Ach, Italy. Land of sun, olive groves and expressive hand gestures. The thinking German’s Mallorca. After bearing the brunt of corona’s first wave last year, our southern neighbours deserved a win – and this summer, they got two, whether clad in leather or kinda racist but still preferable to England.
Berlin, too, has seen a pair of Italian triumphs in the past year, in the form of two restaurants that dare to buck the ubiquitous Neapolitan pizza trend. Just opposite the former Wall from each other, both are perfect for belatedly celebrating the EM win, or simply for sitting outside on a warm summer evening, whiling away the time with wine, conversation and excellent food.
The emerald-painted exterior, exposed brick and arty lighting might seem ominously bourgeois, but the truth is you won’t spend much more money at this friendly new restaurant than anywhere else in Alt-Treptow’s gentrification-besieged Karl-Kunger-Kiez – and the food will be better. Much better. Chef Giulia Terni, formerly of Caligari in Neukölln, does classic trattoria cuisine with a Berlin twist, throwing in international touches (a parmesan-coated Scotch egg here, some quinoa there) and vegan options.
Her pint-sized menu changes regularly, but lasagna has been a favourite since Quasi Quasi opened for takeaway service last November, and it’s not hard to see why. Crisp on top and properly gooey in the middle, filled with zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes or wild mushrooms and a positively decadent amount of cheese, this is next-level comfort food. Anything using seafood from sustainable suppliers Fish Kub is bound to be a winner as well, be it a ceviche-like starter of plump, just-cooked-through scallops atop a bright pea puree with pickled onions and a squeeze of lime, or pasta with monkfish, zucchini and lemon, given a meaty kick by a sprinkling of crisp fried prosciutto.
Some might call the wine list unadventurous compared to the current standard in grape-crazy Berlin, but if all you’re looking for is a satisfying house Montepulciano or a well-proportioned spritz – both just €4 – you’ll be more than happy here, sitting among the tightly parked cars on Bouchéstraße. The mix of start-up bros, creative folk, new parents and old weirdos who call this area home couldn’t have asked for a better Kiezitalianer – and non-locals won’t regret making the trip to Treptow, either.
Bouchéstraße 15, Alt-Treptow, Wed-Sun 18-23, quasiquasiberlin.com, €€
Zum Heiligen Teufel
Speaking of gentrification, I still remember when this spot on Lübbener Straße was run by a punky queer couple who sold knitting supplies in the front room and simmered Neapolitan ragu in the back. Under Pugliese chefs Antonio Di Santo and Nicolas Avolos, it’s levelled up – think €20 entrees and, gasp, tablecloths – but a certain deranged artiness remains, as you might expect from guys who used to run a top-secret supper club called Manifestaurant.
In other words, don’t bring your Italian nonna here. Or do. She might click her tongue at seeing her beloved melanzane alla parmigiana served like a flowerpot full of dirt, but she won’t have any qualms about the taste. She certainly won’t engage with the pair of kimchi-filled “Italian gyoza” and flavourless bowl of tomato water that arrive with the plate of grilled shrimp, but turns out you don’t need either to enjoy those juicy crustaceans, perfectly cooked and draped with herbs and marinated elderflower. And specials like risotto, bursting with white and green asparagus and way more than enough black truffles, are so well-executed they’ll bring a tear to her eye.
Is there too much bergamot in the pasta mista? Is it overkill that the tiramisu is also served like a flowerpot full of dirt? Perhaps, but unlike at a handful of other “experimental” restaurants I could name, the overall experience is so delightful that it doesn’t matter. And if you really can’t handle the weirdness, Di Santo and Avolos are still selling simple pastas, sauces and antipasti to cook and eat at home, just as they have been since lockdown started last year.
Lübbener Str. 23, Kreuzberg, Tue-Fri 12-22, Mon/Sat 18-22, zumheiligenteufel.de, €€
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