry vinegar It’s a light and delicious take on a German classic. It looks wonderful and is presented superbly.
Rick is joined at the table by Per Meurling, a passionate foodie who writes a blog about Berlin restaurants. Per explains that Königsberger Klopse is a classic Prussian dish and that La Soupe Populaire stands for the new wave of German chefs who want to do things differently and take German cuisine to the next level.
At home in Cornwall, Rick prepares a sliced salmon dish with a German influenced salad (Cucumber, apple and Horseradish). Rick uses his mortle and pestle on some caraway seeds and white peppercorns. He then adds some salt & sugar. Beetroot is then added to a food processor, followed by the caraway seeds, white peppercorns, salt and sugar. Rick then whizzes it all up. Rick’s salmon is cut from the centre and is nice and thick. The salmon is placed on clingfilm and then the mixture is added on top. To weigh it down, Rick uses a piece of wood and a very heavy copper saucepan. He then places it in the fridge. Rick then makes the salad using a Japanese mandolin to slice the cucumber, onion and apple. Two teaspoonfuls of horseradish is added to a bowl with cider vinegar, salt and sugar. A drizzle of rapeseed oil follows. He then throws in the apple, cucumber and onion with roughly chopped dill. The salmon is sliced finely and served with the beautiful salad.
Rick frequently describes Berlin as “noir” and says he likes the black melancholic flavour of the German capital.
A friend had suggested to Rick that if he really wanted to see the city then he should take a tour in a Trabant, the legendary symbol of East Germany. The tour is certainly unique! You listen to a commentary on a walkie talkie that comes from the lead car which is very hard to follow! Rick stalls the Trabant which leads to a howl of horns from behind him..at least he can raise a chuckle about the experience! Rick finally finds third gear, turns off the radio and enjoys some of the sights of East Berlin.
One of the quirks of Berlin is that things happen in unexpected places. Rick strolls around an industrial car park until he eventually finds a Chandelier and a sign that says “Cookies Cream”. Rick needs to ring a bell and then he is let in to the restaurant by the owner Cookie. The restaurant – despite its difficult location – is full of diners. Cookies and cream is a trendy veggie restaurant. The origins for the restaurant came from the famous Berlin techno clubs and so when Cookie (the owner) became bored with disco’s, he started to create some very exciting veggie food using (on occasions) the same technics turntable! Rick enjoys a flan made from pureed sunflower seeds, Jerusalem artichoke, liquidised watercress and parsley oil. The meal looks like a piece of art. This is trendy and very creative food. Paper thin potato strips are topped with mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and radishes built up into layers. Then spinach is added on top with chopped pistachio, seasame dressing and a fried egg. What makes the restaurant so unique is that this is food that no one would ever cook at home. You are eating out and enjoying a one-off totally unique experience.
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Cookie explained how the restaurant started:
I started off in nightclubs over 20 years ago. It was illegal! It was a lot of fun, I love electronic music and Berlin is electro music but then I started getting bored of it. I decided to reinvent myself and open up a restaurant in the same venue.
For many locals, they don’t want to stroll through car parks and loading bays looking for a sign. They want tables heaving with beer, sausages, wine and Sauerkraut. Rick admits that after having some quite noir and arty food experiences in Berlin that he was now in the mood to get grounded.
The Hofbräu in Berlin is where ordinary Berliners go to eat, drink and let their hair down. It is also the biggest beer tavern in the world. The atmosphere of the restaurant is raucous and fun. It serves dishes such as roasted pork knuckle and potato dumpling, Wiener Schnitzel served with chips, currywurst and litres of cold pilsner beer. Many people see Hofbräu as quintessential German food but it isn’t. It’s the food of Bavaria that goes so well with Lederhosen and dirndl skirts, snowwy mountain tops and grassy meadows full of contended cows wearing huge bells. Rick admits that the whole experience is quite cheesy and naff but that it is also incredibly fun. There’s an atmosphere of sheer enjoyment and he makes a super point that if we Brits had halls serving roast beef and playing Chas n Dave then it would be fantastic!
Back home in Cornwall, Rick cooks streaky bacon joint with home made sauerkraut and a yellow split pea puree and delicious German mustard.
Rick puts his bacon joint in a pan and then he adds an onion studded with cloves, some chilli flakes and some brown sugar which provides a lovely contrast of sweetness to the saltyness of the bacon. Then Rick adds some black peppercorns, bay leaves and cider (about half a pint) and then finally some water. He leaves it all to simmer for about 45 minutes-one hour. Rick then makes a fresh sauerkraut. He starts by slicing an onion thinly and then he fries it in rapeseed oil gently. Next he adds very thinly sliced white cabbage and place them with the onions and mixes well so that the cabbage slices go into the oil. Next is some carraway seeds, then salt,cider vinegar and finally cider and water. This is left to simmer for about three quarters of an hour. The bacon is cooked to perfection and slices easily and is served with the fresh sauerkraut and split pea puree and a German mustard called senf.
Finally the sun makes an appearance in Berlin and Rick wants to shows us two places high up on the food map of Berlin. First is KaDaWe, a department store famous for its food. They allowed Rick to film – provided the camera crew arrived well before the customers. The colour co-ordination of the food and the gorgeous looking cakes are a delight to the eye! And there is a very fresh and large fish section – including a complete counter of smoked fish, which is very popular in Germany. Rick orders some tasty oysters and smoked eel served with freshly made horseradish cream and a glass of wine.
The second venue we are shown is the famous Hotel Adlon, probably the most famous hotel in the whole of Germany. Rick visits – not for a meal – but for a cocktail, their world famous Kaiser cup. This is made with fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, a shot of gin, Cointreau, Grenadine and sparkling Champagne.
Rick meets with military historian Nick Jackson who takes people on tours around the great battle sites of Berlin. Rick ends up at a muddy and half empty car park. Nick explains that they are standing in the political nazi heart of Berlin and below was where Hitler’s bunker was found. Hitler spent the last four months of life in the bunker and the venue is home to the last scenes of Hitler’s life. It’s a place of historic interest rather than importance.
Rick and Nick then sit down for lunch at Zur Letzten Instanz, which is Berlin’s oldest restaurant and serves traditional Berlin food. Rick eats a very hearty steamed pork knuckle which is huge. Nick eats stuffed cabbage with carraway and mashed potatoes. Nick explains that Berlin food’s main function is to fill you up with cheap materials. Nick adds that modern Berlin has become a city of art, of tolerance, where anything goes.
On his last evening in Berlin, Rick has been invited for dinner in an old crematorium by two chefs Markus and Christian. This is late night catering set up from scratch. Marcus explains they are chefs who make an event for one night in quirky and interesting venues. There is an energy and willingness to try new things which seems to sum up the Berlin attitude.
The first course is a roast beef eclair filled with roast beef, red onion marmalade and Horseradish and then dipped into a hot beef consommé,. Next up is pan fried scallops, warm pulses flavoured with vinegar, sugar and seasame oil, apple vinegar and lemon mayo, crisp bacon and Japanese green tapioca. Next up is fried sausages, apricot mustard with chunks of fried black raddish and shredded red and white cabbage and carrots with vinegar. Finally Rick is served chocolate brownie with passion fruit, chocolate mousse and a red sauce made with apple and pomegranate, chunks of dark chocolate with roasted almonds and chocolate toffee. It’s a sensational menu. This is Berlin on a plate. The property prices are fairly low and chefs like Marcus and Christian can put on a show and learn from their experiences.
As Berlin’s former mayor Klaus Wowereit once said: “We may be poor but we’re sexy”.