If we had to stereotype, we’d say Choi has something of a Japanese vibe – which makes sense, as owner Sooyeon “Sue” Choi’s sister and brother-in-law run omakase restaurant Shiori down the hill in Mitte.
Like there, the menu choices are limited. The tiny former tattoo shop on Fehrbelliner Straße is dominated by a rectangular wood-and-glass bar displaying Choi’s collection of Korean vases. Each night, a lucky few guests gather around it (or on a pair of tatami-style mats by the window) and receive one of three set meals centred around veggies, meat or fish.
While Sue started Choi on a lark after 10 years working for a Korean semiconductor company in Frankfurt, her cooking is anything but dilettantish. She wields expertise (and recipes) passed down by her mother, once a professional chef back in Busan, and has a keen instinct for wine pairing developed over years of self-taught snobbery. Both were in evidence as we started our meal with a small crock of nutty, sesame-studded rice porridge, a bowl of garlicky kohlrabi “water kimchi”, and a glass of sparkling Kerner from Thuringia.
We’d ordered one fish and one meat option, and the dishes for both came out side by side. A “salad” composed of a seared scallop encircled by shrimp, radish sprouts and physalis and topped with a crunchy fried lotus root – plus a nicely vinegary dressing poured at the table – handily beat out the more conventional bowl of marinated vegetables (namul) served with the meat menu.
Conversely, a plate of stir-fried redfish and aubergine in a spicy-sweet gochujang-based glaze was delicious, but paled in comparison to Sue’s signature galbi jim: a pot-au-feu-ish bowl of meltingly tender, soy sauce-braised beef with root vegetables and chestnuts. Paired with a Malbec from Argentina’s Rewen estate, it was comfortingly autumnal. Together with a “surprise dish” (in our case, yellow zucchini-rice rolls, with homemade soy sauce for dipping), a bite of something starchy (a mini mung bean pancake for the fish menu, a fried beef and tofu dumpling for the meat one) and a dessert of homemade sesame ice cream, both menus are a very decent deal for €39. (On a budget? Go for weekday lunch.)
We could imagine it’s different on a packed-to-the-gills Friday or Saturday, but as it was, on a Tuesday night, it felt like being at a supper club – presided over by the omnipresent Sue, who chatted and gossiped with her guests while pouring wine or putting the finishing touches on plates.
CHOI | Fehrbelliner Str. 4, Prenzlauer Berg. Tue-Sun 18-23 (dinner), Tue-Fri 12-14:30 (lunch); set menu €34-39, wine pairing €30, lunch €9-13.