May 09, 2011

Discovering Mitte

Chén Ché - Mitte

Could you believe I once lived in Mitte? It was over six years ago. Just around the corner from Rosenthaler Platz. Quite a few of the buildings over there had not been renovated yet and I enjoyed the romantic decrepit atmosphere. The flat was adorned with a couple of canon walls from the war, one of which forming a large crater between my room and the bathroom. Yes, it was a dump, but an exciting one of that.

Things happened in Mitte at the time. And by “things” I don’t mean a group of drunken Brits riding on a pedal powered beer bike screaming “blobby-blobby-blobby” or a bunch of Spaniards nonchalantly vomiting with a grin in front of their hostel while mumbling “Berlin, so alternative!” At the time it felt like real people lived in Mitte. Today, I am aware of the fact that some of them still exist, but I don’t know any of them anymore.

Do not get me wrong, I am not lamenting what’s happened over the years to Mitte. I whinge because that is what I do, but the tourist locust infesting Berlin’s geographic centre is not entirely negative. One big difference from the Mitte of yore is that fact things have become more international, worldlier. Six years ago - at a time when everything was still authentic – Berlin also felt more provincial. So it was time to go back to Mitte. To try and follow the zeitgeist and feel cool.

The Vietnamese tea house ChénChè (one of three partnered restaurants in Mitte) felt like the perfect choice for a zeitgeisty venue with its impressive homepage. Otherwise, its choice of location inside an inner courtyard on Rosenthaler Straße could not have proved to be any better. An inner courtyard is both intimate and secretive. Makes you think you’re special. The decor also deserves acclaim. It succeeds in combining the generically horrid Vietnamese/Japanese grand scale restaurant pomp with a touch of good taste and pleasing design. The lightning could use a bit of dimming on the edges, but otherwise it was surprisingly nice. My only disappointment was that the weather did not allow us to sit in the garden, which looked quite charming.

The menu is not overwhelmingly large, which was quite an advantage. Another thing I found quite sweet was the fact that most dishes were presented as vegetarian by default, yet possibly served with meat. From the list of eight possible starters we ordered three: Xôi Gà (sticky coconut rice, shallots, lotus root and chicken breast for 6.20 €), Hoành Thành (baked won-tons which we ordered with spicy tofu filling, 5.80 €) and Cha Giò (baked Vietnamese spring rolls with coriander dressing, ordered with pork filling, 5.80 €). The spring rolls were the only thing that was just alright. Their taste was nice, yet uninspiring and the coriander dip was too lemony to taste of anything else. Yet the other starters were just splendid. The won-tons were strangely crispy with filling that tasted of joy and the Xôi Gà was just perfect. Each of its ingredients had kept a distinct taste that created quite a splendid mix when randomly scooped out together.

Bùn Riêu

We then continued to the main courses. There are three main courses in the usual menu and three other changing dishes. We went for the Bùn Riêu (vegetable soup with tofu dumplings and rice noodles, 9.40€) and the Reistafel menu (a changing selection of dishes for 8.40 €). The soup was quite good. It was mildly spicy and was nice to eat, but it had a heaviness that felt nearly Central European. The Reistafel came with a number of various elements. It had a small bowl of Phó (Vietnamese chicken broth), which was hearty and good, but again, was so stodgy it reminded me of my grandmother’s Polish cooking. A chicken leg fried in pleasing sweet sauce greeted me from the bamboo hamper, and another dish of chicken in mild and tasty red curry was served in a plate on the other side. And then the obligatory rice and various vegetables. It was all fairly good. Nothing was too inspiring, but it was definitely pleasing. We ended the meal with a surprisingly and quirkily tasty Ché Choi Nuoc (rice balls filled with peanuts and chocolate swimming in coconut-mango sauce, 5.60 €). I usually don’t enjoy Vietnamese desserts too much, but this one was worth every Cent.

What can I say? The place was worth the trip to Mitte. Not only was it good, but it also provided us with some of the added values of going to the “centre”: It was the posh version of the sort of Vietnamese places you’d find in Kreuzberg. It was slightly pricier, but the difference was justified by a nice ambiance and good quality (which was exceptional in the cases of the starters and the dessert).

Overall mark:

Chen Che - Teehaus
Rosenthaler Straße 13, 10119 Berlin

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