It was a shrewd move on the part of German manager Maren Thimm and American chef Gary Hoopengardner to convince British architect David Chipperfield to let them do a lunch canteen in the one-storey building in front of their Mitte office last year. So popular was the place with the Chipperfield crew and other gallery-district lunchers who came in droves for the amazing daily offering of soups, salads and hearty specials for €4-10, they opened for dinner as well. Ever since, it’s been one of Mitte’s most successful upstarts. So give it a sample before it closes in mid-April to make way for construction of a new Chipperfield building.
It’s cold and dark outside, and, from Joachimstraße, the Kantine looks like a small remise, a warm, lit-up heaven at the other end of the courtyard. You enter through the glassed-in veranda (perfect for smoking) and are welcomed by the cosy, yellow atmosphere conceived by the owners’ friend Katja Buchholz. Inventive without ostentation, the décor is modern rustic: hand-crafted blond-wood tables, hanging lamps made out of big glass fish traps, unmatching second-hand chairs. It all gives the spot that slightly rough edge that even moneyed diners like these days. And lots of candles. In a word, gemütlich.
Kantine’s unpretentious originality extends as well to the food: good ingredients, fun flavour-mixes and artful presentation without going overboard chichi or skimping on portions. On the day we visited, starters were an octopus tentacle elegantly curled on top of some hummus and sliced white radish, calamaretti pouches filled with couscous and a delicious kidney bean salad, and slices of pork cheek with a dollop of lentil-avocado salad.
The meal got really fun with the chef’s deconstructed Bouillabaisse (€18) – the famous Provençal fish broth adequately served with two large croutons lathered with homemade rouille on one side; an amazing plate of seafood (sander, plaice, a delicious grilled shrimp) with healthy chunks of fennel, on the other.
Our Baden Grauburgunder and a Côte du Rhone (both €7 for 2cl) lived up to the task, and dessert was a great chocolate cake with a crème-fraiche/blueberry-pistachio center, the richness of which felt admirably balanced out by the freshness of a truly wicked passion fruit/apple sorbet. The ever-changing daily menu caters to the diversity of culinary tastes in Berlin: every day there are two vegetarian, one fish and two meat main course options.
The Kantine duo is on the lookout for a new venue. Let’s hope they find one, because they deserve to build on the temporary success of their first Berlin venture. And once you’ve sampled the place, you’re bound to become a regular.