Hirsch & Hase Gastro-Pub brings legitimacy to Scottish food in Berlin.
“I used to work round here. There’s nothing to eat here”, our photographer Tom told me as we exited Voltastrasse U-bahn. And he’s right: that part of Brunnenstrasse is still an old-Berlin oasis of döner ladens and pan-Asian noodle-boxes. Weird, considering how many huge offices exist along that stretch.
But I reviewed a place there back in 2014, Volta. Well, Volta is now gone. And Hirsch & Hase has inherited their space – probably the best space in the city.
Volta was all jutting black lines and geometric shapes, a hip bistro for a Berlin of stick-thin techno-ites, skin-tight Cheap Monday jeans and triangular tattoos. Volta, like the scene it embraced, is gone. Hirsch & Hase have since put their own stamp on the decor, creating a softer, homelier pub vibe. It’s now wood, tartan and pop/rock classics, but Volta’s excellent interior design is still very visible – for the better.
“No bullshit food.”
Hirsch & Hase is Fraser McCabe and Emma Dutton, who I first met as ‘The Kilted Haggis’, hosting a Burns’ Night at CBS Kitchen & Shop in 2017. Working the pop-up and festival circuit for the last few years, they have finally found the right location for their first restaurant.
The gastro-pub serves what Fraser colourfully described as “No bullshit food” – small-plate dishes that range from 5-7EUR and punch you with flavour. The Scottish influence is stark, and Fraser’s cooking style uses many traditional ingredients and animal parts you don’t often see on menus in Berlin. In 2018 it’s experimental, but we’ve enjoyed that shit for centuries. And Fraser’s a great cook – he takes a fine-dining approach to rustic recipes and refines them to something everyone should enjoy. In short: it’s peasant food served princely.
A pub first, a restaurant second.
Hirsch & Hase is first and foremost a local pub. Whilst Fraser womans the kitchen, Emma mans the bar. They’ve already become a new neighbourhood kneipe, helped by their ‘Really Crap Beer’, a surprisingly good hausmarke beer (don’t believe the name) that they can flog for under 3EUR.
Their cocktail menu takes inspiration from their respective fathers, featuring a creation from each: ‘Arthur’s Old Fashioned’ (Laphroaig Single Malt, sugar and a dash of black tea) and ‘Bobby’s Rusty Nail’ (Jura Superstition Single Malt, Drambuie and bitters).
And Fraser compliments the booze with a Bar Snack menu (all 3EUR) that features sophisticated snacks: bread and balsamic, prosciutto etc. and downright dirty ones: crispy pigs ears, pork crackling.
We started our meal with two bar snacks and a small plate: a chilled tomato consomme, root vegetable crisps with fennel and coriander salt, and whisky-cured salmon with a cucumber yogurt. Perhaps this was Fraser showing off his refined side? That thought was dashed as he placed the dishes in front of us, uttering: “We’re not poncey enough to do an Amuse-bouche, but here is your Amuse-bouche.”
The tomato consomme’s fresh vitality instantly cured our hangovers, and the delicately whisky-laced salmon dropped us straight back in. The earthy, whisky bite against the fatty, rich salmon was simultaneously rough and indulgent, working mind-games whilst you ate.
Peasant food served princely.
Following on from my recent experience at TwinPigs, it seems Berlin’s on a nose-to-tail journey, and Hirsch & Hase proves why this movement exists. With style.
Our next round of small plates featured haggis bon bons with creamed neeps (swede/steckrüben) and ‘Game Chips’, and breaded pig’s head served with leeks, butter sauce and a fried pig’s ear as garnish.
Now, the Earth isn’t flat. Michael Jackson wasn’t just ‘making up for a lost childhood’. Berlin’s public transport isn’t bad. And haggis isn’t disgusting. In fact, it’s fucking marvellous. I urge you all, be it at the pointed end of a screwdriver, to try haggis.
And Fraser makes the best haggis in the city. In fact, what makes Hirsch & Hase’s haggis ‘bon bon’ incarnation so great is that, by having these small little taster bites, you appreciate the complexity of the dish, something that’s lost when you gorge yourself on a plateful. Plus, it’s dainty and refined whilst packing a heavily-seasoned pistol-whip of flavour. Nothing in the world tastes like haggis.
And Christ, don’t get me started on the pig’s head. I had my reservations going in, as any sane person would, but look at it.
The crispy bread coating bit through to a melting, gelatinous centre of perfectly braised pork meat. We both fell silent whilst eating. Food is about layers and textures, and Fraser’s a master of them. All elements worked together, with freshness, richness and bite. And the pig’s ear garnish was delightful overkill theatre.
Lest to say, they’ve still not managed to get the locals to try their more ‘exotic’ dishes yet. In Fraser’s own words: “My main goal is to get them eating bollocks.”
We finished with a venison, blackberry and hazelnut tartar served with crisp bread. Much more delicate than the punchy flavours of the previous two dishes, it showcased the quality of the venison and Fraser’s dedication to sourcing the best ingredients.
Don’t let the portion sizes fool you.
Presented like courses in a fine dining taster menu, the portions look a little small. But, especially with the haggis, Hirsch & Hase’s menu works with a ‘less-is-more’ approach. So rich and flavourful, each bite worth two others, you’re quickly satisfied. And most of the dishes cost 5EUR. So get two. It’s still a bargain for that level of quality.
A proper Sunday roast.
I’ve never seen it done convincingly in Berlin: the British Sunday roast. Well, Hirsch & Hase have risen to the challenge. Their ‘Sunday is Funday’ events see them roasting a featherblade of beef (or vegan alternative) with all the trimmings and a ‘monster Yorkshire pudding’. I’ve not tried it. Yet.
All in all, Hirsch & Hase is an ambitious attempt to bring the British gastro-pub to Berlin, without bringing the price tag and the wanky attitude. It’s a casual bar to hang out in, get drunk in, that serves surprisingly refined bar snacks and immaculately presented small plates with a bold, fierce Scottishness running through them. It’s not in an area I often frequent (although I will make an exception), but I hope the lunchtime hoards of the Deutsche Welle office and every other in the area take to this place like I have.
Hirsch & Hase