November 28, 2010

Vampire Francophilia


At the end of the 21st Century, even vampires seem to have realised French restaurants were a girl’s best friend. Just before True Blood’s Vampire Bill’s ludicrous proposition to Sookie in a splendidly romantic French restaurant, he justifies his choice of venue by the fact “humans love French restaurants”. As much as I dislike Vampire Bill, he has a point. Not only do humans love French restaurants, but posh humans seem to like them even more. French restaurants are the quintessential definition of expensive poshness. That is, until one actually finds their way into a French restaurant in France.

Yes, of course, there are quite a few awfully posh French restaurants in France. No doubt about it. Yet at the end of the day, the very institution of going out to dine at a restaurant is a lot more accessibly down-to-earth in the Republic of the Rights of Man, frogs and snails. Therefore, most restaurants are actually quite simple and they often are a lot more affordable than their counterparts in – let’s say – that island just across the canal.

As we all know, Berlin is quite an affordable place, but French restaurants are still a taboo when it comes to design, taste and affordability. They are usually there for Francophiles with the required taste and the money to support it. Yet no more! A few years ago, an alternative opened its gates in the most implausible place of all: on Augustrstraße in the very heart of Mitte. It is called Nord-Sud and it is run by the short, ginger Jean-Claude, a chti (that’s how you call people from the North of France) playing on people’s desire to get a “true French experience”.

You see, the deco is not entirely endearing. We’re talking about large wooden tables and simple chairs. Quite IKEA-like, yet very welcoming. The place exudes accommodating, nearly studenty simplicity. The owner-waiter runs around and tries talking to people in French. People who come there usually also want to speak back in French and to bathe in the sense of being in a true French place. The food concept contributes to that overall feeling: there is no real menu. Every day there are three set menus composed of a starter, a main course and a desert, an entire menu for 7.50 €.

We were a group of three and were therefore able to cover all the menus. At first we just ordered a bottle of Merlot (for the price of 17.50 € - definitely quite affordable. The problem was the water. The only non-French custom Nord-Sud has allowed itself to copy from the Germans was not serving tap water. In France tap water is actually a human right. But then again, we are in Germany, so we’re used to it). The first menu was a potato soup, émincé de dinde (sliced turkey in mustard sauce and potatoes) and a cherry cake. The second menu consisted of a pâté de campagne, two merguez sausages with couscous and ratatouille and a rhubarb cake. The third menu was a fish menu, with a fish terrine, rosefish filet with spinach and a cheese plate.
Fish Terrine
Paté de Campagne

Now, assessing a set menu for 7.50 € means you know the restaurant will have to cut corners somewhere. In this case I reckoned it would be better to cut on size than on quality, and was therefore not overwhelmed by the small portions. The soup was unspectacularly nice. Both pâtés were good, yet miniscule. The good thing was that we got an interminable supply of baguettes. The main courses were better. The turkey was drop-dead fantastic, and its size was quite pleasing. The sauce was splendid and the small, round potatoes appealed to my baby-hating friend Alisa’s motherly instincts. The merguez were a simple course, but still very good. Not to mention the fact it’s hard to get good merguez around here. The fish was a bit of a disappointment. It was a miniscule portion and the actual fish could have been better. But then again, the sauce was very good and the baguettes compensated for the otherwise small portion. The desserts were quite good as well. Both cakes were small and amusing, but not grand. The cheese plate was tiny, but its superb quality compensated for the initial size-related disappointment.


All in all, Nord-Sud is one of Mitte’s most amusing places. It’s probably not the place posh-humans would choose in order to propose to their girlfriends, but it will do for an affordable and amusing experience of what real France tends to be like.

Overall mark:
Auguststr. 87, 10117 Berlin (Mitte) 
Tel: +49 30 97005928

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1 comment:

  1. Took your word and your four little footprints (what animal is that?) for this and ate here with a couple of friends. Thoroughly decent. Thanks for the tip. ralph x