Monday, November 12, 2012

Japan: Mehr Fussel als Substanz

Berlin has plenty of Japanese restaurants, though many (most?) of them are mediocre Vietnamese restaurants that serve Sushi. In other words, there is an awful lot of mediocre Vietnamese and Japanese food in Berlin. There are exceptions for sure and for this post there were several places I considered (Daitokai, Green Tea Cafe aka Mamecha, and Nazuma as well as places I've been and like: Sasaya and Heno Heno (not life-changing, but more than decent and not pretentious)). In the end I chose Hashi because it was extremely highly recommended by an acquaintance - a chef who has eaten around Japan and knows a fair amount about Japanese food. Let's just say I won't be getting my recommendations from him again (though in all fairness - I did have my doubts after reading reviews online, but stuck with Hashi because the friends we wanted to see live nearby and wouldn't be talked in to going out of the area). Lesson reinforced: the further away from Mitte you get, the better the food. I know there are exceptions to this (and maybe Mamecha, which happens to be just around the corner from Hashi, is one of them?), but there are so, so many examples of restaurants and cafes in Mitte that are nicely decorated and hyped up in the media, but if you care about the quality of the food more than the furniture, you're almost guaranteed to be disappointed.

The food at Hashi wasn't terrible, it just wasn't great. Hashi is supposedly an izakaya which I understand to be something between a tavern or pub and a tapas bar in that it's main focus is drinks, but there is also food available, usually in mezze or tapas-size portions and often intended for sharing. Hashi's menu is quite extensive with a lot of sushi options, fried things, grilled things, plus a few noodle and rice dishes, as well as salads. Despite the fact that nothing anyone at the table ordered was strictly bad, somehow it was all fairly underwhelming. An appetizer of Gomae or spinach with sesame sauce, which is a very standard dish was slightly overpriced (2.90) for it's tiny size, and average in flavor in my opinion. My Mentai Kimuchi Udon -- udon noodles with spicy fish roe and kimchi -- was pleasant enough and I'm no expert on Japanese cuisine, but it just seemed like a few ingredients were mixed together and then tossed in a bowl ... like you might do at home after an exhausting day at work.

For me, though, the weakest part of a meal at Hashi was the service. This started when they didn't answer the phone after I repeatedly called to make a reservation. Normally, this might have been cause to just go elsewhere, but we'd already agreed on Hashi with friends that we don't manage to see very often. Dining out is supposed to be a pleasant experience that simplifies your life. Dining out with a reservation, even more so. The phone just rang and rang and rang. There wasn't even an answering machine. When I mentioned this to the waitress, she stared back with a vacuous expression and mumbled some sounds like you might make to a pet or a baby. As it turns out, none of the waitstaff that we dealt with at Hashi speak German. Even the menu is written in bold English with German in smaller print underneath. As someone who learned German, speaks mostly German at work, and even ran a small business where I had to speak German with my German clients, I find this totally unacceptable. Nobody cares if the chefs speak German or Japanese or Somali for that matter, but the waitstaff's role is to interact with customers. I know most Germans, especially in Mitte, speak English, but I know several Germans who live in Mitte who would definitely prefer not to. I wouldn't care (or, let's be honest, probably wouldn't notice) if they made some grammar mistakes, but to effectively ignore a customer because you don't speak the local language .... beyond unacceptable.  What if I had been informing her that I'm deathly allergic to soy or something of great import? On top of this, the waitstaff just doesn't give off the impression of great competence. It's a casual small plates type restaurant so I guess it's acceptable that one friend was done with his meal before I'd even gotten my food. But on several occasions, someone would, for example, ask for a spoon or order a drink - the waitress would walk across the room, returning immediately with said spoon and interrupt the conversation to ask who the spoon was for. I've been a waitress, so I know it's possible to get flustered and forget a simple detail, but this happened several times with different waitresses. Hashi isn't a five star restaurant, I know, but it's like they're not even trying and don't think they should be. And I'm telling you that it's because they're in Mitte and don't have to. The hipsters will continue to flock because it's in Mitte and they think it looks cool (personally, the furniture reminded me of an office cafeteria, though the 15,000 chopsticks on the ceiling are cool). Tourists will flock because it's in a part of town they're likely to be in and because they think it looks like a cool Berlin restaurant.  I'm already nostalgic for the 106 bus....

Rosenthaler Str. 63

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