Two German boys do fusion Korean food at their new spot Mercosy in Kreuzberg. So far the result seems to be affordably tasty.
You can’t blame Johannes Budweg for wanting to keep a good thing going. When the owner of event space/supper club Merkezi invited Korean cooking crew Matürlich to set up a “pop-up” restaurant at his fledgling bar Mercosy for a few weeks in August of last year, they filled a niche Kotti didn’t know it had, sending legions of kimchi-craving Kreuzbergers flocking to the former wine shop on Dresdener Straße. After a month and a half of renovations, Mercosy re-opened in late October, this time with Budweg, collaborator Manuel Günther and a handful of their Korean friends donning the chefs’ togs themselves.
The new menu’s more streamlined, with just two main dishes plus a rotating special on the board. Budweg and Günther have also given themselves free reign to experiment with fusion – as Günther himself points out, “two German boys” were never going to be all that authentic anyway.
Meals start with a free “welcome tea”: a refreshing iced tea-juice blend with chopped-up fruit or the traditional Korean barley tea, toasty and comforting in its Turkish-style glass (we’re in Kreuzberg, after all). In a city where you have to twist waiters’ arms just for Leitungswasser, welcome indeed.
There is, of course, bibimbap, and Mercosy’s doesn’t disappoint. Both chilli-marinated tofu (€6.50) and generously sliced beef bulgogi (€7.50) are on offer. Black soybeans are a novel addition here, adding some extra heft and umami to the mix. Try it with some homemade kimchi (€1.50), pleasantly snappy if a little under-fermented.
Then again, the combination of rice, veg, meat, fried egg and gochujang is really, really hard for anyone to mess up. The real revelation? Korean ‘burritos’ – more like slim wraps, consisting of a beef, tofu or fish filling rolled up with copious fresh and marinated vegetables in a grilled flour tortilla. The version with sweet chilli mackerel inside (€4.50) is a winner, offering a satisfying crunch and a multitude of flavour contrasts. Careful how much soy or chilli sauce you add – a little moisture can make these wraps structurally unsound. But you’ll probably eat yours too quickly to care.
Finish up with Mercosy’s signature drink, the questionably named Horny White Korean (€7). It’s a potent blend of rum, Kahlua and soy milk with a sprinkling of crushed-up Tonka beans lending it a bitter, amaretto-ish touch – and, supposed aphrodisiac properties, thus the ‘horny’. Results, as they say, may vary.
The restaurant continues to draw ravenous crowds, whether moviegoers on their way to or from nearby Babylon, bargain hunters sucked in by the lunch special – bibimbap, miso soup and both kinds of tea for €7 on weekdays from 12-3pm – or brunch fans who come on Sundays for the pa jeon, or savoury pancakes, served from 4pm till closing time.
Together with successful like-minded Neukölln Imbiss Ban Ban, it’s proof that Berliners are hungry for an informal Korean (or Korean-ish) food experience that won’t break the bank – we’d bet anything that 2014 will see a whole host of similar places ‘popping up’ around town. Let’s hope they’re all this good.
Originally published in issue #123, January 2014.