It’s secret, it’s not quite legal – and it’s definitely a whole new way to eat out. Anne-Lena Mösken invites herself to the Palisaden Supper Club to sample guerrilla dining, Berlin-style.
A piece of tape is stuck to the doorbell. “Supper,” it says. Jeffrey answers the door, takes the coats, and hands out glasses of champagne: a sugar cube sends tiny bubbles to the surface of each one. The apartment is filled with the smell of cooking; candles light the walls and stucco ceiling. A long table set with 10 plates and wine glasses stretches towards the windows. It’s a Friday night. In the tiny kitchen, chef Kevin is giving the potatoes – oven-roasted to a crisp gold colour – one last critical look.
Once a month Kevin, 34, and Jeffrey, 28, shove their living-room couch into their bedroom and turn their Friedrichshain flat into the Palisaden Supper Club. Prospective guests sign up to a mailing list on their blog. The menu is sent out couple of days before the next dinner; everyone who makes a reservation is given their address. The four-course meal costs €25, and you can bring your own wine if you want to (if not, it’s extra for the wine).
There are a few supper clubs in Berlin, each very different from the others. Some are so secretive that you won’t find out about them unless you know someone ‘in the know’, while others have been getting their first reviews in the press and are accessible through Google-able blogs. There are Kevin and Jeffrey, who offer a cozy atmosphere combined with a down-to-earth but unconventional menu; there is Shy Chef, a 29-year-old Swede whose cuisine is a little fancier but also more than twice as expensive – she once invited Roberto Cortez, the former personal chef of such celebrities as Antonio Banderas and Eddie Murphy, to make a guest appearance; and every Tuesday, an artsy crowd comes together at Appartement, Prenzlauer Berg’s hipster soup kitchen. There, the dinner is free, and it’s followed by dancing to a house/disco DJ set.
Kevin came up with the idea of starting a supper club about a year ago. He and his boyfriend Jeffrey had just moved here from New York City, like so many creative types before them. “New York is so expensive,” Kevin says. “You work 50, 60 hours a week so you never have time to do anything.” In Berlin they could, all of sudden, live fairly well off only 20 hours of work, and Kevin began to cook dinner for Jeffrey every night – something he never managed to do as a full-time chef in New York. He is self-taught; he was an art student who spent all his free time poring over cook-books (“Tons of cookbooks,” he says, smiling shyly). Kevin had been to supper clubs in New York, and he couldn’t see a reason why they wouldn’t work in Berlin.
At Palisaden, one finds oneself fighting the urge to jump into the kitchen and lend a helping hand: it just felt so much like a family dinner. But if you let yourself relax, then it actually is like being in a restaurant. Jeffrey, who normally works the decks at some of Berlin’s most famous clubs, plays the part of waiter. Gently, discreetly, he tops up wineglasses and adds details to the dishes. Sometimes he serves up to 20 people. Tonight, the company includes a Berlin couple who gaze fondly at each other across the table; a group of friends; a guy from the Netherlands; and two artists from San Francisco. “At first we invited friends and friends of friends,” Kevin says as he carefully arranges slices of pork shoulder braised in red wine. “But lately complete strangers have been showing up more and more often – Germans as well as expats.”
The first course is a crispy arugula salad with topinambour and aromatic blue cheese. Kevin describes his culinary style as “simple home cooking” with a sophisticated and surprising twist. He always tries to use seasonal ingredients from Berlin and Brandenburg. In the summertime, he harvests his own wild garlic (Bärlauch) from Treptower Park; it often ends up in his homemade pasta. This time around, he refines butter with chestnuts. The delicious mixture is then spread atop steaming hot slices of toast or cooked into thick, rich pumpkin soup.
The food is delicious, but the experience is primarily social. It’s very intimate: being at someone’s home, eating next to people you’ve never met before but to whom you actually have to talk. By the time Jeffrey brings out dessert, the conversation has meandered from the best neighbourhoods in Berlin to the queues at Berghain to the Rote Armee Fraktion and psychotic dogs. The pumpkin pot de crème, baked in a dark-chocolate glaze and served with Speculaas (Dutch gingerbread) shuts everyone up for a moment or two. Then, after silently scooping spoonful after spoonful with a look of glee, the San Franciscan artist Sarah exhales a sigh of contentment: “I had no idea what to expect…”