I didn’t expect Paradiso at all.
When invitations were extended I thought we’d be visiting just another restaurant, the kind with space for 100 and scores of stressed-out waiters. Instead, we’re brought to the tiny shop front of a building on Oppelner Strasse, a barebones room that at first glance is easy to miss.
This 12-seater’s interior is wonderfully minimalistic, which owner and California native Katherine Harley tells me she did up mostly herself. The walls are smoothed and mottled plaster. Potted plants of various sizes are placed in the corners, along the skirting, and hang from disused clothes racks that are still bolted into the wall, remnants of a previous venture. A tube of orange neon leans almost forgotten in one corner like a lazy sun. And from under a small wooden staircase hidden music plays, giving the space an air of tranquility that makes you want to stretch.
There are no staff here.
Like the renovations, the entire meal experience is a one-woman operation. Waitress, bartender, chef, maître d’ – Katherine handles everything herself, somehow juggling not only the admin that comes with running your own business, but also cuisine design and meal creation.
Stylised as “California cuisine”, the food incorporates Mexican and Asian flavours into every bite. It’s also sourced locally, injecting a dash of Berlin into each dish, resulting in a truly eclectic culinary experience. It’s pretty laissez faire in its approach. The meals are subject to change on the day based on what ingredients Katherine has been able to source from the local markets. This spontaneity keeps the menu fresh and the selection novel, and somehow always seems to work out for the best.
Our meal is no different, and is made from what Katherine had been able to source that very day. In this case it starts with tortilla chips, and freshly ground red and green chili pastes as pre-starter nibbles.
We choose to wait and devour all of it together with the first starter – kabeljau ceviche served with pickled beetroot and red onion. Paired with Portuguese wine it’s hard not to imagine yourself on the West Coast watching surfers as they in turn watch the waves. Having never tried fish cured in lime juice before, I found myself loving the freshness and tang of it, and wouldn’t have been disappointed had it been served as a main.
The ceviche is followed by slow-cooked artichoke topped with lemon juice, olive oil, feta cheese, pine nuts and mint. Simply put – it’s delicious. Afterwards, as we praise what is clearly a refined knowledge of flavour and texture, Katherine admits she’s never actually cooked artichoke before. In fact, she made up the recipe only two hours ago. If inexperience renders such a tasty dish then I pray that she’s making up the mains on the fly.
The mains in question are two different tacos. The first consists of scallops topped with lemon, garlic, cracked pepper, pomegranate and fresh herbs, and the second contains slow-cooked lamb and shallots accompanied by a Greek yoghurt dressing combined with lemon, spices and nectarines. Both are perfectly balanced and exciting in their respective flavour profiles. Washed down with Mescal Mules, it’s the type of meal that makes you drunk on the idea of moving to California if only to experience this standard of eating and drinking.
It feels less like a restaurant experience and more like attending a casual dinner party.
And this is exactly the vibe that Katherine aims to create. When I ask her about why she started Paradiso, she explains that she loves cooking for her friends and wanted to find a way to do it all the time. “Friends, food, alcohol, music -” She tells me in between courses. “I just thought about how I wanted to eat, and wanted to share that experience.”
It’s quite obvious that Katherine’s on to something good.
Although it’s worth noting that if you’re the type of person who loses their shit when the waiter takes too long to bring your second round of drinks, you might want to reconsider your reservation. This is slow eating, meant to be savoured and coupled with good conversation and the presence of friends as the evening unfurls around you. Coast with it. Stretch.
Paradiso is trendy without being pretentious, personal without being invasive, languid without being lazy.
There’s time to appreciate each course as it’s served, and time to get to know the thoughts, concepts and ideas behind it too.
It’s also extremely affordable. You can pick up two tacos for €5 on Tuesday and Friday, or indulge in a four-course meal with the popular Supperklub for less than 30 bucks. A good deal? I’d say so.
I’ve been warned that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; Katherine’s pop up space, however, seems to be the exception.
Here, you’re simply in paradise.
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