Rocket & Basil has received a mountain of press coverage in the scant few months since it opened, but much of it has buried the lede. A new café from the millennial sister-bloggers behind Das Brunch, the hottest Australian-influenced breakfast pop-up of 2016? Meh. Persian food that got one Iranian visitor so verklempt she felt compelled to march into the kitchen and give chef Xenia von Oswald a hug? Now we’re listening.
Whether in their recipe blog, their catering business or their pop-ups, Xenia and her sister Sophie have taken inspiration from all sides of their German-Iranian-Australian background. But here in their first brick-and-mortar, a modest open storefront just off Potsdamer Straße’s increasingly bustling restaurant row, it’s the second of those that comes to the fore. In addition to the sandwiches, salads, porridge and cakes you’d expect from this kind of airy, mint-green space, Rocket & Basil’s menu stars two hot lunch specials a week, one with meat, one vegetarian, both loving recreations of traditional Persian stews or memorable interpretations of them. We had ghormeh sabzi, slow-cooked veal smothered in an herb sauce and served over tahdig, saffron rice with a paella-like crunchy crust. Admittedly, we didn’t have much to compare it to – Persian restaurants are few and far between in Berlin, due to how labour-intensive the cooking is – but we were fairly bowled over by this stew (€15), with its warmly spiced meat perfectly playing off the brightness of the herbs and zingy acidity of dried lime.
The veggie option, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, vegetables and Persian plums, sounded equally enticing. Instead, we went for a mixed salad platter. Components change weekly, but always include something leafy (lettuce and chard, in our case), something crunchy (marinated fennel and radish), something grilled (zucchini and aubergine) and something grainy (pomegranate-laced bulgur). It’s all quite delicious, although the costs add up if you want flatbread (€1.50) or extra protein like cheese, roasted chicken or poached trout (€2.50-4). That doesn’t stop Rocket & Basil’s lunch crowd, mostly bright young things on break from their Potse gallery internships, from ordering it by the bucketload.
Is there Das Brunch? There’s a brunch, a Persian-Aussie whirlwind of mascarpone pancakes, herby omelets and Aleppo-spiced Bloody Marys which you’d do well to reserve instead of simply rolling out of next-door Kumpelnest 3000 on a weekend at 10am. Newbies, though, should go for those hug-inducing lunch dishes – and do it now, before the project’s inevitably scaled up into Das Dinner.