Françoise Poilane discovers the best Berlin Flammkuchen in living memory!
Enter this tiny Schillerkiez restaurant and you’re immediately met by the delicious smell of dough in the oven. “Where am I going to sit?” might be your next thought. Mama Kalo is a very small affair indeed: an Imbiss-sized room with an open counter over which you can peek to observe the one-man kitchen operation, and four tables so ‘vintage’ that leggy diners might have trouble fitting their knees under them. The décor is unfussy, with intriguing pictures in distressed frames and one wall covered with a nearly life-sized photo of a Dubrovnik street. There is no room for a proper loo – you have to ask to be led through the kitchen to the staff toilet (a good way to monitor hygiene and grab a snapshot of owner and chef Markus Mallioras in action). Thankfully there is more seating outdoors under the awning, where (many!) regulars enjoy a summery bite.
On a recent Sunday evening, all tables were busy and the diligent waitress glided gracefully back and forth with no unnecessary displays of affection but remarkable efficiency. Comfortably settled with a glass of sweet Portuguese rosé and a peppery organic Côtes du Rhône, we didn’t wait long to get our orders… already very good news.
A cook should be judged by his ability to whip up a simple salad. We ordered Mama Kalo’s house version (€5.90), without the baked goat cheese or grilled asparagus (both optional for €8.90). Markus passed the test with a large plate of fresh crisp green leaves, cucumber, radish and tomatoes in a brilliant – if slightly sweet – orange- balsamic dressing.
We were equally pleased with the gazpacho (€3.90), a velvety herb-infused, tomato-rich take on the Andalusian classic.
Beyond soup and salad, Mama Kalo is quite a carb paradise with eggy German Spätzle and the bready Austrian dumplings known as Serviettenknödel high on the menu. The former was very well executed: a healthy portion of crumbled handmade dough, pan-fried with tomatoes, spring onions and asparagus and topped with a few roasted pine nuts, a dollop of balsamic and slivers of Parmesan on top (€7.90) – a nice alternative to über-cheesy Käsespätzle.
But the best was still to come and it arrived as a confirmation of earlier olfactory suspicions: Flammkuchen! The thin-crust Alsatian-style pizza, typically covered with a light layer of cream, came generously topped with asparagus, tomatoes, spring onions and ham (Parma or rosemary, €7.90). It was Berlin’s best Flammkuchen in living memory: paper-thin dough baked with delicious crunch on the edge and packed with so much flavour that we had to eat every crumb (€6.30 for the bacon/cheese original; €6.50 for the veggie option).
It was so addictive, in fact, that we ordered the apple-cinnamon version for dessert. At €4.90 including a strong espresso, it’s a sweet deal! We discovered that Mallioras had practised his dough making with the Galeries Lafayettes gourmet department – which might explain his knack for all pastries from quiche (veggie, €4.90) to cakes (like the tasty rhubarb Streusel, €2.70). We’re looking forward to Feigenzeit, when the Greek-blooded chef (his dad is from Thessaly) promises to top his Flammkuchen with figs, ricotta and pine nuts.
The somewhat misleading name of his micro-restaurant is an acronym incorporating the first syllable of each member of his German-Polish nuclear family – an extra quirky, personal touch to a great place to eat.
Originally published in Issue #117, June 2013