Saturday, 4th December 2016 – Restaurant 44, Swissotel, Berlin
After the spectacular meal at Hugos the preceding night this was always going to have to be a completely different experience, and to be honest one of the problems we’d hit was wanting to eat within walking distance of the hotel, which restricted our choices somewhat. So a Swiss restaurant in another hotel would prove to be the answer for Saturday night. We didn’t take the most direct route there because I wanted to find a chemist first as the cold I’d picked up was now getting a grip and I wanted something to try and clear my nose enough to let me sleep. A lovely Apothek turned out to be open until 20:00 (on a Saturday in Germany!) and not only sold me a nasal spray, some tablets to keep my head clear and some cough drops, but also gave me a pack of tissues and some more throat sweets.
Anyway from there we quickly found our way to the Swissotel, and up to Restaurant 44 which overlooks Ku’damm and the Christmas lights, as well as the windows of Käthe Wohlfahrt, the Christmas shop. They seemed to be open late as well, especially for Germany where in my youth nothing was ever open past about lunchtime on a Saturday!
We had a slight problem finding the entrance to the restaurant but once in discovered we had a pretty much prime position table, right in the corner of the restaurant with views from both sides of the outside world, the Christmas lights, and the world going by (including a pretty unsuccesful newspaper salesman who really didn’t seem to be trying).
The service was super, very smooth, very Swiss – after all they have a tradition to uphold in the hotel trade, with many of the best staff training in the hotel schools of the country. They really know how to make you feel at home and comfortable straight away. They also know how to feed people, though those people may well be mountaineers who haven’t eaten for days if the portion sizes were anything to go by!
Even the “Greetings from the Kitchen” were enormous. with radishes, spring rolls, cheese, a beef and tomato dish and more bread than we needed!
A small amount of debate (and a Swiss sparkling wine, the Charme Spumante) followed while we tried to decide whether to go for a fondue or raclette, or whether the pull of the game and foie gras would prove too powerful.
In the end the meats won (well we could have had a Fondue Bourguinonne or Chinoise but the idea of cooking our own food seemed like far too much work) and we started with foie gras tessiner style for Lynne. This came with Amareno cherries, spiced brioche, black walnuts and lardo and was unctuous and lovely with the sweetness contrasting the fatiness of the lardo and the foie gras. The brioche was only lightly spiced and made the ideal vehicle for holding the foir gras together as it was very soft indeed…
My starter was the Swiss antipasti, a plateful of many good things including air-dried beef, wild mushrrooms, vegetables preserved in oils and squid. It was very good, with lots of different flavours that contrasted nicely without clashing.
From there we moved on to the mains, and a bottle of Dôle du Valais AOC La Guérite Maurice Gay, made with a grape variety I learned to love when I worked in Switzerland just after finishing university. It was a good choice, especially alongside the red meats that came next. I ordered Hirschpfeffer, which came with red cabbage and glazed chestnuts and was frankly wonderfully wintery. It wasn’t sophisticated or delicate, it was like being enveloped in a massive bear hug and squeezed until your ribs creaked. I loved it, although attempting to finish it looked like it might be a bit of an issue, especially when it arrived with a solid portion of rosti which the waiter was sure we really, really needed.
The rosti was a solid, golden, beautfully cooked slab of potato and I couldn’t do justice to it, even after a day walking round Berlin.
Lynne’s main was wild duck, with Brussels sprouts (which she was never going to eat), cranberry, and a merlot sauce. It was lovely, the skin properly crisped and the meat almost perfect – I would have like it just a little more tender but wild duck can be tricky. It doesn’t have half the fat of a farmed bird, and of course the fat is what keeps the meat moist.
And despite our best intentions, that was it, dessert was never going to happen. We paid the bill and left, walking back to our hotel through the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market, a walk that now leaves a feeling of distress that such a lovely event could be so wickedly disrupted and destroyed.