Photo by Jason Harrell
Hailed by blogs as the hottest new restaurant in town before anyone could even take a bite, Industry Standard – now six months old – has been successful at attracting the moneyed international bohemia of Neukölln and beyond. So, does this place actually live up to the digital word of mouth?
Many have raved about its giant open kitchen, visible from Sonnenallee through a huge storefront window. It is in fact so large that diners are forced to squeeze together in the back room or on the few high tables under a canopy of craft paper along the opposite wall.
There are also a few more seats at a tiny portion of counter, where one can savour a privileged view of the kitchen action: cooks complete with tattoos and facial hair, so perfectly cool, and poised and deliberate that they seem to be performing in an art installation (except for the girl who struggled to put down the flames after setting her frying pan on fire!).
Clearly customer comfort is not the priority here, as signalled by the awkward high stools and spartan wooden benches – raw planks and crate wood nailed together. It’s supposed to feel rough and improvised – like a picnic in a woodworking shop. We’ve heard it branded as “work in progress” style.
Unfortunately that also seems to apply to the service. The waiters here look as aloof as 1950s catwalk models without the gloves; they don’t smile and don’t write down orders. Ours was ‘memorised’ by a forgetful type, which could be forgivable if he weren’t so arrogant. His response after we politely suggested that he had forgotten one of our dishes: “You didn’t get it because you didn’t order it” – that was that. When we further inquired why we got the veal heart steak and fries before the cold plate of bagna cauda, said waiter countered with a definitive: “If you wanted a specific plate first, you should have said it.”
Enter the IS concept: The menu has a selection of around 15 small- to medium-sized dishes to choose from. You order a bunch and share as they come. Not the sharing type? You might have to just adapt, as the dishes arrive one at a time, in random order, as the kitchen prepares them, according to whim or practicality. The cooks here rule not only over the sequence of your meal, but over the way you should eat it: collective style.
But enough of décor and logistics – what about the fine food? It started with a hit, followed with too many misses to justify the €100 bill for three people (without wine). The former was unarguably the tartare (€15), one of their signature dishes, and a new take on the raw beef classic with egg yolk and capers. Served with yoghurt and fermented red cabbage, and spruced up with tiny bits of crispy chicken skin cooked in browned butter lending a surprisingly delicious caramelised touch to the concoction – it’s one of the best, most interesting tartares we’ve tried in Berlin. But here the superlatives stop.
The tongue (€10) was as buttery as the toast it was served on and sat in our stomachs until the next day. The skate (€15), unnecessarily paired with rhubarb, was shamelessly overcooked and much too salty. Only the heart of veal (€12) passed the mark: a plump little steak, pink inside with soft but firm texture, served with nice golden fries. But the accompanying “béarnaise” sauce, lacking the acidic kick of the shallot-vinegar reduction, more resembled a rather flat, salty tarragon-flavoured hollandaise.
As a whole, while the ingredients were of undeniable high quality, we found the cooking to be shy with flavours – despite the gimmicks and bold pairings – and mostly lacking a sour touch. Pretty typical of a certain new Berlin cuisine where salt and sugar (and in some places, chilli) run the show. We were further dismayed by the fact we had to ‘order’ a €3 side of bread to be able to soak up the runny yolk from our dish of green asparagus, poached egg and miso (€9).
They are rumoured to make “stellar” cocktails (€8-9). We trust they might have a surer hand at mixology than concocting sauces. Cooking is a learned craft and creativity can’t always make up for culinary college!
For now, none of this dissuades Berlin’s international hipstery from flocking to IS – advance booking is advised. Most diners fit the “urban creative” label, whose signature understated fashion sense would never have you guess that they can afford the typical €20-50 bill. People who trust hype more than their palates – but that’s what being a hipster is all about, isn’t it?
Originally published in issue #139, June 2015.