Photo by Astrid Warberg
It’s a rare thing in Berlin to be welcomed by a warm smile such as Hasna’s. For 10 years, Hasna Belaiech has been serving perfectly executed French classics at La Casserole, the Steglitz restaurant she owns with her husband. But couscous – the dish from her native Tunisia – has become one of her guests’ favourite.
“At first we tried to be an all-French restaurant. But then there were those surveys on how couscous had become France’s most loved dish, and our French customers started to say, ‘You’re from Tunisia – how come you don’t serve it here?’” So Hasna tied on her apron and joined the men behind the stove to work on the house broth and semolina. “It’s a woman thing,” she says with one of her gentle, infectious smiles.
What started as a Thursday special turned so popular that the Belaiechs had no choice but to add it to the regular menu. “It’s very healthy… lighter than pasta and quick to digest,” explains her husband. “They like it so much, that… not the French, but the Germans order it for Christmas!” He seems slightly perplexed.
Hasna’s couscous is Tunisian-style – you can recognise it by the lush red colour of the tomato-based broth. You can order it with a choice of chicken or fish, but her classics are merguez (the spicy sausage they get from France is very lean, and adequately charcoal grilled, €13.50) and lamb (huge pieces of lamb shank €15). They are all served with perfectly cooked (non-mushy!) vegetables, a seasonal selection of peppers, carrots, turnips, pumpkin, courgettes, etc., and always chickpeas (you can order the meat-free version for €9.50).
There are two types of sauces, the spicier one made with the national hot sauce – harissa. We shared a splendid, gargantuan four-portion dish (couscous is a social dish!) and dug into it until we were ready to keel. Hasna’s ultra thin semolina is so fluffy and delicious it is totally addictive, light-years away from the gummy stuff they usually serve in Berlin.
Fortunately they have some potent Tunisian schnapps to help you digest, so don’t turn down a shot of crystal-clear bukha or amber thibarine, two great liqueurs made from fig and dates respectively and the perfect epilogue to your feast.
Everything else at La Casserole is pretty much Old France. The combination of red velvet benches, white table clothes and mirrors make for the typical Paris bistro atmosphere, complete with chanson ranging from 1930s Java to 1970s Dalida. La Caserole’s other cuisine is Gallic-traditional: delicious homemade orange duck terrine, great entrée-sized mixed salads, and all the classics from fish plates to Boeuf bourguignon (€14.50-17).
As for the desserts, they’re definitely more French than Tunisian. We warmly recommend the Tarte Fine aux Figues – paper-thin crust, figs on top – but if you’ve managed to save room, all the delicious patisseries and entremets (fig parfait, luscious chocolate cream, etc.) are all worth a try. Steglitz might seem remote, but what better reason do you need to escape the comfort zone of your neighbourhood than great food, uncommon hospitability and arguably, this city’s best couscous.