A charming and authentic Vietnamese tea room in the heart of Mitte…
Despite being tucked away down a courtyard in Mitte, it’s not particularly difficult to find Chén Chè: the pair of tall bamboo plants that stand incongruously on Rosenthaler Strasse and the large blackboard featuring exotic Vietnamese dishes kind of give it away.
Duck into the courtyard and Berlin’s newest Vietnamese tea room lies directly ahead. The capacious main room, all dark wooden floors, elegant cascades of natural light (during the day) and lovely high ceilings adorned with an assortment of Vietnamese hanging lanterns, exudes an immediate exotic charm.
Dominating the room is an Asian ‘chandelier’ made from the torn pages of a Chinese herbal medicine book. Like the sturdy wooden tables (decorated with squat clusters of flowers and berries and bowls of honey and dates) and distinctive high-backed Asian chairs. The lantern was designed by the owners, who had everything manufactured in Vietnam and then shipped back to Berlin.
Having only opened a couple of months ago, the venue’s newness and refined flamboyance – soundtracked by a euphonious selection of Chanson, jazz and traditional Asian music – can come across as slightly ‘Asia chic’. But Chén Chè is authentic, run by an extended Vietnamese family who – as dedicated patrons of their sister restaurants Si An in Prenzlauer Berg and Chi Sing will no doubt tell you – have a passion for, and great knowledge of, the world renowned cuisine of their homeland.
The menu, like the venue, is exquisitely balanced. There are around eight starters, a handful of mains and just three delicious-looking desserts.
But each dish is meticulously made and the menu’s geography runs from Hanoi and North Vietnam, down through Huế and Hoi An, all the way to Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong ‘rice bowl’ in the south.
The Vorspeisen (starters) include Bò Biá and Chả Giò (uncooked and cooked spring rolls, brimming with tofu, water chestnuts, green papaya, glass noodles and more), Hoành Thành (Wontons, Hoi An style) or – a personal favourite – Xôi Gà, a tasty sticky-rice dish containing coconut milk, Lap Xuong Salami and warm strips of chicken breast.
The mains are equally tasty and healthy, and are supplemented by daily specials – soups, noodle dishes, salads – chalked up on a board near the bar. Through the week the place is best suited for lunches or dinner but at weekends there’s a special breakfast menu featuring everything from waffles and fresh tropical fruits to a “Saigon-style” omelet.
Of course you can also just pop in for a tea. The drinks list is every bit as exciting and imaginative as the food menu, ranging from a gorgeous ’poetry-in-a-cup’ concoction called Blue Butterfly Leaf Tea, which is made with rice milk and blue plant petals specially flown in from Vietnam, to fruit teas and shakes that features such uncommon ingredients as wild maracuja, bitter melon red soybeans and lychee.
The coffees are good too. Espressos and cappuccinos are served up with soya milk and you can try a traditional Vietnamese coffee—a viscous black brew that drips slowly through a filter into a sweet, white bed of condensed milk.
Upstairs is another room, soon to be used as an art gallery featuring works by contemporary Vietnamese artists as well as tea ceremonies. You can also buy the lovely porcelain cups and bowls along with a host of imported teas and dainty Vietnamese snacks from a shop near the bar. In summer the adjacent outdoor patio will be opened.
The attention to detail in Chén Chè is generally fantastic. The food (and drink) is excellent quality and the atmosphere warm and friendly. Whether breakfasting with friends at the weekend, lunching with a partner midweek or just sipping some tea and reading a newspaper on a lazy afternoon, you’ll feel exotic and welcome here all at the same time.
For more information, check the restaurant’s website.