La Lucha Aims To Bring Berlin Out Of The Mexican Food Dark Ages
By Andrew Cottrill . June 3, 2016
…Something’s stirring in the Berlin Mexican food scene (and it ain’t the refried beans). Word on the street is that there’s a new ‘Modern Mexican’ restaurant/bar called La Lucha opening soon. When? “Sometime this summer.” Where? “It’s a secret.”
Without much more to go on, I tracked down the man behind La Lucha to ask a few pertinent questions about this eagerly-expected new Berlin eatery…
La Lucha is the latest enterprise from Max Paarlberg, the active young face on the Berlin food scene who last year brought us Bourbon Dogs. Having already interviewed Max about Bourbon Dogs, I knew that he’s someone who’s very interested in the concept behind a restaurant, its food and its drink.
Max creates food experiences based on select products and ingredients and food traditions, bringing something new to the Berlin food scene whilst also championing cuisines, products and producers, as well as many of the talented craftspeople this city boasts. When I heard he was turning his attention to Mexican food, I was excited to see what stamp he’d put on the cuisine, and was ready to be educated on new, authentically-Mexican eating traditions, tastes and products in the same way I had been with bourbon and hot dog culture by him the previous year.
I had a chat with him to find out a little more about La Lucha and the concept behind it:
How do you see the Berlin Mexican food scene?
What Mexican food scene? Berlin doesn’t really have a Mexican food scene at all. With one or two exceptions, there are no good quality, full service, real Mexican restaurants in Berlin. Most Mexican restaurants in Berlin are serving food that is not at all Mexican, just an excuse to serve low quality “mixto” tequila (mixto is the lowest quality of tequila, the stuff that you drank once and never again).
If you want to eat authentic, tasty Mexican food, the best options are usually Mexican vendors at street food markets or small imbisses serving up the real deal. There is really a huge gap in the market when it comes to a full service restaurant with good quality, authentic Mexican food, and a focussed beverage concept. I don’t want to say La Lucha will be the first, but certainly one of the few to go down this route.
Can you explain your “Modern Mexican” approach?
We call ourselves “Modern Mexican”, which describes how we take a modern approach to the traditional regional dishes of Mexico. La Lucha’s chefs, Matt Pipe and Jennifer Herrera Olivares, have chosen a number of typical street food dishes and regional dishes, and present them in a modern way, whilst staying true to the authentic flavours of Mexico.
La Lucha’s food concept is not tailored to the European palette. Although the food is not classical Mexican, the food would be well perceived if served to Mexicans in Mexico City. We did not invent “Modern Mexican” cuisine. In fact, it is a style of cuisine that is already popular in Mexico.
Simply put, Modern Mexican happens when talented chefs recreate the traditional dishes that they grew up with, putting their own flair to it and seeking ways to improve the flavours, textures and presentation.
What would you say of La Lucha’s food to the Mexican purists out there?
It’s not purist Mexican cuisine, and we are not trying to be. Even though we are not purist, our Mexican guests would be able to identify with our dishes and, in a way, it could be a way for them to rediscover their own cuisine.
Are your tortillas 100% corn, wheat or a mix? Who makes them?
They are 100% corn and we make every single one ourselves, hand pressed.
Will La Lucha be primarily a bar or a restaurant? What’s the concept?
The food will be the central focus of the concept. La Lucha will be a restaurant with a focussed beverage programme. The restaurant itself will allow our guests to feel equally comfortable sitting down for a full dinner with drinks, a quick snack, or just to lounge around the bar and have some cocktails and a few small plates.
Our beverage concept is largely inspired by tequila and mezcal, offering a range of classic and signature cocktails. We are very passionate about tequila, and want to change people’s perceptions about this spirit in Berlin. We will only be serving 100% agave tequila, which is really the only type you should be drinking. Anything that is not 100% agave is diluted with low quality sugar cane spirit (the stuff that gives you bad hangovers), and we want to move away from this and introduce people to the deliciousness of the real deal.
With small, sharable dishes and premium cocktails, it could be very easy to rack up a large bill at La Lucha (especially if you want to try everything). Will there be weekly offers?
La Lucha is an affordable concept, and we expect people to spend around 20 euros for a full meal with an alcoholic drink. Of course, if you drink cocktails all night the bill can get quite a bit higher than that. If you don’t share the food and order a burrito and a beer each, you could also eat and drink for 10 euros per person.
The number of tequila/mezcal places in Berlin is quickly growing. Can you see these Mexican drinks knocking gin off the top (for a summer, at least)?
Tequila is still very far away from becoming a larger category than gin. And I don’t think one restaurant will change that. However, if we can change people’s attitudes towards this spirit, we can consider ourselves successful. Mezcal is already very popular, but continues to be somewhat of a niche product, mostly due to the intense flavour and high cost. The artisanal nature of this product means that it will always be expensive compared to other spirits here.
What one thing have you learned about Berlin from running Bourbon Dogs that’s helped you start La Lucha?
Berliners are ready for new gastronomic experiences. Now is the time to get involved in pushing the scene forward. Berlin is also now ready to accept quality and pay for it.
You’ve said La Lucha is coming ‘this summer’. Can you give us any hints as to where La Lucha will be located?
Not yet. It’s still a secret.
***Not anymore. It’ll be here.***