If the Covid-19 lockdowns caused some vegans to fall off the wagon, this summer ought to be enough to put them right back on. Heat domes, wildfires, apocalyptic floods… something has obviously got to give, and while it’s doubtful that you, the person reading this article, will singlehandedly make a dent in global carbon emissions by eating beans instead of beef, it won’t exactly hurt, will it?
Besides, as this magazine has already emphasised a number of times, ditching animal products is a snap in Berlin. Hell, even hotel management corporations here are getting into the vegan game. Witness the rise of Good ‘n’ Vegan, the brainchild of the blandly named HR Group. Faced with a lack of guests thanks to you-know-what, the company repurposed one of its properties’ restaurants, Blend at the Pullman Schweizerhof in Charlottenburg, as a plant-based delivery service. A cold-bloodedly cynical business move, or a generous way to keep chef Steffen Sinziger and his kitchen staff employed during a pandemic? Porque no las dos? Anyway, the concept proved so popular that after lockdown restrictions lifted, Good ‘n’ Vegan not only stayed on Wolt and Lieferando, it started serving sit-down diners at Blend as a “pop-up” (presumably so that picky Schweizerhof guests can still order porky currywurst and beefy cheeseburgers instead of their meat-free analogues).
The food is, well, hotel food: competently cooked and comfortingly flavoured with few surprises, except for the important fact that everything’s made of plants. Yes, that includes the mozzarella, a convincingly creamy if not entirely cheeselike blend of cashews and soy yoghurt, served with roasted beefsteak tomatoes, rocket and dehydrated olive sprinkles. And the truffled camembert, which imparts a nice funk to an otherwise average veggie burger.
Come to think of it, it’s the cheese, that Waterloo of vegan items, that makes Good ‘n’ Vegan worth ordering: the hands-down best thing we tried was the “Mac no cheese balls”, crunchy fried pasta spheres that taste just as craveably junky as the real thing. Sinzinger, a non-vegan, is a self-professed molecular gastronomy nerd, so it could be he got more excited about replicating fermented milk products than, say, Königsberger Klopse – his veal-free version of the Prussian balls comes out soggy and flavourless, redeemed only by charred cabbage and a tart cassis sauce.
The pop-up is running through July 31, and lunch or dinner on the Blend terrace isn’t a bad idea if you’re vegan and live in the area. Otherwise, go for delivery so you can enjoy the dishes without having to endure the Charlottenburg corporate hotel vibe – your business suits, your snatches of heated Russian conversation, your astoundingly forced-trendy interior.
What if you’re looking for vegan food with more of a soul? For that, I proudly present Veganaa in Schöneberg, which is not just Berlin’s only meatless Mongolian café, but very possibly its only Mongolian restaurant, period. (“Mongolian BBQ”, a Taiwanese invention, doesn’t count.) The generic-sounding name is actually a portmanteau, and an apt one at that: Ganaa, the café’s Ulaanbaatar-born owner, has literally thrown herself into this project. She moved to Berlin around the turn of the millennium and spent years cooking at TU’s on-campus café before finally opening her own place in, sigh, March 2020. By that time, she was a devout vegetarian-turned-vegan who had figured out how to recreate her home country’s traditionally carnivorous cuisine with the help of marinated, smoked soymeat and lots of veggies.
She’s now the only chef in town who makes huushuur, fried dough pockets resembling a flatter version of Chinese xianbing, served with soy dipping sauce and, in an unorthodox yet welcome touch, house-fermented kimchi. They’re a must-order along with buuz – thick-skinned, fist-sized dumplings filled with a brothy mix of spinach, soy meat and glass noodles – and the stir-fry dish zuiwan, for which Ganaa rolls out her own wheat noodles enriched with spelt flour, spinach or beetroot.
Less adventurous eaters can choose from a number of trusty student favourites (spaghetti bolognese, chili sin carne and the like) and there are a few neighbourhood regulars who drop by just for a cup of tea and a slice of dairy-free Donauwelle cake. But it’s the Mongolian specialties that warrant the trip to Kleistpark or, if you’re feeling lazy, the Wolt order. Even if converting to veganism is the furthest thing from your mind, you’ll be supporting a tiny local business while trying dishes you might never have eaten before – and you won’t even miss the mutton.
Good ‘n’ Vegan at Blend through 31.7, Budapester Str. 25, Charlottenburg, daily 11:30-14, 18:30-21:30, €€
Veganaa Grunewaldstr. 88, Schöneberg, Mon-Fri 12-8, Sat-Sun 14-21, €
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