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29 posts from November 2006

The Oderquelle

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I tend to fixate: The Grey Album, not hiphop, The Waves, not Woolf, and the Oderquelle, the Oderquelle. I first visited the restaurant in 2001 when a friend was scouting restaurants for her wedding reception. We were immediately charmed by the mixed clientele (Prenzlauerberg hipsters sharing a long table with four old men playing cards) and the stylish but utterly unselfconscious interior.

Margaret did end up having her reception at the Oderquelle, and I fondly remember savouring the venison steak in their snug pale-teal side room. In the years that followed, I've been there with every friend who's ever come to visit, my now-husband and I had our first date there, on special request they put my two favourite dishes on the menu when I celebrated turning 27, and even brought us plates for the brownies David had made.

Why I'm so obsessed? First, the menu changes daily, and the moment a new delicacy cycles into season they spotlight it, but don't just go through the motions. Germans are obsessed with asparagus, for example, and in the spring you see signs everywhere proclaiming Spargelzeit (Time for asparagus!). Most of the Spargel menus are the same dreary march through asparagus with hollandaise, asparagus with hollandaise wrapped in a handkerchief of ham, etc. Oderquelle's take, on the other hand, would be roasted asparagus stalks, blistered with mahogany patches and briefly dunked in a butter-lemon allusion to hollandaise.

Second, vegetarians are only very seldom fobbed off with a could-have-made-it-myself pasta variant; crisp delicate vegetable strudel or olive-studded mashed potatoes gratineed with Appenzeller are more the order of the day. Carnivores are just as well served with a range of German and new European options: crisp pork loin in a cumin sauce with glazed red radish and potato dumplings, for instance, or rumpsteak with a marrow crust and a side order of potato rösti topped with Italian ham.

The wine list is reliable and unshowy, and I, ever the temperate drinker, am grateful for the chance to sample good German, French, Italian or Spanish wine for 2 or 3 Eur for a 0,1 l  (3.5 oz) glass. The service is unpretentious but efficient, and they inevitably have great music playing. (And finally – strictly for me – it's just the right distance from our flat: a brisk twenty-minute walk through the park, the perfect length for a post-prandial stroll to digest and reflect on how exactly they made the parsnip lace garnish so crisp.)

Oderquelle, Oderbergerstraße 24, 10435 Berlin (map)
(030) 4400 8080 (Reservations are a good idea, but they can usually fit people in at the bar.)

Making pizza: The dough

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Lest my (two) devoted readers think I live on liquid alone, I thought it was time I wrote about something other than beverages. As doubtless do many working couples, David and I often find ourselves struggling to find healthy, tasty food to eat during the week when we both finish work at seven and are exhausted. One trick is pizza. David currently works from home, and one of my favourite moments is when he calls me up at the office and says ‘What do you think of pizza for dinner?’

The dough, he says, is hardly an effort: mixed together around 4 when he takes a break for tea and a little something, punched down first at 5:15 and then at 6:15 (by me – with vigor – if I’m home in time), in the oven by 7.30 and on our plates a scant half-hour later, topped with loads of veggies, with just enough left over to make lunch for one the next day.

Normally I push the pizza bones disdainfully to one side of the plate (ditto 'toast bones' - the phrase borrowed from a book I read when I was ten whose title I can't recollect), but with this recipe the crust is almost my favourite part.

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in't Veld & Kakao

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It seems uncharitable to mention in't Veld only vis-a-vis a lack when it's one of my favourite places to linger. It's easily the most stylish chocolate shop in Berlin. Their logo is a jaunty ocean liner set against the Berlin skyline, their front entrance sports an antique chocolate vending machine, and the shop itself has a warm, intimate interior of dark woods and rich colours that combine to create a contemplative air, encouraging the visitor to dawdle and weigh the merits of the products on display: Has Zotter just gone too far again, or is the coffee/plum/bacon bar worth trying? Should I give Berlin's own Erich Hamann line a chance? Or how about a few boxes of in't Veld's niftily packaged dark chocolate slabs?

Selections from Amedi, Blanxart, Cowgirl Chocolates, Dolfin, Domori, Gerbaud, Rovira, Summerbird and Valrhona – just to name a few – also fill the shelves. And there's even a handy bench outside to sit and enjoy your purchases, or sip a cup of their rich, viscous hot chocolate ...

Kakao

If you'd like to linger a little longer, or if, like now, the days are too brisk for al fresco sipping, visit their sister restaurant Kakao (edit 2009: closed), conveniently located next door. On the menu are chocolate antipasti, more hot chocolate variations, a lovely revolving glass case full of homemade cakes, and another with organic ice creams. It's impossibly full on a Sunday afternoon as everyone crowds in for their Kaffee und Kuchen, but most evenings it's not too busy, and the lush brown and maroon interior makes it perfect for winter nights.

in't Veld & Kakao, Dunckerstraße 10, 10437 Berlin
in't Veld open M-F 12 to 7 pm, Sat 11 am to 4 pm
Kakao open daily from 12 onwards

Greenery in light (Frau Rose)

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I always seem to be running into examples of nominal determinism while walking around my neighbourhood. The hairdresser in the ground floor of my last apartment building was called Monica Scherer (=scissors), the dentist's assistant was Frau Teufel (=devil) and the owner of my favourite flower shop is called Grit Rose.

In other shops I eye their lurid gerberas and think of the scenes in Domicile conjugal where Leaud stands in the courtyard doing impossible things to flowers; Rose's blooms, in contrast, are naturally never less than perfectly fresh and vigorous. Yet her eye is not for flowers alone, but flowers in the context of a home, and along with the bouquets there are lovely accent pieces such as irregular handblown water glasses from Copenhagen or this spectacular 'lamp slip' from Tord Boontje (which I immediately coveted and added to my mental Christmas wish list) or even just green conkers tucked into pink votive holders and hung up in the windows – the sort of frivolous fun that flowers are all about.

Frau Rose, Stargarderstraße 15 (map)

Battening down for the winter

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Like the busy ant I have been readying for winter. After an unseasonably warm September and October, autumn proper has set in with a chill. And so I have been hustling about, buying woolen insoles to tuck into my winter boots, stocking up on extra-rich face cream, and tonight after dinner I climbed up on a chair to extricate my last cherished jar of Green & Black's hot chocolate.

My friend Alison bought my first jar of Green & Black's for me while visiting a few years ago. We were walking through Helmholzplatz when we came across a new chocolate shop, and seeing how thrilled I was she offered to to buy me one thing. After extensive, careful inspection of everything in the small but crowded shop, I settled on the hot chocolate mix. "Organic raw cane sugar, cocoa powder, dark chocolate and vanilla"  –how could I resist? In the crisp March  days that followed a mug became my daily (or twice-daily) pleasure and I polished off the jar in weeks. When I went back to in't Veld I was crushed to learn they no longer stocked the mixture.

And yet I do enjoy a challenge. Over the past few years I have determinedly scouted out Green & Black's hot chocolate in various and sundry places; my current jar is one of four I bought at the Lincoln Center Whole Foods while my friends waited patiently upstairs (no doubt thinking a bit wistfully of the other more thrilling things there were to do in Manhattan). And my next? Well, let’s see how soon I can get to another country with a G&B stockist…

Barefoot Berlin

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I am getting to an age where friends are having babies with more frequency, and that means presents. There is nothing I like better than a good excuse to buy frivolous delightful things, and thus was very pleased to spot the Barefoot Berlin stand at the Hackescher Markt Saturday market. The stall was filled an eccentric menagerie of giraffes, octupi, aardvarks, all in a wild medley of colours. The toys are individually made from nubby handwoven fabrics, coloured with ecologically friendly dyes from Switzerland, and stuffed with kapok. What's not to love? I selected the giraffe because I couldn't resist his indignant expression; David insists he resembles me.

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Clärchen's Ballhaus (Auguststraße)

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Clärchen's Ballhaus (now Ballhaus Mitte), a 1920s dance hall in Auguststraße which continues to offer dancing and dining in style...

Ballhaus Mitte, Auguststraße 24, 10117 Berlin