Döner kebabs are getting gentrified. And it’s about time.
Kebap With Attitude is a new kebab shop on Gipsstraße, near Rosenthaler Platz.
Why is a new kebab shop news? There are already 1600 in Berlin.
Because, instead of that industrial Pressfleisch meat-slurry you get in 99.99% of Berlin’s Dönerläden, Kebap With Attitude make their own döners. Chicken or beef, those big rotating skewers of sweating meat are made in-house and from happy animals. This fact alone makes KWA’s döner kebabs big news.
Why did it take so long for this to happen?
Berlin is synonymous with döner. 400,000 kebabs are eaten here daily. So why – in a city where everything possible has already been cutesyfied in the name of gentrification – has it taken so long for a boutique kebab shop to pop up?
Conspiracy theory alert: The döner cartel. Who controls the döner, controls the city. The mafia footsoldiers, in league with the kebab-makers association, control who can open where, and corner the market on kebab meat. Cross the cartel and you’re in trouble.
I told Daniel Herbert, a KWA’s founder, my theory. He had this to say: “Well we haven’t had any trouble yet. We’re one restaurant against 1600, so let’s see what happens when people start talking about us. Then we’ll find out.”
Perfecting the Berlin Döner.
Kebap With Attitude is an exercise in perfecting the Berlin Döner. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel – at least not yet – but they want to raise the standards of the definitive Berlin kebab. Their Klassik kebab is their take on the standard, der Komplett, Berlin Döner, whilst Tschick is their take on the Chicken Gemüse kebabs made famous by Mustafa.
But, as another founder, Deniz Buchholz, told me, getting into the kebab business hasn’t been as easy as it might seem to be.
“It’s shrouded in secrecy. If you make kebabs well, you won’t share your secrets. Hazir or Imren aren’t going to tell us how they make their Döner, so we have to learn ourselves.”
Their kebab journey has taken them to Turkey to find the kebabs origins (represented as the O.G. kebab on their menu), but most of their education has come from their test kitchen, where they’re constantly experimenting with the flavours and physics of döner kebab production.
Even sourcing the iconic bread has had its issues: “Getting bread from the Turkish bakeries isn’t like getting it from, say, an Italian bakery, If you try to suggest new ingredients or ideas, they just look at you blankly and say: hey, we’ve done this for 40 years. We know how it should be. And they’re probably right.”
Is KWA the new home of Berlin Döner?
The first thing to note about KWA is that they use beef shoulder, breast and neck in their döner instead of veal. Why: “because veal doesn’t taste of anything”. I couldn’t agree more. Veal seems to me like an exercise in meaningless cruelty – it’s expensive and tasteless and it could have been beef if they’d just had more patience. Oh, and the animal suffering thing.
But KWA’s beef… well, it tastes like beef. Crisp-edged and rich, full-flavoured. One thing though: KWA has opted to season the beef with only salt. Nothing else. I feel this is a vital error. It means that their fully-loaded Klassik Berlin Döner, with its salads, pickles and home-made sauces (the knoblauch sauce is great. The scharf is damn scharf.), lacks that savoury spice (see: attitude) needed to lift the meaty flavour to the fore.
This stripped-down seasoning works a lot better for their O.G. kebab – the Turkish original – which contains much milder flavours of simple yogurt, parsley butter and blackened green peppers.
Hopefully, this issue will soon be remedied. They’re currently working alongside a local spice expert to develop a shakable spice mix which customers can then add to their kebabs should they need it.
Look out, Mustafa!
Their chicken kebab, modelled on the now-ubiquitous Chicken Gemüse kebab, is KWA’s biggest success to date. The marinade and spice mix is right. The sauces and toppings are right. The ratio of meat to everything else is right (the beef kebabs could’ve used more beef, to be honest).
The end result is a solid kebab. A real Berlin kebab. But then, you can’t stop thinking about something: is this 8EUR kebab good just because it tastes like a 3EUR kebab you can get on most street corners?
If a 3EUR kebab is the high-point you’re comparing that product to, why not just get the 3EUR kebab? For many, KWA’s bio- and home-made approach will be enough to answer this. For others, maybe not.
But the good guys at KWA are just starting out – this was their soft opening and not their full menu (which will include options like falafel and halloumi) – and they’re always experimenting with new ideas in their test kitchen. Having heard some of the crazy creations they soon hope to pilot, I think (and hope) that soon, Kebap With Attitude will surpass the competition and start to offer Berlin’s kebab scene something truly unique.
Their full menu launches this week.
Note: we only reviewed the traditional ‘Berlin kebab’ in pida bread, just to compare with the classics. There are other options available (durum, tray), and some go better with other meat/topping combinations. Ask the staff for their recommendations.
KWA – Kebap With Attitude