Aarti Mehta-Kroll profiles one of Berlin’s first (and best) Slow Food restaurants…
Tucked away in an area of Schöneberg known as Red Island, Café Aroma has been a neighborhood institution since 1987.
Joining Germany’s Slow Food organisation in the early 90s (one of the first to do so in the city), it has been quietly providing quality Italian food and service ever since – though its slightly hidden location, reasonable prices and lack of pretention has kept the atmosphere impressively low key.
Aroma’s elaborate Sunday brunch though, started in 1988, has become famous city-wide, especially amongst foodies – and indeed was what prompted a recent visit by myself and my husband.
When we arrived, the buffet had been open for an hour, the place was packed and the first serving nearly gone, but we watched with sweet relief as the dishes were quickly replenished with the anticipated spread of Mediterranean delights: vitello tonnato, stuffed veggies, mini meatballs in tomato sauce, green bean salad…
My husband observed, correctly, that most brunch buffets we’ve tried in the city usually only feature two or three things we like. Here, every time we went to fill our plates, we came back with something new and delicious. About twenty minutes after we’d been seated we noticed a sudden flurry of activity. When people returned to their seats, we understood why; in addition to the fruit salad that had been there all along, the chef had also added tiramisu and panna cotta to the dessert selection.
The restaurant itself is divided into four sections. The décor is simple, with wooden tables and chairs providing a comfortable amount of seating: not so much that it feels crowded, just enough to make the space feel cozy. The crowd when we were there was a mix of young couples and families, all fully engrossed in their meals and conversations as if they’d been coming here years, which many of them no doubt have.
Gino Pudi, Aroma’s co-founder, explained that the restaurant’s location in a residential neighborhood has resulted in a majority of the patrons being locals. According to him, those that do come from further away are drawn by word of mouth since the restaurant doesn’t really advertise.
The restaurant also has a cultural program that’s been in place since they started. Eager to be a part of West Berlin’s creative scene, they used to host an annual street fair featuring musical performances and a variety of exhibitions.
Nowadays its cultural contribution are limited showcasing the work of promising amateur photographers, usually three to four exhibitions per year. During our visit the walls were lined with the beautiful Berlin pictures of Italian photographer Franco Sortini.
Gino, like the rest of the staff at Aroma, is a wonderful and generous host. Though he was busy helping in the restaurant he took time to stop by and chat with us. His guiding philosophy is that his work should make him happy. The positive environment he and his co-founder Eliza Benzo have created is reflected in their staff’s commitment to the venue, some of whom have now been a part of what Gino calls “the Aroma family” for twenty years.
The pleasure and pride these individuals take in their work is clearly reflected in the professional and friendly service we experienced.
The staff hail from various parts of Italy and their diversity contributes to the dishes that appear on the annually-changing menu, which stays true to their Slow Food pledge with an emphasis on regional produce.
Among the regular classics are house made cannelloni with spinach and ricotta cheese, grilled entrecote, baby calamari, delicious pizzas, tasty, generous salads – and of course desserts featuring plentiful fruit and chocolate.
Once the weather warms up, the restaurant sets up outdoor seating. Being away from main streets tucked between residential housing, all you’re likely to hear besides the chatter of fellow patrons is the twittering of birds.
If you feel like a stroll after your meal, Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof – the final resting place of historic personalities such as the Brothers Grimm – is less than a five minute walk. If you head along Monumentenstrasse you can get good views of Potsdamer Platz and the Fernsehturm, or drop into once of the city’s newest green spaces, Gleisdreieck Park.