Ruth Michaelson and Itay Lotem give several thumbs up to Prenzlauer Berg’s latest vegan venture…
The Vegan’s View by Ruth
Before you even get to the food, Lucky Leek presents itself as a vastly different vegan eating experience – just by virtue of the light, airy interior and general lack of wind-chimes, woven hemp furniture or thrashing punk music. The interior blends right in to the other upscale, minimalist establishments on Kollwitzstrasse without seeming pretentious or intimidating.
This seems pleasantly predictable when you consider that the team who started Lucky Leek just over a month ago were previously trained at Berlin’s premier vegan haute cuisine establishment, La Mano Verde, and are now trying to bring some of that high-scale vegan dining to people at a slightly lower price.
It’s worth taking a moment here to discuss the service, which is engaged and, well, kind without being too…Moby. The staff are attentive and enthusiastic, always happy to discuss the food and engage with the clientele without being overbearing. On my last visit, the owner brought me a custom-made latte (half rice milk, half soy) that he had just prepared for himself when I ordered one: now that’s service.
We visited Lucky Leek for the weekly Sunday brunch, which is a great way to sample a taste of what they have to offer via the eternal favourite medium of the glutton: the buffet.
Being something of a pig myself, a brunch buffet normally offers me the chance to eat all of my meals for the day (or sometimes when I really put the effort in, the following two days), and with everything on offer being vegan, I was in danger of taking my hamster attitude to food a little too far. Lucky Leek also manage to up the ante here, as the brunch each week is themed, meaning that omnivores and vegans alike will never be bored by the selection.
On my first visit I sampled a fabulous, if almost impressively heavy, Bavarian-themed brunch, but on the Sunday that we visited the theme was Italian. This normally presents a challenge in terms of textures rather than the flavours themselves, but Lucky Leek rose to the challenge on both counts. The selection is small but beautifully formed, with a good mix of hot dishes of intense tomato-based dishes and cold dishes, such as an olive tart with pleasingly flaky pastry.
Achieving a convincing creaminess is always the biggest challenge of vegan cooking, and a creamy herb sauce made a perfect accompaniment to dishes such as a seitan frittata. As one of the greatest pleasures of brunch is to be able to mix sweet and savoury on the same plate, a miniature chocolate pudding with a salt crust top provided the perfect balance. Each dish was carefully prepared with a depth of flavour that was impressive – this makes it an eating experience and a pleasure, not just an excuse to provide nourishment to people who like eating without worrying about stray meat and dairy content.
My criticisms are minimal. The first thing would be the size of the selection, although supplies seemed never ending of the selection of good-quality fare that was on offer, so this is really a minimal complaint. The second is the price: I know that the location probably allows restaurants to charge a little more but €9.50 given the size of the selection seems a bit much, especially as I suspect the price has been upped a couple of euros since my first visit.
Nonetheless, although it’s only been running just over a month, Lucky Leek seems set to become a Prenzlauer Berg – if not Berlin – vegan institution. It is the model that other vegan restaurants should look to emulate – simple decor, mostly light and healthy-feeling dishes that still allow you to feel full.
The Omnivore’s View by Itay
Sunday brunch buffet seems to be German for stuff-your-face-and-don’t-be-ashamed-of-it. An endearing ritual, in which etiquette forces you to act like a pig and repeatedly pile heaps of food on the same dirty plate (or use different plates and feel the stinging guilt for not being environmentally friendly. You choose). Needless to say, I approve.
If you think that alone is inherently pleasing, think of yet another improvement: stuffing your face without feeling guilty for it because it’s healthy food you’ll be having. Welcome to the world of the vegan brunch.
I do not want to start analysing the dangers of a brunch buffet that serves neither eggs nor cheese (nor egg or milk based products), because we all know that. However, my biggest fear when I hear the words “vegan buffet” is the evident lack of choice and the ensuing blandness.
Lucky Leek’s idea to tackle that problem by serving an entirely different menu to an entirely different theme every Sunday sounded therefore ambitious, intriguing and too good to be true. I cycled up to Prenzlauer Berg for their Italian Sunday. The selection of dishes was indeed fairly limited, which I strangely did not mind. It was quite nice not to be baffled with too much to choose from, especially as there was something endearing about how much effort had been put into presentation and detail.
On the food level, the antipasti was probably the weakest link in that buffet, which was a pity. Eating the dark bread felt like biting into a piece of stale rubber and the soy-mozzarella served next to the tomatoes was absolutely devoid of any hint of taste.
The other antipasti-elements (pastas, fried vegetables) were far better, but in a standard way. It only improved with the three warm pasta dishes. They were pleasing without triggering any useless thoughts about the menacing vegan label. The desserts (fruit salad, cake, chocolate pudding) were high quality little things for a buffet, which was a fine way to end a Sunday’s feast.
Last and least, two slight “carnivore” regrets. The first would have to be the price. I know that the stuff-your-face-for-€6.00-days have been long lost to the annals of Berlin’s history but still, €9.50 is on the higher scale of brunch pricing even today.
It requires a clear sense of added value, which in this case would have to be the vegan element. That is all understandable, but at the same time, I am not certain normal “carnivores” care that much about the vegan label to pay more when they can get the same quality and more choice somewhere else for two Euros less.
My second remark concerns the B in brunch. Even though the amount of food at a usual Sunday brunch anywhere in Berlin is enough to induce temporary amnesia, let us not forget that brunch stands for a crossbreed between breakfast and lunch. The buffet at Lucky Leek was indeed very good quality, but it did not offer any breakfast choices whatsoever. It was – all factors included – a good lunch buffet on a Sunday.
And yet, these are mere details, as Lucky Leek seems to have found the magic formula for a meal that remains enjoyable without any sense of culinary deprivation that is the price that often goes along with eating vegan. A combination of good food, pleasant atmosphere and friendly service.
All images by Ruth Michaelson
10405 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
U2: Senefelder Platz
T: 030 6640 8710
Open: Wed-Sun 18-late