Lost in that ocean of curated gloss and coolness that has graced the ground floor of Torstraße’s exclusive Soho House since February, it’s hard to take The Kitchen very seriously. The café is embedded in The Store, a nearly 3000sqm fashion and design showroom (complete with barber, nail and hair salon) as dreamed up by Alex Eagle, a London publicist-cum-stylist who is also the perpetrator behind a lifestyle boutique in Chelsea.
Obviously someone had fun filling the bright, wide expanse with furniture ranging from vintage to unique contemporary pieces – connoisseurs will note the giant sofas by Antwerp design guru Axel Vervoordt and the pony-skin chairs by Le Corbusier cohort and cousin Pierre Jeanerret. It’s all nicely rounded out by a selection of painfully exclusive records from the Vinyl Factory (co-owners of the space), tasteful ceramics and obscure art magazines. Even the potted plants look (and are!) curated. Near the entrance is a little wooden house with a handmade designer mattress inside and overpriced kids’ clothes all over, because nowadays it’s cool to have kids.
On the fashion retail front, an exquisite mustard-yellow Jil Sander handbag will set you back your monthly rent, an Issey Miyake cloud-patterned summer coat twice that. Thankfully, there’s no pressure to shop here. You can just sink into one of the oversized sofas and abuse their free wifi to the backdrop of pounding electro beats. Or better, sit at one of those cool multicoloured marble tables and order some food from the innovatively titled “The Store Kitchen” – the huge coffee and food counter that wraps itself around a corner of the edgy space.
Flown in for the occasion and paired up with local street food mover-and-shaker Tommy Tannock of Bite Club fame, Johnnie Collins, one of those passionate self-taught ‘genius dilettantes’ who earned his stripes on the London DIY food and supper club scene, is the able brain behind the cafe.
His concept is simple: a daily selection of great salads and a couple of vegetable soups (€4- 7) as well as open sandwiches (€5), a few sweet treats and cold pressed juices (€4.50-7) and smoothies (€6). Here, the soups, like our delicious pureed broccoli topped with pata negra ham, taste like the sum of the ingredients they’re made of, quite a novelty for Berlin.
Even more novel are the salads (€5-8 for a medium to large serving): clever, unusual combinations, six or seven to choose from according to the chef’s whim and (street) market availability: Savoy cabbage zested up with ginger, shaved fennel enlivened with blood orange, quinoa spruced up with roasted peppers and pickled chilli, baby beetroot roasted with its skin, kale tossed with garlic and lemon. The ingredients are king here and Collins treats them with respect: no overpowering additives, creamy or sweet dressings – mostly lemon juice, herbs and cold-pressed oils, a few roasted nuts thrown in on top or a side of homemade seven-chilli dip. It all tastes as good as it looks and feels mega-healthy – not a normal experience here, even in yuppie Mitte. The fish that might top your salad or sandwich is smoked at a smokehouse in Brandenburg’s Uckermark (as we were there, a woman dropped in with four mighty trout wrapped in paper).
With Tannock on board you can expect properly sourced ingredients: sourdough bread from Soluna, single-bean coffee from Bonanza, loose teas from Paper & Tea. It’s all organic and so local it might come from a Kreuzberg living room – like the nut milks from one-man operation Wohl Food that are frothed up for the lactose-free coffees. No soy milk here – it was deemed too unethical and unhealthy (not fermented). No tofu or processed meat ersatz either – just local cured hams and house-braised bacon. The sugar is made from coconut sap, and they bake a daily spelt bread as an alternative to wheat (containing delicious Brazil nuts, chia seeds and rosemary on the day we went). Collins loves kneading, smoking, curing, and pickling and he dreams of growing his own heirloom vegetables (yellow beets, anyone?).
Soon they’ll have a real kitchen where they’ll slow-cook lamb, and an in-house smoker where they’ll prepare their own fish and cured meat. For now The Kitchen is open from 10 am for breakfast: house porridges, avocado toast and poached egg, a spelt muffin burger (with egg, crispy bacon, greens and homemade hot sauce) or toasts with Tommy Tannock’s extra-bitter homemade (Seville orange) marmalade and optional bacon. Lunch is served from noon.
The young staff is actually charming, helpful and lacking the slightest hint of snobbery. And to top it all off, The Kitchen is surprisingly affordable – the lunch combo of a salad, soup and juice costs €12. For that money, you won’t be able to buy much else at The Store… or, for that matter, any lunch as good and healthy anywhere else. Does the surrounding luxury overload make you feel queasy? Take your food to go! Located on the ground floor of a membership-only club, but open to the general public, The Kitchen is still struggling to get the word out to commoners – and if nothing else, their wonderful lunch salads should be praised and advertised.