July 02, 2011

Old Traditions Die Hard

Altes Europa - Mitte 

Considering the fact my life in Berlin is heavily based on lurking around in cafés and consuming copious amounts of cake, this blog has so far not been appreciative enough of one of the pillars of Berlin’s food culture: restaurant-cafés. Cafés with a real kitchen that serve real food. They are open all day long with most customers not necessarily showing up for the food, but rather for the coffee, cake and ambiance.

One such place is Altes Europa on Gipsstraße. With the years it has become one of my favourite institutions in Mitte (mainly facilitated by the fact I had discovered it in my first year in Berlin and it has remained literally unaltered since). The café is one of the nicer, more accessible and less pretentious spaces one can still find in Mitte, with nice cake, good coffee, and pleasingly appealing ambiance. The furniture is dark with ornate wooden chairs and random marble tables, all aiming for a second-class vintage feeling. The walls are directly painted on with naff pictures pertaining to various aspects of the European nature, my favourite being a rough brush work of a (blondly European) couple fornicating over a table.

Ever since I discovered it on a dreary February afternoon, I have considered Altes Europa to be more or less the only acceptable option for a caffeine-laden tryst around Mitte. Yet over the years I have constantly failed to sample the café’s culinary end, and strangely enough not for lack of wanting. With lunch and dinner menus changing on daily basis and a selection of intriguing German/local cuisine, I’ve always wanted to check out what Altes Europa had to offer beyond its espresso machine. And so, after years of waiting, one of many coincidences made me find my there way on a Sunday evening last week.

The evening menu was shabbily written on a piece of xeroxed paper handed in to us by the bitter waiter. The selection of dishes was fairly limited, and we started by ordering the only real starter on the menu, which was the Suppe von jungen Karotten mit Sesam und Koriander (carrot soup with sesame and coriander, 3.50 €). A large portion of a fairly delicious luquidy substance with tiny bits of carrots in it, it was both aesthetically pleasing as well as tasty.

We then continued with the Riesen-Pffiferlingsravioli mit Spitzkohlgemüse und Gruyère überbacken (large chanterelle-raviolis, baked with pointed cabbage and gruyere for 7.90 €) and an entrecote (made of what was supposed to be Argentinean meat with avocado paste and rocket salad and sweet-potato mash for 14.50 €). I have to say I did not like the sound of either dish. The baked raviolis sounded like a random “look what I’ve got left in the fridge” ordeal and the avocado paste together with that sweet-potato mash sounded like something that wanted to be pretentious, but fell short of getting anywhere near high brow. The raviolis were what they sounded like: random. They reminded me of the good old “beggars can’t be choosers” days in Berlin, when restaurants came up with the strangest ideas of the most disturbing mixtures that usually tasted the same: two things that didn’t work together (in this case chanterelles and pointed cabbage) strewn with cheese and baked in some random oven. It looked like an alien on a plate. And yet, everything covered by cheese is good, and it’s even better when it’s cheap. The steak was surprisingly far better. The meat was decent, that Northern European version of guacamole was pleasing (don’t even try to compare it to the real thing, but you can’t really whinge too much when you get something made of real, fresh avocados) and the sweet-potato mash was downright delicious. Somehow I ended up not minding that bizarrely mind-boggling combination.

Alien looking ravioli

The finale was the only dessert on the menu: Mango-yoghurt mousse with pistachios and grilled pineapple (for the price of 3.90 €). Another strange combination, I agree. We’ll start with the fact I absolutely despised gilled fruit. I find it to be a perversion I will never understand. But if you like grilled fruit and large desserts, you will like this one as well. The mousse was more than decent for the price and the pineapple was strangely juicy despite it being grilled.


Bottom line: Altes Europa is a really nice place. The uninspiringly random dishes were well executed and the pricing was more than humane. I am not a fan of the menu selection, which would have otherwise left the place with solid three prints, but the pricing and the high quality of its ingredients (not to mention the place’s atmosphere) all convinced me to wiggle out a generous fourth.

Overall mark: 

Café Altes Europa
Gipsstraße 11, 10119 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 2809 3840

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1 comment:

  1. Well I don't know if I'm ever going to come to Berlin, but thank you for this guide, it's very well done!
    Please visit