UPDATE: After a brief summer break, Ako Cafe reopened its doors mid-September with new chef Nadine. Daisuke Ishige has moved on. See website for new menu.
There are small mysteries in life – like why people would come swarming to one café for breakfast, while a gem of a place 50 metres away goes mostly unattended. What we’re trying to say is that if you happen to be around leafy Kollwitzplatz on a Saturday, spare yourself the trouble of finding a seat at Anna Blume and instead walk 20 steps down the street, where tiny Ako offers much of the same, in better quality (all organic and mostly homemade) and cosier surroundings – away from the hordes of foreign and western German tourists who eagerly patronise the neighbourhood every weekend.
Ako (for “aus Korea“) was opened in spring 2015 by Ma Mi Jung, a Korean artist who decided to “swap” her student visa for a business one. This cat and cake lover who likes to (hand) roll her tobacco and (hand) press her coffee designed most of the interior herself – you sit on crates made comfy with proper cushioning atop, under clouds of floating crepe-paper flowers and hanging plants, surrounded by strange pictures and handicrafts (mostly frames and stationery for sale).
It’s not as bad as it sounds, more crafty than cutesy, really. Recently, Ma had to exile her beloved cats from the shop after a few impromptu feline matcha latte attacks (the kitty-face customised stamps adorning cups and wrappings remain, though). In their place came Daisuke Ishige, an ex-sushi chef who dropped out of rice-rolling in favour of more sustainable cooking – i.e seasonal, local, organic and vegan dishes (so no raw fish), assembled according to macrobiotics principles. His pea or sweet potato soups haven’t been ruined by cream, or some vegan ersatz like coconut or soy milk – rather, they’re delicious blends that taste like the sum of the vegetables they’re made from. He’s also added a proper animal-free variation to the small selection of breakfast plates (the vegetarian version includes a soft-boiled egg, butter and yoghurt for €11.70; ham and salami for an extra €1.30). His vegan concoctions usually include a cold ratatouille, a potato animal-free mayo mixture of his own invention, and a fabulous avocado paste which owes its unusual texture to boiled millet.
It’s fun to watch the shy chef popping out of the tiny kitchen, wizard-like, with plates and trays that also include a sweet something which they call “marmalade” but owes more to compote than jam; and delicious wholegrain Brötchen, which he bakes (from scratch) at least once a day. Meanwhile Ma is responsible for the daily selection of sweet baked goods – homemade scones, fruit and custard pies and tarts (like apple almond) and muffins and see over customers from behind her funky tiny counter – here you can see her hand-pressing coffees, squeezing oranges or assembling her signature hot fruit concoctions and cold lemonades made from homemade preserves.
You can pick and mix from a selection of lemon, ginger, grapefruit, orange or apple or rhubarb, all made from fresh fruit and served in a small bowl with a touch of honey, Korean style. Sip away over a book or laptop in the intimate peacefulness of the shop, or, on sunny days, grab a comfy wicker chair in the little outdoor patio. Ako is a bit of an unassuming place (it doesn’t advertise it’s organic or vegan, ’cause Ma’s not such a buyer of the hype!) that deserves to be known.