Actually, if we had to stereotype, we’d say Choi has more 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. Here, like there, the menu choices are as limited as the seating. 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 centered 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.