November 24, 2010

Bavarian for Beginners

Valentin on Hasenheide

It would probably be best to start with a confession: I like Bavaria. Now you know. It really is quite embarrassing. After all, the first thing you learn in Berlin is to despise Bavaria unconditionally. A good newcomer is always able to recite all the reasons why Bavarians should stay in their Freistaat and out of Berlin. My first few months in Berlin were a time in which I looked at Bavarians with disdain reserved for the lowest freaks of nature: rich, fat and Catholic.

Yet after a while the inner rebel in me gained the upper hand and decided it was about time to see past the official version. The result was frightening: I soon had to admit I actually liked Bavaria. It was not only about the obvious advantages: they have real mountains, they know how to brew their beer and the can enjoy the in-your-face heritage of an insane king who built ludicrous castles. I go beyond that. I even find their dialect endearing. And now and again I get uncontrollable cravings for Weißwurst.

A few weeks ago, when I read that Valentin, a Bavarian bar just across the street from my flat, had started serving food, I did not need much persuasion to go and try it out. Even though I live on Südstern, I rarely go to places around the block. Most restaurants give a stale impression, and Valentin’s address on Hasenheide did not do much to raise expectations. However, this was one of these precious occasions that teach us mortals not to trust simple stereotypes. We were greeted by a crowd that was older and more down to earth than is normally the case in Kreuzberg. The place also had something pleasingly local to it, something that would usually turn it into a hideous Eckkneipe, but it wasn’t the case.

The decoration was unpretentious and tasteful, going for a Wirtshaus feeling without falling into the trap of naff rustic kitsch. The image was completed by a pint of Augustiner (very good Bavarian beer, 3.50 €), which was served with a smile, an experience I find nearly exotic in Berlin.The new Valentin menu is tiny. It is made of an ever changing daily menu with one starter, one entree, two main courses, a desert and another small sausage-and-bread menu (which is available all day). There were only two of us, yet we managed to cover nearly everything on it.

We decided to drop the cauliflower soup (as we both agreed on disliking cauliflower) and shared a pair of impressively high quality Weißwürste with bread and sweet mustard (anally enough, real Bavarians only let you have it for breakfast. I, on the other hand, think every time is good for a Weißwurst, 3.70 €) and the entree, which was Fingernudeln mit Sauerkraut (large and thick noodles with sauerkraut, 6.80 €). I don’t think everyone would enjoy the idea of a dish consisting of massive doughy things in sauerkraut, but it was a very pleasing dish with the right expectations.

We then moved to the two available main courses: Schweinebraten mit Knödeln und Kraut (pork roast with dumplings and sauerkraut, 9.70€, also available in a smaller portion for 7.70 €) and Gänsekeule mit Blaukraut und Kartoffelknödeln (leg of goose with red cabbage and potato dumplings, 11.70 €). Both were very good – down to earth dishes for the cold, dark winter. The pork was succulent without being greasy and the sauce was pleasing. The goose was excellent as well: the skin was joyfully crispy and the meat was tender and fantastic. The side dishes were alright, as things like sauerkraut, red cabbage and German dumplings can be. I then felt like trying out the daily dessert, which was Grießknödel mit Kirschgrütze (semolina balls in gooey warm cherry sauce, 3.50 €). Again, it is not a dessert anyone would like. The dish is probably the pinnacle of Teutonic peasant-cooking. It’s all about a doughy thingy in berry-like sauce. It’s heavy and not too sweet. I like it a lot, and this particular case of it was very good, but quite a few people would probably pass.

Valentin was a surprisingly good choice of venue. It was neither too refined nor too spectacular, but this was exactly the point: It was the perfect German bar-food experience. Good food, pleasant atmosphere, humane pricing.

Overall mark:
Hasenheide 49, 10967 Berlin
Tel: +49 30 548 131 67

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