Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Tale of Hoffman's

After my swirl of restaurant stories in Jersey, eating out has rather played second string to theatre, music and friends in Berlin … the best eating out I’ve done here has been at friends’ homes ... Paul, PGB and Olli have all cooked really tasty meals for me, and Thomas and Wolfgang staged another of their wonderful, memorable dinner parties for me at Potsdam …

However, last night it was restaurant time. My wedding present to Thomas and Pablo was ‘dinner wherever you like’. Chuckle, I knew they wouldn’t choose a Turkish takeaway! So last night we – the newlyweds, Paul and I -- repaired to E T A Hoffmann’s restaurant in the Yorckstrasse, Kreuzberg. Half-an-hour’s stroll through the rain-spattered streets from Schöneberg …

It is a pleasant place, discreetly and warmly decorated, we were given a very nice table, in a window bay, and were attended upon very graciously by the team of two young women and a lad who would care for us in a nicely leisurely fashion for the next 2 ½ hours.

The menu immediately gives one confidence. You can have 3 or 4 courses, with their choice of wines (or without), and the choice in each course is sophisticatedly limited to four or five items. I decided to go the whole hog. Four courses. Beginning with a leisurely pernod.

For a starter, I had ‘stunned’ duck. Presumably stunned before being cooked. This is what it looked like. Encouraging, eh?

Well, it fulfilled its promise. The flesh, cooked, as you can see, in three different ways (all delicious), was tender, moist and not duck-fatty, and the purée of ?pois chiche was a grand accompaniment. I even ate the greenery, which I thought a bit under-classy. Something more original than lettuce would have been nice.

I followed up with veal kidney as entrée. One of my favourite dishes, but a weeny bit disappointing. A nice helping, firm and tasty, with a not very significant sauce. I would have just like a little taste tweak (NOT tomato) in there somewhere.

Then the main course. Triumph. I – the New Zealander – ordered lamb. I checked with the lady first: it WOULD come super-rare? She checked. It would. It did. It was beautiful. On the left, braised lamb, soft and falling apart: on the right, the pink-red cutlet … absolutely perfect! A sort of ratatouille julienne underneath I could take or leave (ordinary lentils would have taken the juice better) but that lamb -- from northern Germany it seems -- was some of the best I have ever tasted.
Paul had monkfish, the groom and groom had baby venison, and we were all very happy.

The others ventured into crême brulée and clafoutis (both of which got top votes) for dessert, while I opted for my usual cheese and port. The cheese was unadventurous but palatable, the port nice. But I wished I’d had the very good-looking crème brulée.

Our dinner was accompanied by a selection of German wines: mine beginning with a soft riesling, rising to a stouter chardonnay, and climaxing in an excellent pinot noir. I was pleased to see (chardonnay with kidneys) that the old saw about red with this and white with that has gone.

So all in all, a highly pleasant meal, in pleasant surroundings, pleasantly served, and in very special company. And how does it compare with my Jersey winners?
It serves a different kind of food to, say, Bohemia. Much less adventurous or quirky. Some of the dishes are quite simple. Which doesn’t mean they are not good. The duck and the lamb chez Hoffmann would grace any table … and I will certainly visit chef Thomas Kurt (yes! that’s really his name) again next year..

Oh. Price? Since you ask. 350 euros (inclusive) for four. Fair enough…

We finished our evening by popping round the corner to visit Olli at his (temporary) workplace, the Rauschgold, a tiny little gay bar in the Mehringdamm, and there we nightcapped amid folk having nearing-midnight fun, before diving for a damp taxicab … Paul, after all, is on a 7.50am train to Bayreuth for Tristan

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