Kelly Miller is impressed by a restaurant that’s slick yet homely and has a commitment to local produce…
Situated just off the busy tourist intersection of Friedrichstraße and Oranienburger Straße, where Indian food comes with a heat lamp and a cocktail umbrella, Pantry immediately feels like a neighborhood anomaly.
Having opened its doors to the public just a couple of months ago, the space is at once capacious and inviting, reflecting the combined vision of the socialite owners and distinctive chefs, all of whom hail from the mother country.
Walking through the restaurant’s manicured entrance feels like walking into an enlarged version of my father’s study. With its interior masked by foliage and slanted blinds for passers-by, its quaint aura of privacy contrasts with the overtly public quality of its environs.
The leather seats (perhaps couches is a better term) are large and plush, with enough space to slide a leg up after your second course or sling an arm casually across the back. Part psychiatrists’ homey lair, part the-most-relaxed-business-dinner-you-will-ever-have, the furnishings set a professional but no-frills scene.
The earth tones, sky-blue paper napkins and haptic tables give off a distinctly ‘eco chic’ feel – a bid for sustainability or an aesthetic choice? “The paper napkins are intentional,” insists Lise, the restaurant’s PR representative and my host for the evening. She explains how they save on harmful chemicals and large amounts of water, despite the fact that these cloth napkins can look dodgy quite quickly, given the vibrancy of colour in many of the dishes.
Pantry’s menu rotates monthly to feature seasonal produce and weather-matched flavours. Unfortunately, the drizzly climate doesn’t make the spring- and summer-themed dishes immediately appealing, but it is difficult to turn down any first course that comes with heirloom tomatoes – a distinct and lamentable rarity in Germany. The produce and animal products are allegedly procured during visits to local markets or shipped in from within a 100km radius.
The emphasis on local suppliers likely drives down overall costs of the cuisine via a reduction in transport costs, particularly when exotic or gourmet items don’t dominate the menu, although the presence of green papaya or tamarind shows that the chefs are happy to go beyond Brandenburg when necessary. (Prices range from €7.50-€9.50 for an appetizer; €12.50-€19.50 for a quality entrée).
Vegetarianism notwithstanding, I want to try the typical dishes, particularly those screaming ‘German Fusion’, an imaginary term that comes into my head when I see combinations like Wildkräuter Salat with lime and strawberries or entrecôte with sweet potatoes and BBQ sauce.
The dishes I try are not disappointing in terms of either portion nor flavour. Okay, I’m not overly amused that the heirloom tomatoes arrive quite soggy, but my main course of Spargel and free-range chicken breast, surrounded in dollops of cauliflower-almond puree and watermelon, is gristly and caramelized, just as the menu promised.
Pantry’s menu caters consistently for vegetarians with first and second course vegetable-only options. I try the parmesan Patata, which is lacking a bit in protein, meaning it might not be as filling as could be achieved, yet it was still delicious. I was also assured that many dishes can be made gluten-free or vegan with appropriate substitutes.
Though I’m prone to luxurious food as much as anyone, I enjoy the promotion of sustainable culture a bit more than just culinary thrills. My idea of a fine night is good eating, good drinking and good stories, while embracing the environment as a finite ecosystem to be shared and respected, not exploited for the sake of luxury.
One of Pantry’s owners, David, is a classical violinist with a passion for food and feeding his friends. Dressed all in black, he pops by occasionally throughout our meal to answer any questions. The silverware, he tells me at one point, is hand-picked from local flea markets; indeed, the silver of my fork, on closer inspection, is a little duller than my spoon, and my knife bears the engraved initials ‘E’ and ‘L’, making me wonder who they may once have belonged to – and when.
And the table? “We purchased an entire oak tree and made the tables,” replies David – though not by hand, he admits. The walls, I note, have been left more or less bare. “It is something rough and modern, but still cosy,” explains Lise. “A bit more grown-up than the typical Berlin style, simple but with an eye for detail.”
The walls represent the overall simplicity of Pantry, which manages to not detract from the smart-casual ‘let’s just lounge and talk philosophy’ atmosphere of the place. Completing the sense of openness is the kitchen, which offers diners a direct view into the action; the lack of dividing walls means guests can say – or wave, or nod – a quick hello to chefs Jano and Ralf on the way to the loo.
Pantry’s sustainable credentials seem pretty secure: the paper napkins, the upcycled cutlery, the deliberate avoidance of too may exotic ingredients and working with local supply chains for produce, meats, and even wines – all are undeniably efforts in the right direction, even if the vegetarian options could be improved, nutritionally-speaking.
The wine list, by the way, is short, as they currently prefer not to spend copious amounts of time, fuel, and money shipping in from Africa, South America etc. – though this may change with time and demand.
In the end, the restaurant seems well places as a homey, affordable, dining experience that takes a fresh look at Germany’s culinary influences and markets. The niceset thing about the experience, aside from the food, was the feeling that you are not just tolerated, but encouraged to linger.
“People should feel comfortable here, like at home, and that is no coincidence”, says David, three and a half hours after I’d arrived. He doesn’t point at them, but I had already acknowledged the portraits of his family members hanging discretely on the restaurant walls, as well as the homey name of the restaurant (Pantry being an old Anglo-American word for “kitchen cupboard”).
‘Slow’, I reflected afterwards, is as much about community, friends and friendliness as it is about reducing our carbon footprints. In both senses, Pantry comes highly recommended.
10117 Berlin – Mitte
T: 030 34 62 36 12
Open from 5pm daily.