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La Pecora Nera: North Italian in Neukölln

Happy hour isn't exactly Berlin's claim to fame. That may change once word spreads about this Venetian bistro whose dishes bring even the most discerning Italian to their knees. Come for the supper, come back for the aperitivo. Delizioso!

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Photo by Jarka Snajberk

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.

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