Since the closure of missed Pink Flamingo, rumour had it that the space on Eberswalder Straße 28, just opposite the famous table tennis bar Dr. Pong, would soon be occupied by a ‘real American diner’. It’s actually a ‘real French bistro’ that opened up instead (the diner is now slated to launch on Helmholzplatz). Les Valseuses, operated by two of the founders of Themroc on Torstraße in Mitte, is already quite a success. When we arrive at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, the sidewalk out front is packed with 30-to- 40-something post-gentrification bohemians smoking over glasses of crémant, Burgundy’s best bubbly.
Inside, host and co-owner Julien Ponthieu glides back and forth with plates of steaming grub, stopping to welcome newcomers – multilingual greetings, much cheek kissing, everyone seems to know him here. His dog, Herr Schröder, remains sanguine under a barstool despite all the commotion. Behind the counter, Ponthieu’s business partner Olivier Lapeyre and chef Matthias Gondol are preparing orders with breathtaking focus and efficiency.
“We’re going for a real bistro… unless it is extra-busy, we can bring the food within five minutes, no problem,” says Ponthieu. And it is quick. In no time a basket filled with baguette lands on our table, soon followed by our starters: the Tartelette (€6.40) and the Paté Lorrain, both served with a generous handful of green salad, dappled with a beautiful mustard vinaigrette.
The former is a take on the ‘pear tatin’ – a mini tart filled with a caramelised, slightly spicy pear chutney – under a mound of gratinéd fresh goat cheese – the whole deliciously crumbling edifice topped with walnuts. It is a bestseller – particularly popular among girly epicureans, one can easily see why.
The Lorrain (€6.70) is a more robust affair, a dome-shaped pie containing a perfectly executed paté (pork-veal, marinated in white wine, shallots and herbs) flavoured with fresh tarragon (too rare in Berlin restaurants) baked in a golden crust and served in two hemispheres with a light beer sauce – it is to die for! Perfect as a small meal before a night out – with a glass of wine.
The main courses don’t disappoint either: the Pavé (Argentinean rump steak, €12.80) is expertly cooked – first seared on the grill before being roasted in the oven to keep the inside moist – and served sliced with a pleasantly tangy dark beer sauce, next to a happy heap of delicious golden fries.
The fish today is Bonito Tuna (€11.80), lightly pan-seared and served with Les Valseuses’ signature bouillabaisse sauce and a jumble of crisp veggies – young carrots, green asparagus, squash and turnips (another deplorable rarity in Berlin!).
The wine hits the spot, of course, starting with the more-than-decent crémant and a proud sauvignon from the Loire Valley – whose perfectly balanced body and mineral mouthfeel will relieve white wine fans tired of always having to choose between acidic and sweet.
Don’t walk out the door without dessert: the sweet treats (a daily tarte and a selection of petits fours) are baked at French transplant Magali Rivière’s Ma Patissière, whose magical oven is conveniently housed in the same building. Here diners are doubly spoiled: clever bistro food and top notch patisseries, all reasonably priced. Forget the baby prams and Swabian dentists – Prenzlauer Berg is making its comeback, mainly thanks to a new generation of enterprising expats, injecting some bon-vivant bohemia to a neighbourhood that’s all too often written off as sanitised and boring.
PS: Les Valseuses is a double entendre meaning ‘the waltzers’ and an obsolete colloquialism for ‘balls’ – a definition kept alive by the film classic starring Gérard Depardieu.