You know on Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor sinks into the carpet? That happened to me the other day… but I wasn’t shooting up on a dirty apartment floor, I was tasting Spargelsuppe at Bavarian/Austrian restaurant, Schwammerl, in Weichselstrasse, Neukölln.
After just one spoonful, I was plunged head-first into a swimming pool of it, drowning in bliss to the tune Brian Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’. In case you hadn’t guessed, this article is a rare occurrence indeed: a positive review of a German-food restaurant.
It was a hot night but we needed to eat. Normally, you’d want something light on such a night. Something fresh. Something colourful. Something distinctly not German… still, we headed to Schwammerl, a small, modern German cuisine joint that has stood just off the Weserstrasse strip since October.
The restaurant, like the food it serves, is a mix of modern and traditional German. The modern-art brush-strokes of colour across a canvas covering the back wall are paired with simple wooden bench seating. The coloured perspex light shades counter the countryside charm of the bar with its collection of traditional Bierkrug stein glasses.
We were given the Stammtisch in the restaurant window. I’d love to say this was due to the amazing power writing for BERLIN LOVES YOU affords me, but in reality most of the other guests were sat around the tables in the street enjoying the rest of the evening sun. Regardless of how or why, we did have the best table in the house.
One look at the menu and I was instantly glad we had a Bavarian with us. The Bavarian/Austrian names for things had even the German natives amongst us reaching for dict.cc. We soon found out, however, that it didn’t really matter if you understood what you were ordering or not – it all tasted great.
I started my meal with the Spargel soup. Now, until that point I’d never really got on board with Spargelzeit, dismissing it as just another reason to avoid public toilets between April and July. But after tasting Schwammerl’s soup, I get it. Creamy, luxuriant, rich, majestic… the soup ceased to be a collection of ingredients, textures and flavours and became one single entity: Spargelsuppe. It was the best thing I’ve tasted in a long time.
We tried quite a few things on the menu. From the Kalbstafelspitz to the Brauhausschnitzel vom Kalb and the Backhendl. In each case, the chefs at Schwammerl had done something interesting to make their dishes taste fresher, livelier and less heavy (without decreasing portion sizes).
The tafelspitz was served with grated horseradish, an apple puree and fresh baby spinach which delicately wilted as you ate… I mean, when was the last time you saw something green on a German plate of food?
The schnitzel came with a potato salad mixing potatoes, mint and fresh peas (which reminded me of an English country garden) with a light vinegar-pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette, which worked to elevate what could’ve been a heavy meat-and-potatoes dish.
The Backhendl (breadcrumbed and fried chicken fillet) was lifted through the inclusion of raspberries in the side dish, and the fact that the chicken had been perfectly fried, its breadcrumb coating remaining crisp, golden and dry.
Aside from this ability to rejuvenate German food, the chefs at Schwammerl put some real nice touches into the dishes. The mashed potato which accompanied the tafelspitz was smoked and the schnitzel was breadcrumbed with breadcrumbs from stale brezeln.
The veal in the schnitzel was also left a bit thicker than I’m used to and actually tasted like meat! It actually tasted beefy! When I heard that many of their chefs trained at the Hotel Adlon, I was not surprised.
Schwammerl’s second prong in their attack on heavy German food came from their cocktail menu. They have a real emphasis on sour cocktails which work to cut through the richness of German food.
Oh, I tried them all. The Zwetschke Sour which was very clean, light and citrussy. The Frühlingsgarten which was everything its name promised – fresh enough to lighten your meal and strong enough to lighten your mood. The Hochmoor Russian… a White Russian where they’d switched the coffee liqueur for Hochmoor schnapps… was without a doubt the best cocktail I’ve had in a long, long time.
If you’ve read previous articles from me on the subject, you’ll know I like my White Russians thick enough to land a plane on, and Schwammerl didn’t disappoint. A lighter version of the drink with a foamy, velvety almost beaten egg-white texture, the addition of Hochmoor is genius. It’s a rare schnapps local to the Schwammerl guys, and is a spice and herb liqueur (if ‘herb’ makes you think ‘Jägermeister’, stop. It’s nothing like that!) which has a very mild flavour that’s very hard to describe. Sometimes it’s coconutty, sometimes it’s warming with Christmas spices… go to Schwammerl just to try that drink if nothing else.
Having eaten a lot of food, none of us were left staggering to a taxi, needing to instantly go to sleep. The conversation in our group didn’t drop off as usually happens, each of us in quiet contemplation of what we just did to our stomachs. We even branched off into the night to continue our festivities. That, my friends, is not something you usually can do after eating at a German restaurant.
To surmise, Schwammerl is a youthful and exciting take on Bavarian/Austrian food which is working to break the stereotypes of big, heavy German cuisine. It bridges the gap between bar and restaurant well, creating an energy in the eating experience that can easily lead to a few more cocktails and a night out. With main courses ranging in price from €8 to €17, it doesn’t have to be an expensive dinner and with cocktails priced around €7 (cocktails that would otherwise be €12 in a bar…) you can treat yourself without breaking the bank.
Photos by @antoniocastello… except the soup one. I did that.