March 15, 2011

Eating Trolls

Munch's Hus - Schöneberg

Don’t you just miss these days when everything was clear-cut and easy? When the world had a clear set of rules and you knew what was right and what was wrong? Girls wore pink; boys wore blue and all that jazz? That certainty is bound to cave in at some point, whether we like it or not. The interesting part is what triggers the moral meltdown.

I remember my serene world of infantile certainty collapsed because of trolls. Trolls, you ask? Well, yes, trolls. As a child I understood trolls. I did not much like them (I was a mainstream kinda boy, rooting for the good guys and disliking ugly, hairy creatures with warts the size of a tuna sandwich, whether they were real trolls or just that dodgy guy who used to haunt Digbeth Coach Station), but I got their essence. They were big, revolting and scary. And most of all – they had a purpose in life, which was just that, to be perfectly hideous and then be slain by the good guy. And then came the 90’s with their strange deviations. Do you remember those little plastic trolls with the neon-coloured hair that suddenly invaded every school class on the face of the planet? They were all about being sweet in a revolting kind of way, with nostrils the size of half their faces. If they were real trolls, these nostrils would be hairy, but alas, those colourful look-alikes had nothing natural about them, and hairy nostrils were definitely not cute. Suddenly every child in the country was obsessed with those little dolls, and I could not get to the bottom of it. Why on earth?

Nearly twenty years later, I had a troll flashback on a flight between Paris and Oslo, as I had the pleasure to sit next to a French Erasmus student who happened to be going back to Oslo after spending Easter at her parents’ in the Bauce. She was happily ranting about the woes of a Frenchwoman forced to spend a year in the Norwegian wilderness: no baguette, no cheese, and the rest of the food is so bleakly horrid. “It tastes like eating trolls, you know?” She pouted her lips before she continued, “but Norwegian trolls, not real ones.”
“Real ones?” I asked, “Aren’t the Norwegian ones real enough?”
“Oh no, real trolls are so cute! You can play with their hair for hours!”
How could I forget? The Erasmus students of today were born in the 90’s. For them trolls are no Norse mythological beings, but rather toys made in China. And yet the girl had a point: Food in Norway often felt like biting one’s way through a troll. It wasn’t that the food wasn’t good on paper, but it usually ended up being served without the slightest hint of seasoning for the price of three meals in any other country. With all of my awe and admiration for the country’s stunning natural landscapes, the best thing about eating there was usually nibbling on the sandwiches I had prepared in Sweden before crossing the border. I was therefore intrigued when I heard there was a Norwegian restaurant in Schöneberg which was supposedly wonderful.

Munch’s Hus is located directly on the Bülowbogen, an area which might as well be recognised for what it is: A sterling example of West-Berliner utter desolation. As we entered the restaurant, the 90’s hit us again, and not from its brilliant Ace-of-Base angle. Even though it was aiming for upscale, the overall deco was far from being a success. With radioactively yellow walls, bright lights and reproductions of Munch densely covering the walls, I had to sigh disapprovingly before taking a long look at the menu, which was endearingly didactic with random pieces of information about Norway and Norwegian food. Slowly, I felt the Scandi-phile in me gaining the upper hand. The yummy Norwegian food I never got in Norway seemed to be accessible in Berlin for about a third of the price I’d have to pay in the land of fjords and trolls.

We started with a Nordmeersuppe (North Sea soup: a creamy soup with prawns and lumpfish caviar for 3.90 €) and a Rondane-Teller (we’ll call it the Norwegian antipasti mix: a mixture of elk and reindeer sausages, Norwegian cheese and a scrambled egg for 5.90 €). The soup was surprisingly perfect. I am not the biggest fan of cream soups, as I think they have the tendency to end up being just stodgy, but this one was good. It was delicate, had the perfect texture and most important: the cream did not cover up the taste of the other ingredients. The Rondane plate was also quite a success. It was a mixture of the best Norwegian products one can find, with meat and cheese stuff that incorporate a wide array of different tastes.

 We then continued with the Elchbraten (elk roast with potatoes, lingonberries and chestnuts, 16.90 €) and the Kveite (halibut filet in blueberry sauce with leeks and potatoes in saffron, 13.50 €). The roast represented one of Norway’s eternal culinary woes: it sounds a lot more exotic than it really is. The sauce was delicious, but elk never really tastes that good. We’re talking about very muscular animals here, and their meat in accordingly stringy. It was good, but not fantastic. On the one hand, it was to be expected, but on the other, it would mean other elements of the dish would just have to make up for it, which the potatoes and the relatively boring chestnuts did not do. The halibut, however, was a different story altogether. The fish was tender – not to raw and not too dry, while the blueberry sauce was very exciting indeed. I guess not anyone would fall for this dish because of the sweet and sour touch of the blueberries, but if you are into experimenting, it will be worth your thirteen Euros.

We then both decided to take the same dessert: crème caramel with cloudberries (for 5.10 €). Now, crème caramel is a fairly boring choice, I know. And the pricing might also seem a bit odd. At least until you take a closer look at the second ingredient: cloudberries, my friends, are probably the last remains of heaven of our little planet. They are one of Scandinavia’s true treasures: they look like golden raspberries and taste like…well… heaven. In Scandinavia, they are usually found in diluted form (jams, ice cream, etc.), partly because the fruit itself is so expensive and partly because it has such a strong taste. My pure enthusiasm upon finding a dish with real cloudberries was unimaginable. Alright, you can’t get any fresh cloudberries in March. And even if you could, you would pay more than 5.10 € for them. But I even enjoyed their de-frosted version (oh yes, and the crème caramel was good. Unspectacularly so, but it was perfect for what it was).

The marking business with Munch’s Hus is fairly tricky: the service was excellent, the pricing was very good and the food was good – from fantastic to just nice. The problem with the “just nice” was the fact that it was their house speciality (the elk roast). And then you’ll have to add these horrible yellow walls and yellow lightning (which ruined the photos this time around. My apologies indeed). Alas, Munch’s Hus will be awarded with only four prints, knowing it has what it takes to make it to five. Go there. It’s good.

Overall mark:
Munch's Hus
Bülowstraße 66, 10783 Berlin

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