Montag, 31. März 2014

Foodie Berlin: Lychée Chinese Restaurant

The foodie gossip goes that West Berlin has the best Asian and especially Chinese restaurants and it might be right. The big pleasure for me is to discover a place that has not only the food, but also interior design standards that creates a special ambiance. 
When I find the two ingredients together well I am tempted to come back. In the case of Lychée restaurant, on Bayerische Str. 9, mid-distance between Konstanzerstrasse and Oliver Square, I unexpectedly discovered what I was looking for. Add to this that the dishes I was served too were a little bit more than the average standard IKEA style, which is a stylish improvement with many other restaurant, even those serving good and very good food. The restrooms are looking more modest than the restaurant, yet clean. There are also special chairs for little children. A selection of magazines and daily newspapers help the lonely or waiting visitor to use his or her time get in touch with the latest news. 
I decided to visit the restaurant on a foodie detective mission relatively late in the evening, in the middle of the week. Three tables were taken, out of around 20, with a very fast service and other customers coming and going for the takeaway orders. Porcelain plates with European and Chinese models were hanged on walls at the eye sight level, near silky pillows, and big Chinese bowls were hanging on the ceiling, some of them used as source of light.
Till my order was ready, I was offered besides my green tea brought in a high-tech looking teapot, a soya sprouts salad. Despite being a bit too oily, it was an inspired appetizer introducing the rest of the supper: spicy enough to make you want to eat more. 
Here comes my first main choice: veggie dim sum, accompanied by two sauces - not-so-hot soy sauce and the relatively spicy sour sweet one. The veggie combination was more than tasty, covered by a dense dough. Trying to take one slurp of tea after each big bit - did I say that I used only the chopsticks? - I felt like a real follower of the Cantonese tradition where eating dim sum is paralleled with drinking tea.
If you don't want to eat meat, you will have a hard time to order a full menu in a Chinese restaurant. Regardless of the geographical part of the country represented by the menu - as I was told later, Lychée focuses on fusion cuisine from the South of the China - meat is everywhere so rather don't have too much expectations from your veggie dish. The combination of pak choi - Chinese cabbage - and Shiitake was abundant, a bit too salty and a bit too oily. The rice was fine - again, but not the lovely Thai sort I fancy usually. 

Asian sweets are unusual, first because they are not sweet, second because the recipes rarely include dough, but unusual mixtures of ingredients, like beans paste. Part of the kind service of the restaurant, I was brought this lovely snowman - the eyes made of beans, the red cap - a small slice of pepper, covered by coconut rasps all over the dish. It was a good ending of a long supper, and the limited sweetness brought the right balance after too much oil.
The bill was relatively fine, but not the cheap meal you can get in the Eastern side, anyway. I left behind me the sweet lyrical Chinese music of background and went out in the early Berlin spring, thinking that at least for the dim sums, I should be back soon. 

Dienstag, 18. März 2014

The return to the Nordic embassies

Berlin is offering unique opportunities for branding, including for countries. A free city with a lot of creative minds, it creates the adequate context for a large array of particular projects in architecture and public diplomacy. Or two of them brought together. An example: the Nordic Embassies.
I visited the embassies first at the beginning of my stay, part of a cultural diplomacy conference and still find it fascinating. Following models of political cooperation already in place for decades, such as the Nordic Council (1952) and the Nordic Council of Ministers (1971), the so-called Pan Nordic Building reunites in a huge space the diplomatic representations of: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. 
After the reunification of Germany and the relocation of the diplomatic missions from Bonn to the new Berlin, many countries were faced with the problem of finding a proper building and in some situation, the problem is still around, due to the lack of inadequate spaces for the diplomatic requirements. The Pan Nordic Building  has elements of all the member countries: the Swedish marble, the natural landscape of trees planted near the building and reminding of the Norwegian woods, the vernacular architecture of Iceland, the copper, the alternation between the light coming through the glass walls and the dark materials etc. The disposition of the countries within the embassy corresponds to the arrangement of the countries on the map.
Besides the separate diplomatic areas, there are a couple of common open spaces reunited in the Felleshus (the building, in Danish) that reunites the disparate spaces and lines in a free area of dialogue. For instance, the exhibition area, at the time of my visit featuring some interesting Finish painters under the motto: 'Hungry for images/Hunger nach Bilden', on the occasion of Finish Cultural Year 2014. At the same building there is an auditorium and a canteen, featuring a Nordic cuisine which is lovely especially in the summer when one can go out on the terrace and admire the Berlin from above. The Nordic embassies are close to the green and quiet Tierpark area, considered the embassy quarter in the capital city.   
At the entrance, there are various leaflets and presentation documents of the coming events, among which film projections, book readings and discussions, conferences on various topics. Guided tours are possible for groups. Inside the space delineated by the copper band around the building, there is the open space of the plaza where it seems that all the contradictory lines of the building are getting together. 
Country branding is always a difficult project and finding the proper messages requires a lot of patience and full political support. The Nordic countries are the living proof of understanding why a common public message is so important, especially if you give up small ambitions. But besides all these geopolitical and intellectual considerations, there is the smart combination between nature and architecture that makes me travel more to the Nordic countries. Meaning that, at least in my case, the branding messages are very efficient.

Freitag, 14. März 2014

Foodie Berlin: Aux Plaisirs in Schöneberg

I am not very familiar with Schöneberg, but I was always told that there are lots of interesting places to know and taste. One of the busy days of the last week, was hanging around the iconic City Hall, looking for a place to kill some time before a delayed meeting and I could not resist the call of the French name. 
Inside, a small place, with around 6 tables, mostly taken, filled with the music of Aznavour and later Brel. While trying to order in German, I've heard French from the kitchen and my words were smiling.
There were many temptations to chose from - éclair, or tartes or salty quiches -, but I was happy with a cappuccino brought with an almost Mexican model on the top, and a raspberry/blueberry cake, with crackers base. I decided to enjoy my time there, and started first to continue reading my book, sipping the cappuccino and tasting the cake bit by bit. 
At the beginning, I found the cake a bit too sweet, but the crackers fortress and the fresh fruits bring the good balance back. Most probably, a big glass of water or a tea from the interesting Chinese selection was recommended to accompany the cake tasting. But I think it is a high art to find the right sweet proportion for a cake that already have natural sweetness from the fruits.  
During my hour of waiting, people were coming and going, staying for a while or taking away some delicious 'plaisirs'. The breakfast can be taken till 14.00 so it also suits tourists tired from the city hiking the day before. 
Sometimes, the most pleasant things are taking place completely unexpected!

Mittwoch, 12. März 2014

From Museum of Medical History to Surrealist Objects, Berlin has it all

Spring was early in Berlin this year, and the winter almost non-existent! Overwhelmed by so many sunny days, I spent a lot of Sundays outdoors, discovering old corners and revisiting old ones. Not necessarily on purpose, one of those days, I decided to discover by foot the area around Invalidenstrasse. I left the bus around Reichstag/Bundestag that I visited at least twice since moving here. Right now, the visitors should register online a couple of days in advance. There are long lines of visitors always, but as far as I remember, it goes relatively easy and within 30 minutes you can start the tour. 
After the visit, one can admire the new diplomatic and governmental architecture, a topic that I promise to come back in detail soon. As it was Sunday, there was no one to be seen around the otherwise busy offices.
The Central Station/Hauptbahnhof remains a benchmark of my first ever visit to Berlin and Germany. Since then, almost 10 years later, there is still a lot of work around as the constructions seem to be a permanent work in process not only in this area, but in the city in general. 25 years after the fall of the Wall, the city is still looking for its architectural identity. 
But there are also things that don't change too much, some of them for many centuries. The Museum of Natural Science is a destination in the area for over 200 years. I visited it a couple of weeks before and was surprised to see how many people of all ages are curious about science. At the first floor, there is a collection of minerals from all over the world. After the separation of the city, the museum was part of the GDR and many scientific travels took place in former communist countries, such as the Soviet Union, Cuba or Mongolia. 
There is a lot of work going on around Invalidenstrasse right now, for the reconstruction of the tram line. The area promise to be one of the new centers of attraction in West Berlin. There are many bars and hotels around, many newly open, such as the welcoming Hotel i31, that I visited a couple of months ago. 
Close to the Central Station, if you walk for around 10 minutes, you will discover the medical compound of Charité hospital, the oldest and most famous medical institution of the city, and the largest university hospital in Europe. Statues of famous characters of the German medical history are everywhere. One of them is Albrecht von Graefe, labelled the 'father' of German ophthalmology, whose son bearing the same name chose to follow a sinister far-right career.   
Many of the buildings were originally erected at the beginning of the 20th century. Kaiserin Friedrich Haus, is nowadays part of the scientific network of the hospital, but during the GDR it hosted the Academy of Arts. 
We enter inside the Charité compound, walking silently the labyrinth of sober red bricked houses. The hospital was initially established at the beginning of the 18th century, in the aim to counter the effects of bubonic plague. It was used for a long time as a charity (hence the name, in French, sign of the constant influence of the French culture in the Brandenburg area) hospital for the poor. Nowadays, is treating high-end personalities and any kind of maladies. One of the recent hosts is the Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko. 
The Museum of Medical History was on my priority list for a very long time. Now, I was finally able to have a visit that included an exhibition about the evolution of the relationship between doctors and patients. A whole level is dedicated to various physical deformities and the evolution of investigation practices. If you visit the museum if children you should sign a declaration that you agree that they are exposed to such scientific realities.
The museum also preserved the anatomical theatre, once used for dissections. There are also a section covering the use of medicine for political means during WWII, relatively in a discrete corner.
A trip to this museum is very intense, but otherwise, on the opposite part of the road, there is the more brain friendly Museum of contemporary arts, in the former Hamburger station.
But we did not want any museum for the moment, until walking Torstrasse we found a very special one: The Surrealist Museum of Industrial Objects. The name reminds me of my long 'dadaist' period and is hilariously sympathetic. 
From there, we walked a little bit more till Oranienburgerstrasse, a colourful oasis full of locals and visitors enjoying the first sights of the spring. Hungry, decided that it is about time for a stop and the Kebab Baba, a Turkish place I didn't notice before - maybe because is near the very popular Dada Falafel, where I used to go quite often some time ago - was inviting enough. But despite the traditional interior, I preferred to eat outside, enjoying both the food and the show of the street.
With my 'veggie dish', I tried to catch up with the lost energy after hours of wandering the streets and museums. The combination was great: salad, a borek, falafel, potatoes, eggplants and couscous. Authentic, rich and healthy enough. A good treat at the end of the day.
After a couple of months when I avoided to walk for too long in the city, the spring reminds me that Berlin can be not only beautiful, but interesting enough to keep me outside for more than 8 hours. It can be the beginning of a new old routine.

Samstag, 8. März 2014

Foodie Berlin: Nepalese Everest Restaurant

It seems that most if not all the Nepalese restaurants in Berlin have the name Everest, but this one is relatively new in town. For almost 2 months, I promised myself that I will have a tasting lunch during the happy hour - 4.90 EUR. for a 3-course menu till 4pm, and compared to many restaurants in Berlin, you can also pay by credit card - but inevitably, all my emergencies were taking place during this period of time. 
Resigned to my situation, the last Monday, I took my camera and my notebook and paid a visit to the restaurant decided to finally get into the Nepalese mood. 
It is situated close to both U-Bahn Fehrberlinner Platz and Blissestrasse, on Brandenburgische Str. 71, very close to the Wilmersdorf city hall. Relatively busy during the happy hours - followed half an hour after by some cocktail happy hour - it was almost empty when I visited. 
While I was trying to take a decision about my lunch, I was brought some Indian crunchy bread with some well seasoned spicy sauces. Some of the sauces were really hot!
Generally not a bit fan of soups, I tried to make a change this time and ordered a cream ko jholo veggie soup, with white flour, peas, carrots, soy sauce. It was brought very hot - the order was delivered relatively fast - and had an excellent taste: creamy, very soft and fresh, a bit salty and moderately aromated.  
While waiting for my second meal, I was looking around. I must confess that the ambiance is not the strong point of the restaurant, with a quite modest and cheap looking furniture. The Nepalese carpets on the wall makes a difference though as it does the traditional background music.
But I was mostly there to get some insight about the Nepalese cuisine, and the second meal helped me better. Shahi Paneer was a combination of three different meals: the rice, the Paneer - a neutral taste with the sweet tomato sauce and cashews - plus the fresh salad, without any kind of oil. Brought on the same plate together they bring a lot of energy and satiety. Strongly recommended if you are really hungry! The only regret was that the rice was not hot enough to keep the same temperature 15 minutes after brought.
I was undecided which dessert to try and we were relatively out of time, so rather preferred to call for the bill and get ready for the next stop of the afternoon. Maybe there is a Nepalese art of thought reading because together with the bill I was offered as a house present a small bowl with a perfumed and equally tasty yoghurt with cinnamon. It was my possible first choice when had the first look at the menu! Probably I was offered a second chance to taste something really good and simple. All you need is a pinch of cinnamon added to your plane yoghurt. 
I left the restaurant with a big smile on my face, as I enjoyed some Nepalese hospitality and also a good meal. Maybe the next time will try to make more time to visit the restaurant during the happy hours, just because I am sure there are more tasty secrets in the Everest's kitchen waiting for me.   

Freitag, 7. März 2014

ITB Berlin, day 2

Early morning yesterday at the ITB, starting the day with a press conference of Albania, characterized by the country's ambassador as the 'sleeping beauty' of Europe. Under the logo 'The new Mediterranean love', the country has beaches, mountains, nature, heritage and UNESCO sites and hospitality, 'as part of the identity', the panel speakers were saying. Time to check all this by myself soon.
Nothing brings more sweetness to an early morning than chocolate. Especially if you can see it prepared in the front of you.
The next main stop of the day: the Cultural Lounge, at Sydney Hall, for a presentation about how culture can create a new beginning for the Dutch Wadden Sea Coast. The Center of Expertise, Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality (CELTH) is currently working on a study in this respect, but the future looks much better than now. 
As the next week I plan to visit Leipzig Book Fair, I paid a short visit to some of the Saxony representatives for a better planning of my trip. Worth also a visit the Chic Outlets offices, for affordable luxury shopping trips, in several locations in Europe. My first experience with the concept, last year in Bicester Village, will not be the last, I am sure. 
At the Middle East pavilion, incenses and old handworks are tempting the visitors. 
But nothing is more tempting than the luxurious spa from Emirates, who created a big spaceship lounge where most business meetings in the area are taking place.
For the lunch, I enjoyed an interesting discussion about Groupon plans for the next year, especially in the domain of travel and tourism. In the German-speaking realm, there are around 3,5 million registered users, out of 200 million worldwide. As a regular user from the very beginning, I am pleased to notice the diversification of the portfolio, and the inclusion of 'wellness' and 'luxury' categories as part of the offer. 
With a short break in between meetings, I made another stop at the Asian section, for some meetings. Indonesia is tempting the visitors with '30 culinary icons', a free dish mixing various traditional meals.
As I was not hungry, I rather watched the puppet player, together with other curious guests.
In the front of the Thai Spa, too many people in line for massage and a bit of professional wellness. 
But there are always second chances, and mine was to observe how the Indonesian coffee is made.
With almost a double rate of increase of the tourist rate since 2010 (the first year of peace), Sri Lanka has ambitious plans for this year: 2,5 million tourists and Germany is an important market. At the press conference, the country was presented to the German public as 'one of the finest destination in the world since Marco Polo', outlining the interest of German scientists for the area, since Alexander von Humboldt. 
It is unfair, but as I don't have serious plans for Latin America this year, I didn't visit the dedicated section too often. I wanted to correct this situation, and went for a couple of minutes around, being welcomed with colours and beautiful people.
Yesterday afternoon, Paraguay held a food tasting, that included cheese with manioca pancakes and some corn cakes. 
California means a lot of leisure and pleasure if you visit, but if you work to #dreambig, there is a lot of effort and energy spent convincing people to visit and share the dream. As usual, I love the American work culture and cannot but appreciate the busy bees promoting various US states at the ITB.
Last but not least stop of the day: the champagne bar at Rotana Hotels, a luxury network of hotels spread all over the Middle East. The most recent event, the opening of a new hotel in Oman. 
With most of my schedule done, and even some extra things solved, I will return to the ITB the next Sunday, for the closing session and more happenings.