July 19, 2011

Ace of Base Go Tapas

Manuela - Neukölln

Do you remember the 90’s? I must say I rather liked the time. Everything was so nice and fuzzy back then. From the fall of Communism through the fall of the Tories all to the Peace Process in the Middle East, the world that surrounded me seemed to be under an unbreakable spell of optimism. It is hard not to miss a decade that produced wonders on the calibre of Belle & Sebastian, Fiona Apple and the grand Ace of Base... Oh, Eurotrash.

But the unmaking of the 90’s was sown with the very seed of their success. For those who looked hard enough (or for those – like myself – who take a moment and look back at their adolescent years with the intellectual tools acquired during hours of discussing Foucault, handbags and more Foucault on the benches of any faculty for cultural studies/history of art), signs predicting the downfall of capitalistic optimism were all around: Britney Spears, New Labour, tapas.

Tapas, you may ask? Well yes, tapas. Those jovially Spanish selections of small dishes. Take a hard look back at the end of the 90’s. What is it you’ll see, flickering there in front of your eyes at every street corner? Tapa bars, tapa meals, tapa everything. The fashion suddenly was about minimising dishes for maximising profits. Getting people to feel all Spanish by paying a fortune for potatoes in aioli. But let’s cut the political ball breaking crap for a second. This is a restaurant blog and not a stage for me to rant about the woes of modern capitalism.

Yet the fact remains that I find it hard to take tapas seriously just because I cannot help thinking about them as a relic, a culinary fad from the 90’s. Every time I see a tapas bar, my brain gets me back to Bill Clinton saying “I did not have relations with that woman” with Ace of Base singing The Sign in the background. But tapas can be brilliant. At the end of the day, the problem is not tapas, it’s me. So trying to exorcise my tapa-demons, I decided to go to Manuela, a modern looking Spanish restaurant-café on Friedelstraße, Kreuzkölln’s culinary heart.

We sat outside on a balmy summer’s evening and were therefore unable to comment the music (even though I couldn’t blame them even if they did play Ace of Base. The Sign is one ace piece of music). Yet from the frequent walks to the toilet and to the bar, I can say the (surprisingly large) interior space is nicely done, walking on that line between a restaurant and a café with colours and furniture cosy enough to sit on, but comfortable enough to eat in. The service was friendly and the Spanish barwoman (who was also responsible for the tapas) had the ubiquitous Spanish mullet.

I ordered a glass of the red house wine (3.50€, bitterly heavy) and turned to look at the menu. It offered a fair choice of Spanish food, starting with tapas, moving to soups, Catalan meat dishes and sharing-classics along the paella lines. The menu’s size was just right, with enough choice for it to be interesting, yet not so much to make it less trustworthy.
Lomo Adobado

The tapas are neatly priced at 2.60 € a unit, 5 units for 12 € and 7 units for 16 €. We were greedy and thus ordered the seven deal. We chose the chorizo, a courgette tortilla, salchichia, mushrooms with bacon, Catalan spinach, Catalan chick peas and meat balls. They were served promptly on a tray that was aesthetically pleasing and seemed fairly promising. The quality did not oscillate much between the dishes, all being fairly nice, but not downright inspiring. The meat balls were the best choice with a sweet tinge and a curiously appealing overall taste. The chorizo and the salchichia were both alright, with OK sausage quality and nice presentation. The chick peas and the spinach were both fairly good, served with a pleasing mix of vegetables. The champignons were well executed (no fuss involved) and last, but not least, the tortilla was very good: it was light (for a tortilla) and flavoursome.

Manuela Teller
Crema Catalana
We then continued to Manuela’s “Catalan Classics” and ordered the lomo adobado (pork loin, served with tomato jam, apple-cabbage salad and cerdanya – a version of rough mash with Savoy cabbage and ham, 8.90 €) and the Manuela plate (lomo adobado and smoked pork chop served with date and bacon skewers, apple-raisin compote, potatoes and red cabbage in red wine, 9.50 €). Both dishes were fairly similar: simple meat you don’t mind, but that you wouldn’t otherwise consider inspiring, served with intriguing, well presented and high quality sides. The ceradya with the tomato jam in the one dish and the date/bacon skewers with the apple raison compote in the other actually managed to turn dishes based on fairly boring slices of pork into a pleasing experience. We ended the meal with a crema catalana (the Spanish equivalent of a crème brulée, 3.70 €), which was large and well presented with the perfect balance between vanilla and that lemony tang, but alas, too watery.

Overall, Manuela was fun. It was a thoroughly decent experience, with well executed (and well priced) simple food with ups and downs. Some of the dishes had an edge to them that was both pleasing and promising. It would be nice if Manuela followed that edge and developed it into something even more satisfying, but even at the moment (and with the current prices, ambiance and service), it’s worth a visit.

Overall Mark: 

Manuela - Tapas
Friedelstraße 34, 12047 Berlin

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