The most expensive of our ‘cheap French’ trio but nonetheless surfing the nouvelle vague of down-to-earth Gaul-grub, Chez Ginette, named after the first love of 20th-century super-chef Paul Bocuse, is also one of the tiniest restaurants in town.
The squashed-together feel of the seven-table bistro on Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg does make it feel a little Parisian. All of 16-18 people can eat in the quirky dining room, replete with old tables, Ricard jugs and wallpaper you could imagine in Madame Bovary’s parlour. The fetchingly morbid black paintings by one of the cooks are a nice touch.
The waitresses also seemed a little gloom-ridden during our visit, exhibiting a low-key yet efficient demeanour with a dash of signature Berlin bluntness: “We don’t do that” was the answer when we asked for a side salad. After pointing out the fact that some sort of lettuce was listed on the starters menu we were told that the only way to eat salad here was with the goat cheese.
We obtemperated but were still warned that “the cook is going to be annoyed,” after we viciously asked for our dressing on the side.
We were annoyed when, after 25 minutes, a plate of lettuce, tomato, walnuts and chèvre chaud (€5.50) materialised without any proper dressing, merely a teapot of olive oil and a thimble of vinegar. Obviously the chef is fussy and likes to make a point.
The salad was rather scrappy, but the roasted monticule of fresh goat cheese was potentially palatable, provided we had actually wanted cheese. Meanwhile, we drank some house rosé, a half-litre carafe of Côtes de Provence (€6.80) – not bad at all.
About an hour after our arrival, the meal proper came: lamb roasted with whole garlic cloves, served with potato gratin and green beans (€13), as well as four spicy merguez sausages (€9) – also with potato gratin.
For all its nice flavour, the lamb was unfortunately gristly: we reluctantly left a good hunk of the unchewable beast for the waitress to pack back to the kitchen. Was the cook annoyed? Our conflict-averse waitress didn’t say.
The merguez were the real thing and adequately served with harissa. Yet the real stars of the meal were the sides: actual fresh green beans served hot and flavoursome – rather than watery frozen ones warmed up in running butter (a common curse here).
And the circular gratin was faultless: perfectly cooked spuds, not too creamy, not too cheesy. For smaller hungers, the menu boasts a long list of the now-ubiquitous Alsatian pizza, or Flammkuchen, that here are not cheap but looked truly appetizing (€8 for a veggie or classic, up to €11 for a salmon or Toulouse sausage).
Despite the jaw workout provided by the lamb, the main course put us back on track to satisfaction, only to be halted abruptly by dessert – or lack thereof. “We are out,” commented the stern waitress.
Surely the hands that made such a great gratin were capable of producing an edible crème brûlée, or a mousse, or a French tart. Zut alors!
We’ll be back – for the €5 lunch special.