There are four of us on our quest to find the best in Berlin. We know what we like. For me it’s a light batter that puffs and hunches around a very thin slip of veal. All I need is a wedge of lemon on the side and some boiled potatoes. That’s how my mum made it.
For some it’s about a mushroom sauce. Others prefer chicken and a spicy tomato and paprika lake- but let’s not go crazy. We’re in Berlin. It’s all about the veal.
Over four days in Berlin we fought off trudges of snow and stoked a hearty dislike of anyone taking novelty photos in Holocaust memorials. We learned how difficult it is to raise your hands above your head when wearing more than 10 layers and cultivated a fine diet of two strudels per day. We needed fuel. We had an important search to conduct.
It might not topple our memories of what our mother’s made out of breadcrumbs and beaten meat, but this is where we found the best.
Prater Garten is the oldest beer garden in Berlin. People have been drinking beer under the shelter of the chestnut trees in the garden since 1837. Tucked behind some large gates in Prendzleur Berg is a space that may remind you of your primary school playground and assembly hall.
In the wide open space behind the shelter of the gates are long tables flanked by benches, tucked under the outstretched branches of old trees. In summer, it would be simply delightful to pull up a perch and devote yourself to ploughing through a half litre of the house made Prater Pils (euro 3.50). But since the weather was skipping between minus 11 and minus 18 Celsius we took refuge inside the rectangular dark wood and cream dining hall, under the watchful eyes of stuffed birds, mysteriously perching in the corners.
It’s beers for the rest and a squat glass of riesling for me to start.
Soon to the table arrives warm hunks of baguette in a basket; doughy in the centre and crisped on the edge; a little like me after four days in the cold.
To go with it are pots of a sour cream and chive dip. Simple, rustic and good.
This is not the kind of place where people get dressed up and stand on ceremony. All around us are Berliners enjoying festive nights out with family and friends. To one side are a group of university students, to the other a long table seating three generations of a family.
This is a place that personifies congeniality, all the way from the sensible prices on the menu through to the waitstaff who skirt the tricky line of friendly efficiency- and more than that, their English is superb.
The menu is carved into subheadings of sweets, fish, vegetarian, meat dishes, soup, salads and goose (if you order the day before and there are four of you then there’s potentially a whole goose with your name on it). There’s lots on the menu to like. The fact that you can order a salad of fresh leaves, topped with toasted sunflower seeds to share is one (after four days in a schnitzel hunt fresh vegetables take on an eerily appealing quality). The spaetzle egg noodles that come crispy and curled next to a molten heap of slow roasted venison is another.
There are other German classics like meatballs with a caper sauce, and roast pork with coleslaw and potato dumplings. There’s even a quite pleasing French impostor of river trout with an almond sauce, if you simply can’t face any more Germanic meat products.
But really, most people have come for the schnitzel. This specimen is no shrinking violet. Like the borders of an aggressive nation its edges creep until they nudge the periphery of the plate. Its casing is as bumpy as rough terrain, but the veal inside is liltingly soft. On the side are simple boiled potatoes- these are impressive in their ability to be both sturdy and fluffy. There’s a small bowl of creamy wilted cucumbers. For garnish there are wedges of lemon.
Two bites in and we knew this was the one. It wasn’t just that the snow had got to us. This was really the one. It had the texture, it had the flavour. It had the price tag- at just nudging 17 Euro for a serving that the hungriest of lasses struggled to plunder.
To close there is strudel, studded with raisins and almonds and heady with lemon. Good enough to make you want to order two. And with that, our search was over.
Unless your mother lives in Berlin, this may just be the best schnitzel dinner in the city.
Kastanianalle 7-9, Berlin, Germany