An unexpected treat: Balikci Ergün. Photo by Lindsay Isola
I’d heard that our party-boy mayor Klaus Wowereit ate at Tuğra after a long day at the office (he lives around the corner). And hey, Turkish on Ku’damm. That was novel. Either Turkish cuisine had grown up and gone posh, or else Germany had grown up and accepted the Turks as a proper culinary culture worthy of western Berlin’s most elite (though somehow decaying) boulevard. I’d thought the renowned Hasir chain had the “Turkish grill” market cornered. Nothing could beat the charcoal grilled kebabs or the fantastic aubergine salad at Hasir Ocakbasi. But maybe not. Maybe Klaus was on to something. I made a mental note to take my discerning Prussian friend Hans there.
Two days later, we were entering Tuğra: a quick scan of the room confirmed Wowi had not arrived for supper yet, although there was a policewoman pacing the pavement outside. Crisp white tablecloths, contemporary design with a slight “Ottoman” touch, smart waiters, an immediate greeting - everything appeared to be in order. We had no clue how fragile this facade of civility and professionalism would prove to be.
We ordered a portion of mixed cold appetizers (€7.50) and the waiter upsold us some “village bread” for €2.50 - a huge oven-fresh pita-type thing for dipping in the dollops of humus, Cacık (yoghurt with garlic), Baba Ghanoush etc. Not exceptional, but pompously served in a myriad of assorted dishes – maybe more porcelain than actual food – but fair enough. The real test of the evening would be the grilled meat, so we went for an Adana Kebap (€12.50; spicy, grilled, minced lamb on a skewer) and a plate of Kuzu Şiş (€13) – lamb chunks on a skewer served with rice and chips and salad.
The dishes came quickly enough, but while the solid lamb meat on the Kuzu Şiş was well-prepared, the Adana Kebap was totally oversalted – to the point of being inedible. We politely complained. The waiter took back the plate without a fuss and promised the replacement would come within five or maybe 10 minutes. Forty-two minutes, lots of bread and yogurt (originally ordered as a side dish, not an ersatz-main) and several polite complaints later, the Adana returned - this time undercooked, and utterly unspiced - no salt and no chili, absurdly bland and worryingly pink.
“This is not what we ordered,” I said. “Plus it’s been over 40 minutes: we’re not hungry anymore. Let’s forget about it. We’d like to cancel the order.” The waiter silently removed the plate. The bill arrived. They’d charged us for the Adana! After a bit of arguing, the owner of the restaurant materialised and said he was calling the police if we didn’t pay for the dish. He stormed outside, where the policewoman was still pacing back and forth (was Wowi about to arrive?). Meanwhile we waited patiently in the middle of the restaurant. The owner returned. Apparently he had not been successful at distracting the Polizistin from her mysterious duty. We were now encircled by four irate grown-up Turkish men exchanging what sounded like rather malicious comments…
Finally, the owner flung a corrected receipt at us and shouted “Sie haben Hausverbot!” We were being banned from this venerable establishment, should misinformed friends or starvation ever drag us here again. We paid promptly (a dignified waiter denied us the pleasure of leaving a tip) and left. We’ll never know what their Sütlaç (rice pudding) tastes like. As I snapped a pic of the exterior as a souvenir, a group of men marched out with a threatening: “Give that camera! You don’t have permission to take pictures!” But our friend the policewoman was there, pacing away…
By that point Hans and I were laughing hysterically. The behaviour of Tuğra’s staff had switched from über polite to disproportionately hateful so fast – over €12.50! – that there was something comical about our Hausverbot. As if we would ever return!
Not long after that escapade, my curiosity was piqued when a usually well-informed friend told me about Balikci Ergün, a Turkish fish place in ‘remote’ Moabit. I felt I had to make it up to Hans for the previous week’s fiasco. I couldn’t let him lose faith in the Turks... and he never sets foot in Moabit, anyway. After many detours around the non-descript area on the edge of the Regierungsviertel, there it was, tucked away in a railway arch beneath the Stadtbahn, a tiny “Fischrestaurant” with a cute, luxuriant veranda brimming with plants and flowers.
We entered a tavern-like interior filled with cards penned by (mainly Turkish) guests hanging from the low ceiling, and walls covered in two decades of photographic memorabilia. On the menu: save a few starters and sides, only fish – with photos of the various available species. We dug into great starters (their Cacık deserves an award) and luscious salads (from €3) piled with fresh herbs and served with a large basket of charcoal-grilled bread, followed by plates of fried and grilled fish. From small sardines to aromatic red mullets to juicy dorade and healthy-looking calamari (€7-13) – it was all as fresh and tasty as you’re ever going to get in Berlin.
The regulars seem to wash it down with full rations of Raki or Turkish Efes beer. All in all, our evening at Balikci Ergün turned out to be an unexpected treat with a surreal touch – a real Mediterranean oasis in the German capital, as un-Berlin and un-hip as it was totally fun. It turns out the restaurant was founded by former Turkish footballer Ergün Cetinbas over 20 years ago – we wish them another 20! Tuğra won’t last that long.