My musician friend Max spends most of his days playing drums in the mouldy practice room located almost directly beneath LILA, the Peruvian-inflected restaurant on Paul-Linke-Ufer. Yet he wasn’t aware of its existence until over a year after its summer 2020 opening, when I told him about my visit there. As he listened to tales of truffles, raw fish and a bill that could easily reach €75 a head, his eyes grew wide.
“But, so, this is the kind of place where you’d propose to someone?” Well, not really; the New York-ish clatter of the Hinterhof space vacated by Pizzeria Zola (which now sprawls across the larger front patio) isn’t especially conducive to romance. “But, like, you’d go there to have a meal you’d remember for the rest of your life.” Well, not really; for most of the casually clad diners around me, it was simply Thursday. “But then who were they? CEOs?” Well…
I gently explained to Max that while we working-class creatives might’ve lost gigs and income over the past year and a half, the tech gentry – not just executives, but plain old developers and marketing assistants – had been hoarding wealth and, with travel and entertainment on hold, unilaterally decided to spend it on food. Meaning Kreuzberg restaurants had started serving the sort of dishes usually associated with ski season in St Moritz, like a €38 plate of spaghetti garnished with both a shower of grated truffle and a glob of organic Beluga caviar.
To be fair, that particular dish has become an albatross for chef Omar Ben-Hammou, a Peruvian with a globetrotting resume that most famously includes a stint at NYC seafood temple Le Bernadin. He and his team are sick of it, but it sure looks good on Instagram, the seductively coiled pasta swimming in earthy, briny gold. It doesn’t taste too shabby, either.
The real luxury of Lila, though, lies not in truffles or caviar but in the sauce. And not just on the spaghetti. Every creation that exits Ben-Hammou’s open kitchen is drizzled, doused or dunked in a different decadently flavoured, perfectly balanced emulsion that reflects a year spent in Eric Ripert’s saucier trenches. In the form of a red jalapeño leche de tigre, it’s what makes Lila’s ceviche, made with glistening chunks of sea bass, roast sweet potato chips and boiled and fried corn, better than Chicha’s across the canal.
As a warm brown butter-dashi combo, it complements just-cooked scallops such that slurping them from the half shell feels like getting a bear hug from Poseidon. And as a silky, piquant blend of aji amarillo, kombu and yuzu kosho, it elevates roast cauliflower far beyond the token vegetarian cliché. If serving pimped-up pasta enables Ben-Hammou to keep turning out his unique fusion of Nikkei flavours and French classicism (including some intriguing-sounding dry-aged fish specials on weekends), I’m all for it. I’d even nudge Max to come upstairs for an €18 bowl of ceviche and a €9.50 Chilcano – pisco, lime juice, ginger ale and bitters, as refreshing as the rest of the menu – once concerts are back in full swing.
Fish eggs play a similarly nonessential role at FRÜHSTÜCK 3000, the next-gen brunchery opened in Schöneberg weeks before lockdown 2.0. When asked why the Eggs Benedict came with a few grams of Imperial Auslese sturgeon roe (served on ice, in a custom-branded tin), the manager’s response was basically, “We had to put caviar on something.”
Indeed, it doesn’t do a whole lot for the perfectly fine rendition of the dish, whose more meaningful upgrades include buttery brioche and thick slabs of house-cured salmon, except jack up the price (to €30!) and make it a better fit for the restaurant’s hedonistic ethos. The team has collective experience at the Adlon Kempinski, Nobelhart & Schmutzig and Grill Royal, and the overall vibe is consequently that of a fancy hotel lobby given an ‘edgy’ Berlin makeover, complete with racy art and a disco button in the restroom.
Like at Lila, there’s some good cooking beneath the flash. The home-made focaccia with roast beef and a fried egg may resemble a battleship, but it’s unexpectedly light and delicate, with pickled tomatoes and caramelised onions livening up the thinly sliced meat. Pickled peaches, meanwhile, complement the creamy mildness of burrata (because it’s 2021 and all Berlin restaurants are legally required to serve burrata) while managing not to clash with the accompanying anchovy gremolata.
The place even, sort of, works as a neighbourhood café: on a Monday morning, a few solo patrons could be seen tucking into a €16 German-style repast of regional cured meat, cheese, pickles and Albatross sourdough, or a €4 slice of dense, fudgy bread pudding with caramel sauce. Which might be missing the point a little, but it’s good insurance for if and when the luxury boom goes bust and all those Frühstück 3000 caviar tins sit around unopened.
Lila Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39-40, Kreuzberg, Tue-Sat 18-24
Frühstück 3000 Bülowstraße 101, Schöneberg, daily 8-16