In a time where the pressure of the explosive growth around Berlin’s restaurant scene is threatening the existence of great, casual dining, St. Barts appears out of nowhere to remind us what a great Gastropub in Berlin can look like.
“ "St. Barts appears out of nowhere to remind us what a great Gastropub in Berlin can look like."
Look for the tiled facade of Gräfestraße 71, at the Southern tip of Kreuzberg. It's here, amidst the moody darkness, where at dinner time the view hardly extends past the neighbouring table in the feeble light of the flickering candle light, it's here you should look for the food apostle St. Bart. Some of you might recognize the venue from the legendary eatery Little Otik, one of the pioneers of farm-to-table dining that resided here about a decade ago. It was in mid-2017 when Australian-born Lee Thompson’s and his wife took over the contract from Little Ortik's Italian successor Brillo and in August 2017 they opened their culinary homage to St. Bartholomew, apostle and patron of chefs and mountain climbers. Only six months later, I found Thompson, a chef lacking any serious accolades apart from a head chef position at the barely-above-average Italian restaurant Mädchenitaliener, cooking some of the most honest and well executed bar food in the city. Quite remarkable, considering Thompson isn’t even a trained chef.
“ "...is cooking some of the most honest and well executed bar food in the city."
Inspired by gastronomic legends like legend Fergus Henderson, the Thompsons have assembled a team that executes their vision of a Berlin pub: Simple food to share. Cheap beer. Great cocktails and wines with a lot bang for the buck. As simple as this might sound, this is very hard to find elsewhere in Berlin.
The marriage of food and drink culture is a very happy one at St. Barts. You can seat yourself at the bar with a beer, enjoy a sensational and massive back bacon sandwich, wash it down with a beer and walk away paying less than ten euros. Or you move into the back dining room, order some cocktails, share a bunch of plates with your pals and hydrate with a couple of extraordinary wines from Victor Hausladen (special tip: his Eastern European selection). Do all of that, and you still won’t spend more than 50-60€ per head. Value for money is truly spectacular at St. Bart.
“ "The marriage of food and drink culture is a very happy one at St. Barts."
Smaller dishes on the St. Bart menu might include burnt Jerusalem artichokes with aioli, fried Brussels sprouts with lemon or grilled broccolini with butter, inherently simple ingredients that have been pushed to their savoury limits, using a profound understanding of how to apply fire and fat. A full glimpse of the raw talent in this kitchen is manifested in their signature fried chicken where fat free-range birds undergo a lengthy preparation of brining and buttermilk marinating before they are powdered in a myriad of spices, deep fried in peanut oil and then tossed in tabasco butter in an epic finale of savouriness. The magnificently juicy and crispy result that arrives at your table is one of the tastiest and most indulgent specimens of fried chicken in Berlin right now.
“ "The amount of skill in this kitchen is beautifully manifested in their signature fried chicken"
The welcome presence of Germans in both the restaurant and chef Thompson’s personal life mellow out any expat hipness in a very pleasant way. It also adds the occasional German touch to the menu, for example a spin on the German blood pudding and potato dish “Himmel & Erde” that comes in a fantastic layered potato cake version. And if that's not enough to shake your palate, you can have yourself a stunning grilled mackerel from the Dutch fish monger heroes at Küstlichkeiten.
“ "The welcome presence of Germans in both the restaurant and chef Thompson’s personal life mellow out any expat hipness in a very pleasant way."
Where I usually can’t wait for restaurants to develop further, in the case of St. Barts I’m actually hoping for the exact opposite. Of course there is room for improvement for food and especially the service. But I sincerely hope that at least the casual and playful nature of this wonderful establishment is timeless, there are way too many (similar) restaurants I’ve seen develop from an initial, casual concept to a finer dining setup, a play often forced by the immense, financial pressure of a food scene with rising rents and demanding diners who hog tables. If everything goes well, you’ll find me at the St. Barts bar in five years eating a back bacon sandwich for under 10 euros with a beer that’s under 3 euros. Wishful thinking, I know, but what are we without (food) dreams.