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FOMO Factor: Compromised morels

Avocado Johnson on the La Mifa supper club and the hidden world of food press events.

Gnocchi with artichoke.
Ava Johnson

Avocado Johnson goes to that thing you’re curious about to answer the question: Are you missing out? This time: the La Mifa supper club.

You ever wonder why some restaurants in Berlin get suddenly hugely popular for seemingly no reason? Here’s a not-so-secret secret: the easiest shortcut to building word-of-mouth is splashing out on free meals for bloggers and Instagram influencers and non-NYT journalists. They get dinner and precious content fodder, you spend less on PR, everyone goes home happy. I don’t go to many of these events because I don’t get invited very often something something moral high ground, but an invitation for a seven-course French vegetarian dinner in a so-called “art club” in the remotest part of Prenzlauer Berg was just too tantalising to pass up.

Anomalie art club.
Ava Johnson

The art club in question is called Anomalie, and it’s run by a pair of well-meaning artsy types (identical twins, actually) from Berlin via France. “Anomalous” is the right word for a grown-up industrial-chic clubstaurant wedged in a rundown auto complex right next to Mensch Meier, a cheerfully shabby lefty hangout that none of this dinner’s attendees had heard of. There are graceful concrete archways and exposed-pipe bathroom sinks and a dance floor dominated by a neon spiral on the wall, in which I heard a singer wailing indistinctly over house beats to an audience of zero. But the largest amount of space is taken up by La Mifa, a cavernous high-end restaurant with dazzling geometric ceiling fixtures, a vertical garden on one wall and bright, Instagram-friendly lighting.

About how the game works: you come alone and get seated next to a bunch of fellow Food-medien types (yes, Germans use the English word “food” when they’re talking about food writing) who mostly know each other from previous similar events. As you eat you’re visited by various PR reps, managers, chefs etc. who feed you talking points about their concept for you to repeat in your article/blog/Insta-caption. For example: this pop-up was one in a series leading up to La Mifa debuting its own gourmet-casual “80 percent vegetarian” menu, which it’s already testing on Fridays and Saturdays ahead of a TBA grand opening. The chef cooking for us was flown in from Avignon, where he normally works at the five-star La Mirande hotel. And can you believe the hotelier’s mom is 85? (She was seated at my table and indeed looked fabulous).

Asparagus dish.
Ava Johnson

The food was, in fact, great. Chef Florent Pietravalle used generous amounts of butter, cream and eggs to bring out the best in his ingredients, many of which were also flown in from Provence. We had soft-cooked eggs over crispy puffed rice, peas with burrata, perfectly cooked asparagus and a bready orb that revealed a filling of meaty morel mushrooms when cracked open. Phones were pulled out; photos snapped.

With my tastebuds so overwhelmed, I almost forgot to ask the question that had been nagging me since I sat down: Had anyone paid for this meal? Tickets had been advertised online for weeks beforehand, at a price listed as €87-123. Yet the crowd seemed exclusively made up of press, friends and family, plus a few B-list Promi ringers. I tried to pose the question to one of the managers, who described this as a “presentation dinner”. So the ticket website was a fake, or were they counting on nobody to buy in? Even if one or two people had bought tickets, it seemed that between the cost of the ingredients and the chef and the staff, the event had been put on at a loss of hundreds if not thousands of euros.

To accomplish… what, exactly? The restaurant isn’t a proper restaurant yet, and even if it was, Pietravalle won’t be coming back to cook there (although I did later find out he’s the one who trained the regular kitchen staff). So as a dutiful shill, what am I supposed to tell you guys?

I’ll give it a shot: La Mifa is a place in which I have eaten good food. You will not get to eat the food I ate, but there might be other food that is also good, although you, unlike me, will have to pay for it. But don’t be too jealous, for you can enjoy your dinner free of any pressure to photograph, blog or influence, secure in the knowledge that you won’t be bought for the price of a couple mushrooms.

But damn, they were some really good mushrooms.

FOMO Factor (How much should you regret missing out on this? 0 = sigh of relief; 5 = slap yourself in the face): 4, for the food alone.