Imren Grill, Berlin 07-2018

After dreaming all year about kebabs, the trip to Berlin would not be complete without trying to long reputed #1. If Berlin was where the kebab was invented, how could I exclude a visit from probably my last ever trip to Germany?

I waited until the last meal of the week before a bus to the airport.

There are several branches in town, and for convenience I went to the only one not in the east of the city - Hauptstraße 156 near U Kleistpark. There I saw the beef döner rotating with the individual layers of meat discernible, and not the uniform mass I see elsewhere.

Döner im brot €3.5 - the photo (lighting) doesn't do it justice. Eat piece of beef was soft and tender and the milk that apparently marinates it. The layer of lamb fat adds extra lusciousness and flavour. The fresh vegetables provide balance. It is truly excellent and the best cheap döner kebab I've eaten. 

The meat flavour is milder than Stalactites lamb or the potent Bairaktaris pork (http://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/bairaktaris-athens-09-2010) and less refined than Jimmy Grants (http://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/jimmy-grants-melbourne-09-2015) or Basta! (http://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/basta-street-food-bar-istanbul-10-2017). But this is elevated into that elite company - each have their own strong points.

Pilau rice with lamb was a strongly flavoured tomato rice with also tender and strongly flavoured meat. Finally the künefe with cream was sweet and cheesy.

Maybe I will go back to Berlin one day...

Cowei, Berlin 07-2018

If you look up best Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin, there's a few recurring names and Cowei is not one of them. There are located along a park next to the river Spree and so they'd probably get business regardless of the quality. To be fair they don't advertise as a Vietnamese restaurant and the menu has sushi, bits of Korean, and bits of Thai.

The inside has a picture of Ho Chi Minh. It represents the restauranteurs' heritage from Northern Vietnam.

Hanoi has arguably the better pho in Vietnam and its quality was represented well in this restaurant. A delicate and crystal clear broth with wonderful flavour balance and decent beef brisket. Interestingly they don't use raw/rare beef sirloin dropped in and I would have liked extra Thai basil, but I can hardly complain. It was excellent.

Unfortunately the other dishes didn't live it up. The crispy fried duck red curry did indeed have thin cuts of crispy fried duck, but the red curry was not red and had none of the flavour and heat that a good Thai red should (considering Viet curry is simple and not spicy at all probably influenced this...). I didn't try the chicken salad dish but the Vietnamese mother I was with strangely selected the mango sauce, which she then complained wasn't a Vietnamese thing - not sure what to make of that. The other Vietnamese salad dish (unpictured) did not have a good balance of the dressing sauce, with it being too dilute and vinegared, possibly contributed by the water from lettuce draining into it.

I'd go back for the pho but stay clear of everything else.

Süsse Sünde, Berlin 07-2018

With all these 28C days, gelato is always advised. I didn't get the chance to venture down to Jones but a more convenient option walking around Mitte was this one near the park. I couldn't read most of the flavours. In the end they didn't actually have a lot of them so there's no point preparing in advance.

The pricing is odd - €1.6 per scoop. Regardless of how many scoops or how many cones. So each person to their own single scoop cone then...

The rum & raisin was excellent with a clear rum flavour and dotted with raisins. The blueberry was also nice and somewhat sweet with no tartness. The textures were smooth and no crystals.

A solid option.

K'Ups Gemüsekebap, Berlin 07-2018

There are many a kebaberie in Berlin. Imren is reportedly the best around serving excellent layers of beef marinated in milk and cooked with lamb fat. Unfortunately it isn't the most convenient to get to and so the best chicken is supposedly at Mustafa's. However this has queues (sometimes excessive apparently) and so K'Ups is meant to be as good or perhaps better. And a more convenient location for staying in Mitte too.

They only serve a chicken kebab (for meat) or alternatively halloumi. They come interestingly with not only fresh salad and herbs, but also grilled potatoes and vegetables which have been cooked and then sat under the meat. There's a very mild chilli sauce and all is topped with fine feta. The overall result is a very flavoursome roasted chicken with both savoury cooked vegetables and fresh light salad. It's a great combination. Similarly the halloumi version was as good with fried salty cheese.

It would have to be the best chicken kebab I've had overall. I wonder how a beef one would fare...

Dada Falafel, Berlin 07-2018

There's no shortage of falafel places in Berlin representing all the great falafel countries of the world. For €4 Dada will give you their own version in bread. They use fresh raw vegetables (nothing unusual in that mix), a pretty mild chilli sauce, and a falafel that is heavily spiced on the mildly crisp (could've easily been more) crust and contains quite a lot of green herbs in the mix.

It's a good one.

Their döner also has discernible meat layers so that could be an alternative for next time.

Momos, Berlin 07-2018

Who doesn't like dumplings? A lunchtime special of 14 dumplings for €7.9 seemed like a good reason to try the Mushroom Magic (broccoli/shiitake/tofu and mushroom/potato) however even though they were fried reasonably, the skins were thick and pasty, the fillings were heavy on potato and quite indistinct and the sauce (which I spilt everywhere) couldn't save it.

Mrs. Robinson's, Berlin 07-2018

It's not a reference to the Simon & Garfunkle MILF song. It's a modern Asian restaurant in Berlin with an Australian manager (named Hamish - and a great dry wit to match Hamish Blake) that was recommended to me by a very food-loving person.

It seems that the restaurant has changed somewhat since its inception and the Berlin Food Stories blog post, the difference being higher prices and different menu items (for example the Szechuan G&T I read about was not an option, with only London's dry gin served).

- Oyster & fried green tomatoes (fermented limequat & green chilli) €10 - slightly salty oyster, tangy and fried crisp tomato and a tart (almost tamarind) sauce. A good combination;
- Fried label rouge chicken & roe (creme fraiche, tobasco honey) €13.5 - the chicken was excellent, crisp, crunchy, tender and the other ingredients added some depth, complexity and a variety of flavours;
- Wood-grilled octopus & dry aged beef fat skewer €13.5 - tender charcoal-kissed octopus. I'm not sure the beef fat added much (maybe to the cooking but not so much the flavour?. I ate it anyway;
- Grilled Tiergarten crayfish, brown butter (shio koji, burnt lemon) €22.5 - small little crayfish served in a divine creamy butter sauce. The mix of oil, butter, salt and lemon was incredible;
- Lamb spare ribs, pine, green curry & hay (fermented green strawberry & plums) €31 - very expensive dish of reasonably tender lamb ribs that didn't have much flavour to them. The sauce was thick and much too salty;
- Plum, lavendar takoyaki pancakes (taga tairo kushu 10 year barrel-aged sake, clotted cream, yubeshi) €19 for 2 - obviously takoyaki from the shape and maker but not actually the tako. It was like a modern Asian version of afternoon tea replacing the scones. The plums were sweetly soaked, the sake was surprisingly sweet and easy to take, but overall the dish didn't leave me that wowed (especially for the price).

It's quite an expensive restaurant (especially for Berlin standards) but not outrageous. However I can't help having felt underwhelmed somewhat. The flavours and creations just can't match those from Melbourne's Longrain or Chin Chin. Maybe that's just what my body is used to.

Factory Girl, Berlin 07-2018

Luckily there's a good brunch place in Mitte and it was discovered by accident after walking home late with a belly full of Cocolo ramen and just noticing that the cafe looked quirky and cool. For a Sunday lunch it was surprisingly easy to get a seat (albeit on a shared table, but no issue with that).

The decor includes some little figurines made by tape and placed in front of cactus on the table. Go figure.

The coffee was reportedly very good and smooth. The chai latte smelt very sweet and was made from powder. They also lathered on too much cinnamon. However after scraping this off, the underlying beverage was smooth, slightly spiced and not as sweet as feared.

- Sway Norway (herbed creme cheese, mashed beetroot, salmon, caramelised onion) €9 - a relatively standard open sandwich. Interestingly the bread was spread with half creme cheese and half beetroot spread;
- Drummers on the Highway (3 scrambled eggs, fried breasola, sausages, caramelised onion, oven baked potatoes, sriracha cream sauce, avocado, baby leaf, cherry tomatoes, dark sourdough bread) €14 - a very large offering without any surprise flavours. The sriracha cream (or mayo?) was a thinner lighter but equally spicy version and added some extra needed power.

A good breakfast with some nice drinks. It would be better if they had some smoothies, but baby steps. I also didn't get to try the Coco Anjela (which was described by another diner as deconstructed cheesecake).

Cocolo Ramen, Berlin 07-2018

There weren't many options for late night food after arriving on Saturday night. Well of course that's if you exclude the wurst and kebabs. Luckily a friend recommended a ramen place that wasn't too far away. He actually said the best tonkotsu in Berlin is at Hako Ramen, but unfortunately I won't have the opportunity to get out that far.

Even at 2245pm, there was a short queue and in the end had to sit outside next to a bunch of young French smokers. At least the staff are all Japanese.

- Gyoza €5 - quite expensive for 5 pieces fried together. Small amount of filling too;
- Tonkotsu ramen (poached pork, pork belly, egg) €10 - the best parts were the thick slabs of delicious chashu and pork belly. Really excellent. However the noodles were cooked until soft (they didn't offer a choice, although I could have asked I suppose, but wanted to see how they would naturally serve it) and the broth had ok flavour but not very thick and could have been more "porky";
- Wantan (shrimp dumplings, poached chicken, vegetables) €10 - a chicken-based broth with obviously less flavour than the tonkotsu. It wouldn't be my choice of ramen (and it wasn't) so wouldn't recommend it.

There's shichimi and sesame seeds to grate on the table although no pickles or garlic. Given more time and a slightly larger belly, I would definitely have ordered kaedama €2 (and requested extra hard). They also have calpico to drink (which is a nice touch). I'd try the tantan next time for a change just to see if I liked it more than the tonkotsu.

It's not the best but don't get me wrong - it's decent and serviceable and I'd eat it happily again.

Cafe Stilbruch, Jena 12-2017

After a night out of Christmas market, gluwein and sausages, Saturday brunch was the perfect way to prepare for the drive to Nuremberg.

I'm not sure what the competition around is, but I expect this would be up near the top. Not only did I have it listed as a place to visit, a friend living locally recommended it as her favourite brunch spot in the little town.

- Jena pan (smoked pork chop strips, potatoes, sauerkraut, stir-fried together in a pan) €8.9 - a giant pan mash of all the said ingredients working their magic to create salty smoked meat, sour cabbage and filling potatoes into a lunch;
- Jenaer Beastly Weather tea (raspberry blossom, fennel, liquorice root, aniseed, St. John's wort, bean paring, peppermint leaves, blackberry leaves, rose hip paring, milfoil, thyme, nettle, chamomile blossom, horsetail herb, elderberry, dandelion, thymine, rosemary, calendula blossom) - this tea was fruity with elements to fight the winter and lift the spirits from depression;
- Crepe...

It was a good breakfast and very popular with the locals on a Saturday morning.