November 07, 2010

Josef - die Austrothek: Austrian Brilliance

Picking a restaurant for birthday festivities is no laughing matter. It needs to be somewhere on the thin line between fine quality and compatibility with the lowest common denominator in order to enthuse the masses. It needs to be exquisite enough to rise to the festive occasion, yet it can’t be too special if you want to please a heterogeneous group of people invited. I usually avoid making difficult decisions on my birthday, but this time I was not the one celebrating. I found myself merely in the ungrateful position of the advisor.

After realising the crowd was about to be even more varied than I had expected, it became clear there was no other choice left but going for Austrian food. It is both refined and not too exotic. The Austrian cuisine is not too different to the German one. To be fair, like everything else in the Alpine Republic, it is quite inherently German, yet with an endearing Central European touch. It is undoubtedly a version of Germany. If only just an upgraded one. It tends to be more refined, more exquisite, and most of all, it has the capacity to beguile just about everyone. German food with a touch of Sissi.

At the same time, one has to keep in mind that despite the romantic connotation of everything Austrian (with the exception of just about every 20th Century Austrian political figure known for posterity), Austrian food can still be extremely simple, so do not let the endearing Austrian names mislead you too much. Fritatensuppe – despite its haughtily French sounding name, is only a clear beef broth with chopped pancakes simmering inside it, and the desert with the intriguing name Palatschinken is – yet again – only a pancake. So with these warnings in mind, we ventured out all the way to Charlottenburg to try out Josef - die Austrothek on Leonhardtstraße.

The setting was promising. First – and despite the (not completely unjustified) problem most people around me seem to have with going to Charlottenburg – Leonhardtstraße is always a good address. It is a sweet little street, paved with several pleasing cafés and restaurants. Josef is a relative newcomer, opened just over a year ago. The restaurant consists of two rooms: the main one downstairs, the space between the red walls being well lit under the steady gaze of a massive Sissi portrait, while the second one is upstairs, darker and more romantic. Both are well designed, setting the tone as a refined restaurant without being either blatantly extravagant or annoyingly posh.

The wine menu is good, mostly made out of good quality Southern German and Austrian wines, mostly priced on the upper scale of Berlin’s otherwise more accessible wine prices. It was the food, however, that made the trip worthwhile. The menu is fairly small, and choice is not abundant. The prices were mostly just right: too high to be anywhere near cheap, but justified by the quality of the food. The starters on the table were the Fritatensupp’n (broth with chunks of pancakes 4.50€), Kürbis-Ingwer Süppchen (pumpkin-ginger soup, 4.90€) and the Carpaccio vom Tafelspitz mit roter Beete (Tafelspitz carpaccio with beetroot, 8.90€). All were very good quality, yet some people at the table had actually expected something more spectacular in the case of the Fritatensuppe and could not hide their disappointment despite the waitress’s attempt to turn the soup serving into a whole event. The pumpkin-ginger soup was downright brilliant.


But the best was to be saved for the main courses. We ordered most of the dishes on the menu: Gulyas (Hungarian goulash, 13.90€), a Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese schnitzel, 16.90€), geschmorte Kalbsbäckchen (braised veal cheeks, 16.90€) and Entenbrust gebraten (roasted duck breast, 16.50€). The Goulash was perfect: it had a tinge of spice and it swam appetisingly in its reddish-dark sauce with perfectly tasty Serviettenknödel on the side. The schnitzel was huge. The meat was tender; the batter was not too greasy and had its own taste. The duck breast was of fine quality with a gratin on the side. But the biggest surprise was the veal cheeks, served with truffled mash. I know, you can’t go wrong with anything truffled, but this was pure joy. The meat was splendidly tender and the mash was a wonder in its own right.

We then finished with a large and pleasing Kaiserschmarrn (pieces of dough, really. Always good as a shared dessert, 6.90€) and the daily dessert, which was a small, yet otherwise perfect mousse au chocolat (5.90€). Dinner went for just over 30€ for three courses including wine. It’s not something I would pay any day of the week, but Josef is definitely worth every penny on special occasions.

Overall mark: 

Josef, die Austrothek
Leonhardtstr. 1, 14057 Berlin (S+U Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorfer Straße)

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