MRS. ROBINSON’S, BERLIN

Physically, Mrs. Robinson’s is square, clean, basic: white walls, light woods. While not especially intimate – the lighting, for example, feels overly bright; Berlin bars and restaurants typically make great use of candles and low light – the setting is comfortable and functional. Pleasant.

The space.

Front of house is where Mrs. Robinson’s really shines: The restaurant employs an enthusiastic, motivated team that provides skillful, attentive service. Servers discuss wine and menu options competently and make pleasant small talk. They re-fold your napkin when you step away from the table, quickly respond to a request, and so on. Many young-ish, “hip” places fail to provide professional, proficient service, so I am happy to sing this restaurant’s praises in that sense.

The restaurant serves a focused menu comprised of five or so starters (“snacks”), five mains, and several desserts. Prices range from €3-12 for the appetizers and €14-32 for the main courses. Desserts hover around €12. They offer a prix-fixe meal of oysters and four courses for €59 (optional drink pairing €32). In terms of genre, the food basically falls into the “market-driven cuisine” category with the addition of some Asian elements for flavor and seasoning. (Essentially, this is a “personality cuisine”, like most ambitious restaurants nowadays – i.e. chefs have the freedom to cook what they like, how they wish. This is a great thing.)

Exceptional bread.

My meal began with the bread option. Mrs. Robinson’s bakes several varieties in-house, and the results are spectacular. On the night, three kinds were available; of these, I tried two. First, the potato buns: gorgeous little rolls, baked to a deep brown. The crust was perfectly thick, with great texture and taste, the inside nicely light. These buns you want to eat by the basketful.

The cornbread likewise excelled. Not a conventional cornbread, it had a texture more akin to banana bread, dense and moist, with a delicious and sweet corn flavour. One slice does not do.

The bread they serve with a house-churned butter, blended with koji, a mould used in Chinese and East Asian cuisines to various ends (fermentation, etc.). Here, the intention is additional flavor – to be frank, I didn’t notice it, but this was a decent butter all the same. All in all, a top-notch way to start a meal, with bread as good as I’ve had anywhere. €4.

Crispy Brussel sprouts, miso dressing. aromatic herbs. wild rice. almonds.

The first appetizer: Brussel sprouts. Mrs. Robinson’s roasts the sprouts and serves them on an earthy, very delicious miso-based dressing. Puffed wild rice and roasted almonds add contrasting flavour and texture, while whole herbs (e.g. mint) bring freshness, brightness. A thoughtful, interesting plate, particularly given the lowly main ingredient. The problem, however: when I tried it, the sprouts had been taken too far, ending up slightly burnt. As a result, an unpleasantly bitter, carbon taste dominated the dish. €7.

Fried chicken sandwich.

“Infamous Fried Chicken and Caviar Bao”: so reads the menu description for the next starter. Steamed rice buns (“bao”) have been popular ever since David Chang started serving his pork buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City nearly fifteen years ago. Mrs. Robinson’s does theirs with fried chicken and fish eggs (two types: flying fish and trout roe – caviar, but not caviar caviar), as well as crème fraîche and a Tobasco honey.

The buttermilk-brined chicken, breaded and fried, was delicious. Because fried chicken is delicious. In the eating, however, I didn’t love this dish. The bun quickly sogs, soaking up the crème fraîche and losing its fluffy texture. And while I expected a briny, salty counterpoint from the fish eggs, they were hardly noticeable. I can see why this dish might be “infamous” – who doesn’t love fried food? – but it did not prove particularly impressive or interesting. €12.

Butternut squashes with sauces.

Moving on to the mains, which began with several slices of butternut squash, cooked until just tender. These arrived under and surrounded by sauce – three sauces, in fact, the primary one made from tomato, kimchi and lobster. In short: soft squash with soft sauce; a dish that, while visually appealing, lacked in texture. Although the flavour of the lobster-based sauce was great, this course felt incomplete and ultimately fell flat. €14.50.

Sweetbread sandwich.

The sweetbread sandwich comprised a square of offal, breaded and fried, served on a layer of tartare and under a vibrantly green shiso mayonnaise. Two rounds of white bread provided the top and bottom. The tartare of aged beef was delicious, light and lively with great acidity and heat. It got lost, however, playing a secondary role to the thick slab of sweetbread – itself well prepared, perfectly tender and moist. To my mind, this plate involved two great dishes which, combined in this way, amounted to less than the sum of their parts. €16.50

Lamb, Part I.

On to the final course, lamb loin. This one came at the steep – very steep – price of €32, a level that doubled anything else on the menu. The dish arrived over two plates: on one, three slices of a cabbage-wrapped roll, filled with ground lamb. These were delicious: savoury, packed with flavour, extremely well spiced and seasoned. Move that part of the course to the top half of the menu and you’ve got a stellar starter.

Lamb, Part II.

On the primary plate, the lamb loin – beautifully cooked – came with roasted and fresh endive, a smoked crème fraiche, and “XO ragu”. Here, the spectacular lamb, a stunning piece of meat, seemed overwhelmed by the other, dissonant elements – the ragu, in particular. Again, there was a winning dish here (clearly these people can cook), but it lay buried, obscured. I’ll also add that, although looks aren’t everything, they do matter in a restaurant this ambitious, at these prices. This plate just looked messy, poorly composed.

Great Austrian wine.

In terms of drinks, the restaurant serves a list of custom cocktails and a variety of wines. Beers are also available. I had an excellent bottle of Austrian wine, Kroiss Zweigelt Trocken 2013. Light in body, fruity in flavour. At €36, it was one of the cheaper choices, which range from €32 to about €45 by the bottle (there are by-the-glass options).

All in all, this restaurant is decidedly capable, backed by a hard-working, passionate and talented team. The food here could be, I think, as good here as anywhere else. Potential abounds. Based on my experience, however, I don’t recommend going there and going all out. It’s a lot to pay for potential.