Photo by Craig Hull
While travelling around New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa, Nadine Sauerzapfe, a native of Sachsen-Anhalt with a soft spot for the Commonwealth’s customs, discovered her mission in life: to bring new British cuisine to Berlin, specifically Kreuzberg.
After two years of wild brainstorming, precise planning and obsessively remodelling a former Döner-Imbiss, she opened East London (named after an eponymous South African town, strangely, not Bethnal Green). The interior is designer-cosy: scrap-wood assemblage counter, brick walls, great tailor-made bistro flowers in beer bottles.
Little red crowns appear here and there, as does the slogan “God save Brit food”, no doubt aimed at Germans who think the island dwellers subsist on nothing but tins of mushy peas. The water closets are neo-Victorian cute, with fancy chain-pull bogs. As soon as we walked in, a chipper Australian waitress greeted us in English and ushered us to our table.
Free tap water arrived upon request but we also went for a Newcastle (€4.50!) and a Darjeeling from trendy blenders All About Tea (€2.90). The tea arrived in a perplexing display: an über-designer half-litre ceramic cocktail shaker presented on a little tray with a floating tea infuser and a five-minute egg-timer. The Darjeeling was top-notch, but a no-fuss pot and cup would have sufficed.
We ordered sandwiches: a chicken salad or “roast chicken” (€5.50) and a honey-roast ham and cheddar daily special (€6). Both came on appropriately thick slices of soft bread, delivered daily from a local bakery with cheerful side salads.
The former – plump chunks of tender chicken in a truly delicious, herby mayonnaise, topped with rocket and crisp lettuce – was the real winner, but the generously multi-layered ham and cheese wasn’t bad either, nicely spiced up by the sweet onion chutney.
Daily specials also include salads and soups (€5) – all served in large bowls with a couple of bread slices. The pureed courgette soup had a pleasant fennel base and a fragrant basil and parmesan finish, and the Stilton and pear salad (€7.50) was tasty. So far, so good.
The hungrier can dig into other mainstays of Britannia’s kitchen, from fish and chips to steak and ale pie. We came back for dinner and placed our bets on bangers and mash (€9) and the VEGGIE shepherd’s pie (€8.50). The former was presented in a gastro pub-style heap: the thin Cumberland sausages appropriately dense (although made by a Neukölln butcher!) on some posh, cheesy mash.
Both were excellent; too bad the gravy (some watery red-onion sauce) simply didn’t fit the bill. As for the shepherd’s pie (lentils, peas, carrots, topped with mash and cheddar), our recommendation is to either drown it in Worcestershire sauce (ask for it!) or stick to the meat version (not on the menu!). At least it came with a nice side salad sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and dill.
Dessert-wise, there was the choice of cakes (carrot, apple, cheese, etc.), made by the lovely English Boppstraße bakery, Hudson’s. Our bread-and-butter pudding (€2.50) was delish, full stop. All in all, this is a nice, well-conceived little café. Provided the industrious Miss Sauerzapfe fine-tunes some of her dishes, it should go far.
The sandwich is one of England’s finest contributions to international cuisine, a time-honoured solution to the lunch break, and East London doesn’t disappoint in this department. We’ll be back to try their English breakfast.