Food 2016 – Neni and the Marlene Bar, Berlin

Sunday, December 5th 2916 – Neni, 25, Berlin and Marlene Bar, Intercontinental Hotel, Berlin

Dinner on the final night stood in remarkable contrast in many ways to the two restaurants that went before. Neni, in the 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin, provides equally good food, again in an hotel restaurant, but the style is completely different, with none of the calm quiet of either Restaurant 44 or Hugos. Instead, the difference in feel is apparent even before you get to the restaurant, when you enter the foyer of the hotel and note that there’s a mini parked in it, and here’s a queue of people waiting in line to get in, possibly to the Monkey Bar, possibly to the restaurant. Either way we were glad we’d made a reservation.

One of the major selling points of the bar and restaurant both is the view over the Zoo and park but it was so that evening that when we looked out of the windows all we could see was grey cotton wool. The restaurant itself is very post-industrial chic with lots of “unfinished” ceilings and unmatched tables and chairs. It’s noisy and bustling and if you like your dining experiences calm and unflustered, it’s probably not the place for you. We were seated rather faster than we might have liked but that was made better with the application of a glass of rather good sekt, and then we settled in to study the Arabic/Middle Eastern/Mediteranean-inflected menu and try to decide what we wanted to eat, all the while picking at a dish of olives.

There’s a claim that they make the best hummus in Berlin, so that was one to try, and for a short while we toyed with the idea of their offer to bring you “the best of everything” on the menu, but we didn’t think we’d manage that much food! In the end we decided to start with some of the mezze dishes, including the beetroot hummus, some falafel and the muhammara. It arrived on a three-tiered plate and looked wonderful. It also tasted fabulous too.

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Hummus can be gritty and grainy but this wasn’t. It was rich, dense, and so very, very smooth. I don’t know if it is actually the best hummus in Berlin but I think it has a very strong claim. The falafel were beautifully done too, very crisply coated but soft on the inside, and very filling. The muhammara packed a punch but also tasted very good, the heat not too much for the flavour to come through.

After we’d eaten that little lot and half a delicious flatbread each (which I gather they bake on the premises) we were starting to wonder if a main course was actually going to be feasible, but it was already ordered so we figured we’d better at least give it a go.

And so we were presented with two luscious vegetarian dishes, which might not have looked delicate or pretty, but which tasted of comfort on the plate. First was a dish of caramelised aubergines cooked with ginger and chilli and served with basmati rice, as well as a fresh batch of flatbread – possibly a carb too far but irresistible.

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Keeping to the vegetable/aubergine theme, I had ordered the Sabich, which was described as a hodge podge of fried aubergine, hummus, a slow poached egg and amba. Again, it wasn’t what you’d call delicate, but again it was something that just made you feel as if you’d been enveloped in sunshine.

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In a moment of madness we’d also ordered a portion of sweet potato fries, which were perfectly crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside and completely unnecessary, though it didn’t stop us eating them!

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By the time we’d waded through that little lot there was no way dessert was going to happen. We didn’t even feel strong enough to look at the menu, never mind contemplate eating anything else from it. We finished the wine, which was interesting enough that we went out to track down a bottle to take home the following day.

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The service was casual, friendly and efficient, and it’s probably just down to age that we found the noise levels rather too high for our ears. It was also one of those places where you’re in and out rather faster than we prefer, but it meant we had time to go back to the hotel, and to the Marlene Bar for a couple of late night cocktails.

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The Spicy Pumpkin was pretty lively, making my lips tingle fiercely, but it was also fun, the pumpkin providing extra sweetness and also making for a vivid coloured concoction.

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Lynne had a hazelnut martini, which she felt was slightly too medicinal. I could see what she meant, though it wasn’t too unpleasant to my mind, it just had a slight edge to them.

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We went rather more traditional after that with a whisky sour for Lynne.

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I went for a caipirinha, which I enjoyed though it wasn’t my idea of a caipirinha, as it didn’t have any granulated sugar in it. I like my caipirinhas with sugar…

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And so to bed, more than slightly happy!

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