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Jane Silver: The Lichtenbergers who lunch

There's (slightly) more to the far-eastern borough than Vietnamese food.

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Photos by Francesca Torricelli

Apologies for the blog hiatus, kids – when I haven’t been eating dosas and bone marrow and “meat on a stick” in print (look out for that last one in this month’s issue), I’ve been busying myself with a painfully drawn-out move to NoSo, aka northern Sonnenallee, aka Hummusland. But that street’s all well-trodden territory food-wise, even upscale newbie Industry Standard, whose somewhat ridiculous open kitchen (YES, I GET IT, YOU PICKLE THINGS) I now pass by daily.

You know what isn’t well-trodden? Lichtenberg. Sure, everybody knows about the Dong Xuan Center and its plethora of Vietnamese delights. But until I got a press email from Kingsley Barker of Canteen 55, located just down Herzbergstraße from the DXC, I literally had no idea there was anything else worth eating in the area. Let alone a trendy industrial-chic lunchery run by a British expat.

Barker, whose name you may recognise from his year-old street food and catering operation BarkerBites, set up shop in the HB55 studio complex around last November. Since then his roomy space on the ground floor of the former factory has been the go-to lunch spot for HB55’s 200-some artists and a regular crowd of area nine-to-fivers, plus the occasional stray musician from the rehearsal rooms across the street. The bright DIY-artsy-industrial décor, featuring pieces by Kingsley’s artist friends as well as studio denizens, wouldn’t look out of place in Neukölln; here it’s a welcome respite from the surrounding GDR-era dreariness.

Same with the minimal menu, which rotates every day but never does anything too drastic. Burgers are a constant, named after rock stars and costing an eye-rolling €6.66 with fries (that said, the “Pussy Riot” veggie option is a nice touch). There’s fish and chips on Fridays, as might be expected, and the occasional Spanish dish in a nod to Barker’s adolescence in Madrid. I tried out a new experiment, home-brined salt beef on a bagel from Shakespeare & Sons’ baker. In the great tradition of descriptively named British foods (mushy peas; sticky toffee pudding) it was, well, salty. But otherwise pretty good (the mustard and pickle helped tone down the sodium factor, a bit), and, served with cabbage slaw on the side, a damn good deal for under €5. My vegan colleague ate the aforementioned “Pussy” (sorry) which belonged to the deep-fried, crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside school of meatless burgers.

Would I go back? Tricky to say. Personally, I wouldn’t make a trip to Lichtenberg without eating at the DXC – in fact, it’s usually the only reason I’m in Lichtenberg in the first place. But the thousands of people who actually live and work in that ‘hood can’t live on pho alone; not to mention that one does sometimes get the urge to dine in an establishment that doesn’t faintly smell of pleather jackets. If that applies to you, Canteen 55 is a place you should know about. And if it doesn’t, it might soon – Neukölln’s getting more expensive by the minute, and places like Barker’s are making still-cheap Lichtenberg fractionally more habitable. Time for another move…