I was a big fan of the cult sitcom Arrested Development back in the day, so much so that six of my friends and I once cornered Tony Hale in a Los Angeles ice cream parlour and made him take an awkward selfie with us.* And I still quote it with disturbing regularity for a show that ended 15 years ago. (What about the two zombie seasons that aired on Netflix? I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it.)
If you haven’t seen it, all you have to know is that it’s about self-centred, clueless rich folks, and thus contains a number of lines that are shockingly well-suited to Berlin’s dining scene. An entree arrives accompanied by a bowl of flavourless consommé: “It’s so watery! And yet there’s a smack of ham to it.” All the dishes at that hot new fusion spot are doused in the same condiments: “Chicken fingers… with spicy club sauce.” A hyped-up wine bar serves one too many plates of unadulterated local produce: “It’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost, 10 dollars?”
But here’s one I never thought I’d use: “She sometimes takes a little pack of mayonnaise, and she’ll squirt it in her mouth all over, and then she’ll take an egg and kind of… Mmmm! She calls it a ‘mayonegg’.”
The quote is supposed to underline the plainness of Michael Cera’s character’s unmemorable girlfriend Ann (“Her?”). And yet in 2021, the mayonegg, or rather its French incarnation oeuf mayonnaise, has somehow become a hot girl food. Dorie Greenspan recently rhapsodised about the dish in the New York Times, and it’s one of the star attractions at Prenzlauer Berg’s Café Frieda, the brand-new little sister to regional-seasonal standard-bearer Mrs. Robinson’s. How good could a boiled egg covered in mayonnaise be? Time to find out.
Taking up the Helmholtzplatz corner once occupied by the not-really-Mexican restaurant Frida Kahlo, Frieda is a café-bakery-wine bar with an interior as white as its customers and a concept as nebulous as their employment status (I mean, I know why I’m there in the middle of a Thursday morning; what’s your excuse?). The menu of baked goods, small plates and snacks reads like a logic exam: certain savoury dishes are served “all day” which actually means 12-6pm, after which it becomes “aperitivo”. Meanwhile, you can order pastries from 10am until they’re sold out, but there’s only a two-hour window for “petit dejeuner”, halfway through which raw milk soft serve becomes available until closing time at 9pm. Easy, right?
I get to Frieda in time to order the café’s most-Instagrammed dish, a rye and buckwheat croissant with burrata cheese and coffee husk syrup, plus an “Oeuf a la Mayo, Tasmanian Pepper” on the side. “You know it’s just the egg, right?” the server warns me, and I contemplate tacking on a fermented potato bun so I won’t seem weird. But no, I want to experience the mayonegg in its pure, naked, €4 glory.
It arrives on its own plate, a pale ovum blanketed in ecru sauce with a sprinkling of black on top. The French version is usually halved, but this one is served whole so that when you slice into it the yolk spills out in an unnervingly seductive way. Scoop up a forkful and it tastes… like a cold soft-cooked egg with mayonnaise and pepper on it. I don’t know what I expected.
Scoop up a forkful and it tastes… like a cold soft-cooked egg with mayonnaise and pepper on it.
At least it’s provided me with an angle on an eatery that otherwise ticks all the boxes: sourdough, ‘nduja, natural wine, tiny Brandenburg farms, Japanese touches like amazake (fermented rice) in the soft serve and ponzu in the tartare, prices that, yes, reflect what ethically produced food should cost but that still seem like gouging to the uninitiated. €11 for that croissant-burrata-syrup combo, for example, the components of which are individually very high-quality but don’t mesh in any meaningful way; the dish’s “all-day” counterpart, where the cheese is paired with olive oil and fermented tomatoes, seems more promising.
Anyway, there’s an infinite market for these sorts of places in today’s Berlin, and I should probably find a way to write about them without resorting to ancient pop culture references, but couldn’t they also meet me halfway by doing something the slightest bit unpredictable? In other words, to the crew of Neukölln’s soon-to-open Ezsra (run by ex-St. Bart sommelier Victor Hausladen; tagline: “Wild Food, Wild Wine, Wine Times”): please give me something to work with besides burrata and beef tartare, or I’ll be forced to review your restaurant in Dothraki. Me nem nesa.
Café Frieda, Lychener Str. 37, Wed-Sun 10-21, €€€
*In retrospect, I’m very happy it wasn’t Jeffrey Tambor.
Want more Berlin food news? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and get the latest gastro stories delivered fresh to your inbox.