In Germany, even in Berlin, the happy hour remains a relatively alien concept. There’s something rather un-German about spending that precious chunk of post-work, pre-dinner time leisurely drinking, snacking and chatting – just when, pray tell, is one supposed to go to Aldi?
Roberto Ugo Falcone and Jana Siemonsmeier discovered this shortly after opening La Pecora Nera, their living-room-sized slice of northern Italy in Schillerkiez. The Italian-German couple had initially conceived of a spot devoted solely to the Venetian aperitivo experience: a drink, usually an Aperol Spritz, accompanied by bite-sized snacks – or as Jana puts it, “Italienische Tapas”. When it became clear that this would be, for the present moment, unsustainable, they began serving aperitivo on Saturdays only and offering a dinner menu during the rest of the week.
Which is actually wonderful news for the rest of us. Though his expat-trendy Berlin resume (White Trash, Santa Maria) might not suggest it, Roberto’s an excellent chef and pastaio who honed his chops at Righetti, his uncle’s acclaimed self-service restaurant back in Vincenzo. He’s also quite particular about northern Italian food, receiving regular sopressa- and cheese-laden care packages from his mother and scouring Berlin to source the rest of his ingredients. Pasta-wise, his specialty is bigoli (€7.50-8): oversized, eggy strands with just the right amount of bite, coated liberally with anchovy sauce or – our favourite – slow-cooked duck ragout.
Even better is the homemade polenta (€6-8), thick squares criss-crossed with grill marks, crisp and slightly smoky on the outside with a creamy interior. If, like us, you associate polenta with memories of tasteless cornmeal paste congealing in a steam tray at your college dining hall, this will be a revelation. Sweet caramelised radicchio and spicy salciccia provide the perfect complement. Other items vary with season and whim, like the risotto of the day (€8) or the Friday fish special – a nod to Italian Catholic tradition. Vegans beware: thanks to the minimalist menu and Roberto’s adherence to authenticity, you may leave hungry. Check back soon for more salad options.
As summer approaches, Roberto and Jana want to create a real piazza vibe on their little stretch of Herrfurthplatz, with locals dropping by for a panino or a drink on their way to and from Tempelhof. As word-of-mouth spreads and more and more Italian expats come knocking, they may even reinstate their daily aperitivo programme. Preview it on a Saturday between 6-8pm with a Spritz (€2.50) and your choice of nibbles, from polenta tarts to mini-sandwiches (€0.50 each!). But don’t get too full… you’re going to want to stay for dinner.
Originally published in Issue #116, May 2013.