Part of our "Club grub" series: These restaurants blend the underground club vibe with fine dining. Françoise Poilâne set out to get a taste of the Berlin nightlife...
The restaurant in .HBC is discretely hidden away behind double doors at the end of the bar. Here, you are met with starched tablecloths and some über-cool dangling spotlights made out of concrete. The dining room is bathed in perfect light, reflected by the large (artfully broken) mirror at the end of the room and echoed by the streetlights through the long windows looking out onto the post-commie landscape of Karl-Liebknecht-Straße. This is some of the best modernist-retro cosiness in town.
The clientele matches the space’s heterogeneous programming of live music, trendy conferences and art parties: hip Mitte locals and internationals in the know, and a striking lack of touristy tourists. After all, the first-floor restaurant is nearly invisible to the ignorant masses on the street below.
While chain-smoking 20 to 30-somethings swill beer a few metres away, civilised diners talk at low volume over their finicky prix-fixe food. In mid-April, appetizers included a delicate al dente green asparagus salad with baby greens (€4.90) and, for the hungrier, a tasty picando goat cheese wrapped in bacon with Thai asparagus (€7.90) and a rhubarb confit. Delivered promptly by an attentive and attractive (if slightly over-confident) waitstaff, it triggered optimism in our taste buds. Our wine, a pleasant southeastern French white evocatively named “Marquis de Sade” (after the infamous marquis’ chateau), kept hope alive with a most pleasant, expressive mouthfeel.
And yet. We waited and waited for our main courses: rack of lamb in chocolate sauce (€16.50), a filet of Angus beef with an emulsion of sea urchin (€17.50) and grilled butterfish with strawberry vinaigrette (€14.50).
Forty minutes and seven bread baskets later, we were informed the kitchen had forgotten us and gifted a slice of flavourless fish terrine, which we all the same gobbled with hungry abandon. When the food finally arrived, the lamb was adequately pink and juicy, the steak decent, but the fish lacked texture... and, above all, volume.
After waiting for so long, expectations heightened and hunger sharpened, one ought to be served something satiating – either in terms of savoir faire or quantity. Instead, the disappointingly dismal portions displayed an effortful striving at refinement that didn’t quite hit the target. Our dessert, white chocolate mousse with liquorice parfait (€4.80), failed to deliver a conciliatory tongue-gasm. It all looks great, but our dinner was a flop. Françoise might come back for the vibe, not the food.