Opened less two months ago, Big Sur is a fun, modern and affordable dining experience in the “New American Cusine” or “California Kitchen” style, with a very strong focus on carefully crafted cocktails and craft beers.
Back in the the hazy days of the early 2000s, a moderately successful Irish band by the name of The Thrills sang: Just don’t go back to the Big Sur. And, straight off the bat, I have to ignore the ‘wisdom’ of The Thrills because, after dining there last week, I already know for sure I’ll be back. Multiple times.
Big Sur is the first venture as an owner for proprietor Marvin Lerche, though he has been in the food business in Berlin since 2014 through his Gorilla Barbecue enterprise, where he learned the ropes of the Berlin Streetfood scene. Soon he graduated to the catering side of things, and was filling the bellies of anywhere between 70 to 700 satisfied customers with “fresh modern food with a US twist”.
At the end of 2015, after seeing many of his streetfood peers, such as Bourbon Dogs and Chicha, migrate from a food truck into a ‘bricks and mortar’ permanent location, he started thinking about taking the plunge himself and began looking for a premises to call home. “I thought the process of finding a place might be a bit like getting a room in Kreuzberg these days” he explained to me, but it turns out that finding a restaurant to take over is easier than finding lodgings in this part of Berlin.
“Straight away I fell in love with the location, and while it was much bigger than I had planned (I wanted 30 covers and Big Sur does 60-80 inside and double again outside on the terrace in summer), when I see a good thing I just want to go for it”. Lerche also was keen to point out that he doesn’t follow trends: “I’m really not good at what’s cool or hot at any particular moment, so I just focused on stuff that I like, and so far it has worked out”.
When he took over the lease at Graefestrasse 11, the place was in poor condition, with many issues that were invisible when the lease was signed. So the process of getting the restaurant up to standard dragged on. Not one to do things half way, Lerche did much of the work himself, along with the help of his father: “This means you know your place inside out, if there are any problems”.
When I asked him how he felt about Big Sur’s immediate surroundings in Graefekiez area, Lerche explained that he didn’t know much about it initially, but that he soon fell for its homely but lively atmosphere, “It felt right and I love it now. There are so many interesting small shops and I think we’re a good addition to the vibe here”.
Head chef John Brady (above), who cut his culinary teeth at a Michelin starred establishment in his native Ireland, moved to Berlin in 2010 and had previously worked as a sous chef for Little Otik (also formerly on Graefstrasse) as well as stints at Soho House and Mogg & Melzer, was brimming with pride when discussing Big Sur’s food. “It’s not overly complicated what we do here. Our focus is on unique snacks, veg, meat and small plates. We’re going for fresh and simple dishes treated with love”.
He listed balancing work and family life, as well as the high level of organisation and experience needed to bring all the ideas together, as some of they challenges faced in bringing the project to fruition. A big fan of celebrity chefs Rick Stein (“for his honest, rustic approach”) and David Chang (“for his fresh, modern interpretation”), Brady is happiest in the kitchen, where he is realising his dreams.
Switching focus to the libations on offer, I moved to the bar and spoke with head mixologist Adam Pendrich, who recently moved to Berlin from London. “I was tired of London being a city that wasn’t liveable and just wanted a change. That, and Brexit”, he half-joked. Taking a look at his cocktail menu, which often changes based seasonal ingredients, you can tell that while this is a person with a sense of humour, he takes his drink making very seriously.
The former bar manager at the highly regarded Pitt Cue on Devonshire Square in London, Pendrich shared his thoughts on moving to Berlin: “It kind of feels like you can be and do what you want here. Also, the restaurant scene hasn’t yet been over-developed here, like in London, and so I felt I could really add something”. With a long history of working in restaurant bars, he explained that “I love being in an environment where people are passionate about what they do. That translates to drinks, and you can really learn from the kitchen. It’s also fun to create drinks to pair with the food”.
After stuffing my face with the best meal I’d eaten in months, I really got the feeling that these guys are on to something here. This is a warm and friendly place, with an excellent stand alone bar, polite staff, amazing food and great drinks, very much the complete package.
To top it all off, a visit to Big Sur won’t burn a massive hole in your pocket, and were it located somewhere fancier, like Auguststrasse in Mitte for example, you would expect that dining there would cost almost the double the price for the same quality of meal. As Marvin explained, the food is fantastic but very approachable, as are the drinks. This is not a fussy place and everyone is made to feel welcome.
When I asked if Marvin had a message for our readers, he simply replied, with a glint in his eyes: “Just come. We’ll take care of you”. Never a truer word spoken. Oh, and they also do brunch on weekends. How did I almost forget that?
Big Sur. Berlin Loves You.