Bincho unagi restaurant in Ginza – eely eely good

Hitsumabushi grilled eel meal – Bincho in Ginza 備長 銀座店

I’ve been looking forward to visiting an unagi (freshwater eel) restaurant all holiday. And Bincho in Marronier Gate – at the top of Tokyo Hands department store – was worth the wait. I found it listed under best unagi restaurants in Ginza on the picrumb food blog – a reliable food directory in my experience, and one I recommend.

We had hitsumabushi – chopped broiled eel cooked over charcoals with a secret tasty soy flavoured sauce, on top of white rice – really crispy and absolutely gorgeous. Japanese eel is right up there as one of my most favourite foods.

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Hitsumabushi menu at Bincho Ginza aka. Binchou
ひつまぶし備長 銀座店

While the interior decor of Bincho is simple, classy, and well, very Japanese in style, the laminated menu and plastic tray might give a European visitor the impression of being a greasy spoon or motorway service station. It’s not.

Eel meal at Bincho Ginza
Dinner is served – eel + shōchū

Plastic trays take a bit of getting used to – they might be associated with self-service canteens in the UK but they’re commonplace in restaurants in Japan (keeping food and utentils off the table; keeping things clean and orderly, as with the abundance of food packaging).

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Eely good

Eel meal at Bincho
Eel meal deal x2

Eel restaurant - Bincho Ginza
Bincho interior – on 12th floor of Maronnier Gate, at top of Tokyo Hands department store

The verdict: If you’re in Tokyo, visit Binchou. That’s all there is to it.

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
– Type: Eel restaurant
– Address: 2-2-14, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Marronnier Gate 12th floor
– Tel: +81 3-5159-0231
– Website + menus: Bincho website
– Photos on flickr: Bincho photos
– Location: Bincho Ginza

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Eat fresh raw tuna at Tsukiji Fish Market

When the tuna’s so fresh, there’s blood on the rice…

Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the world’s largest fish markets and one of Tokyo’s biggest tourist attractions. Don’t miss it – whether or not you watch the tuna auctions in the early hours, it’s a must visit later in the morning for a fresh raw fish lunch.

On our visit earlier today, 4 January 2017, there were long queues coming out of many of the little diners. We chose Maguro Isuke spontaneously, while wandering around, as it looked appealing and there wasn’t much of a queue.

 

Inside Tsukiji magoro
Inside Tsukiji Maguro Isuke

Inside 築地マグロ伊助 Tsukiji Maguro Isuke (maguro means tuna), the menu offers a variety of fresh tuna dishes, along with tempura and yam (another speciality).

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Cheek meat Tatsuta-Age – tuna cheek soaked in soy sauce + ginger and lightly battered @ 980 Yen

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Soft cod roe tempura – @ 780 yen

We order an obligatory Suntory malty lager each, and tatsuta-age (tuna cheek) and cod roe tempura to start. The tuna cheek is really quite meaty and the batter is light, thin and crisp.

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Selection of different raw cuts of tuna with rice and pickles @ 1,380 yen

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When the tuna’s so fresh, there’s blood on the rice

For mains we share マグロ漬丼 ヅケド – a rice bowl with three different cuts of raw tuna, served with pickles @ 1,380 yen (quite literally the freshest raw tuna I’ve ever eaten – there’s even some blood on the rice but don’t let that put you off; it’s exceptional) and 築地めしツキジメ (jinenjo-tsukiji- meshi) – a rice bowl with yam, raw tuna and seaweed @ 1,000 yen.

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Rice bowl with raw tuna, yam, seaweed @ 1,000 yen

We end up drinking two lagers each. Altogether four lagers total 1,160 yen. And the total bill for two comes to 5,500 yen (for the likes of menus and bills, the Google translate app comes in handy). That’s just under £40.00. A bargain at £20.00 a head.

 

 

 

 

The verdict: Looking at Tsukiji Maguro Isuke’s website now, it says Fresh raw tuna – you’ve never tasted tuna this fresh before!

I hadn’t. And it was just stunning. The only disappointing outcome is that I’m probably ruined for finding raw tuna this good back in the UK. This was seriously special; don’t miss it.

 

Tsukiji Maguro Isuke – restaurant info:
– LardButty rating: 5/5

– Address: Japan, 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, 中央区Tsukiji, 6 Chome−6−22−3
– Tel: +81 3-6226-2540
– Tuna Isuke website+ menus
– My photos on flickr: Maguro Isuke food – see more photos>>>
– Location: Tsujiki Maguro Isuke map

 

Chasu ramen at 銀座 梵天 Ginza Bonten – Tokyo

Slurping slow-cooked pork ramen at a neighbourhood noodle bar is a ‘must do’ in Japan

銀座 梵天 Ginza Bonten, a tiny restaurant behind our hotel turned out to be a winner with its beautiful wooden beams and stools, and tasty pork ramen and gyoza.

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梵天 – Bonten in Ginza neighbourhood noodle bar

As with many neighbourhood Japanese restaurants, you can’t see inside from the outside so it can be a bit of an adventure, wondering whether you’ll need to take off your shoes on entering then figuring out the food options if English isn’t spoken.

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Inside 梵天 Bonten – individual lunchtime diners seated along the counter

Inside, this restaurant only has about 20 covers, most of which are individual stools along the counter. With much bowing, smiling, and pointing on both sides, the host seated us at a corner table. And the Google translate app came in very handy indeed as the menu was all in Japanese.

Typical of a local restaurant like this, the menu offers a few variations on a limited number of speciality dishes, and it’s cash only.

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Owl bottle with a ball bearing lid

I order some form of fizzy lemonade that turns up in a cute owl shaped bottle (that’s perfect for holding) with a ball bearing lid. Intriguing.

We share fresh, hot gyoza (so, so good) to start, and both have chashu (marinated, slow-cooked, braised pork) ramen.

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Gyoza – Japanese pan-fried dumplings, crispy on the outside

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Gyoza – soft and juicy veggies in the middle

Check out this ramen bowl full of tender, tasty pork wedges:

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Chashu (marinated, slow-cooked, braised pork) ramen – braised in soy sauce, sake and sugar

The verdict: Best ramen I’ve ever had, by far. Excellent lunch spot, tucked away from Tokyo’s hectic main shopping streets.

What owning a ramen restaurant in Japan is like
Watch this 11 minute video – Go behind the scenes and see for yourself what’s involved in running a ramen shop in Japan (so much effort – it explains what makes the flavours so special).

 

Bonten restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Ramen
– Address: 104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 1 Chome−9−12
– Tel: +81 3-5579-9968
– Photos on flickr: Ginza Bonten photos
– Location + google reviews: Ginza Bonten map + reviews

Okonomiyaki savoury stuffed pancakes – a ‘must-try’ food in Japan

Savoury Japanese pancakes stuffed with cabbage, grilled as you like it

These cabbage-based savoury pancakes can be stuffed with anything you like, and there are regional variations. This post looks at two types of okonomi-yaki (yaki means grill) that we ate in Hiroshima and Osaka. If you haven’t tried them before, they’re an absolute must try in Japan. It’s not just the eating, it’s the whole experience of watching them being created on a grill in front of you, through to the final touches – sticky sauce topping and a sprinkling of nori (seaweed) or katsuobushi (bonito flakes, or dancing tuna flakes).

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Hiroshima-yaki
Okonomi-mura, a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki food theme park at 5-13 Shintenchi in Naka-ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.
LardButty rating: 3.5/5

We visited Okonomi-mura (“Okonomiyaki Village”) an okonomiyaki food theme park in Hiroshima, in the early hours of 23 December.  There are 25 food stalls on three floors, and most of the stalls have seating for about 10 people around the grill. Even at this time of night, they were all pretty busy.

We found two empty stools and chose some saké and pancakes off the menu (it contained some English translations, and there was a bit of pointing and smiling involved).

With Hiroshima-yaki, ingredients are layered rather than mixed together – see video:

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Preparing okonomiyaki at Okonomi-mura, Hiroshima – 6 second timelapse

And they’re stuffed with noodles (yakisoba or uden) rather than rice. So we tried one of each:

– mixed seafood special with udon noodles (below left)
– double pork double egg with yakisoba noodles (below right)

It’s a meal in itself, containing protein, carbs and loadsa veggies. At Okonomi-mura, they use their own type of sticky okonomiyaki sauce, specially created by Sun Foods. The sauce really finishes it off. These pancakes are sprinkled with nori (seaweed) and sesame seeds too. Yum.

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Hiroshima Okonomiyaki containing noodles – mixed seafood/udon (left), double pork/yakisoba (right)

More photos here>>>

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Osaka-yaki
Kiji restaurant at 1-1-90 Oyodonaka, Kita-ku | Umeda Sky Bldg. B1F Takimi Koji, Osaka 531-0076
LardButty rating: 5/5

Currently rated 3rd of all the restaurants in Osaka on Tripadvisor, Kiji restaurant in the basement of Umeda Sky Building is well worth a visit.

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At Kiji restaurant in Umeda Sky Building basement – Christmas dinner

We ate here after visiting the beautiful Himeji Castle and grounds on 25th December. It was the middle of the afternoon and we waited in a seated queue by the door for about ten minutes.

The restaurant is quite shabby-looking with walls covered in messages, memorabilia and paper currency from all over the world, along with Tripadvisor (and other) certificates of excellence. Here, we were first introduced to the highly practical Japanese storage benches, where your seat is a wooden box with a lid in which you can store your bags, coats, and umbrellas, and keep the limited floor space clear.

Once seated and storage sorted, we ordered two cold Suntory ‘the malts’ beers (a nice, refreshing malty lager, as the name suggests) and two okonomiyakis – K chose mixed meat and I chose a pork (bacon) + seafood.

Here in Osaka, the shredded cabbage, mixed veggies and protein were all mixed up (rather than layered). And contained rice (rather than noodles). And coated in a gorgeous sticky brown okonomiyaki sauce. Double yum! Ignoring the slightly shabby surroundings, these pancakes get 5/5 for taste.

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Osaka-yaki at Kiji – bacon + seafood and a mixed meat okonomiyaki

More photos here>>>

Two beers and two pancakes totalled 3,690 yen (about £25.00).

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Christmas dinner bill @ 3,690 yen

C&C Curry – Yurakucho branch in Tokyo, Japan

Captured by the smell of katsu curry

It’s our first day in Japan, having travelled overnight last night from the UK. Wandering the streets, we are tired and awestruck. Intrigued by everything. We’ve got a fairly easy day planned that involves leaving our main luggage at our hotel in Shinagawa, dropping off our snowboarding bag (that we’ll only need later in the holiday) in Ginzo, and visiting Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida to get our bearings of this impressive city.

One particular smell grabs our whole beings as we walk along a street in Chiyoda – the smell of curry coming from C&C Curry Shop. We’re in raptures and head straight back here, once we’ve dropped off the snowboarding bag.

It’s apparent from the start that some of the eating places here are tiny. And it’s not uncommon for them to only serve one type of dish. Many variations of it, but one dish nonetheless.

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C&C curry shop

Check out the menu for C&C Curry Shop (there are many similarly named curry outlets) – it includes sausage, cheese or even warm ball curry! all served with rice.

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Queue and order at the canteen

 

Entering the small restaurant, pace was noticeably tight, with people (mostly on their own) squeezed in close together on stools along counters running right round the walls, appearing to be grabbing a quick but hearty lunch.

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Choose your combo from 14 options + choose ‘hotness’ of the curry sauce

Joining the queue at the canteen, we got trays, pointed to our chosen options, were immediately served and looked after by the abundant staff. Someone to give you the food, someone to point you where to sit, someone to bring tap water (and keep topping up your glass).

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Cosy cafe – all packed in together

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Breaded pork cutlet with rice and pork curry – yum!

It was formulaic, well organised. And very tasty. We both chose a breaded pork cutlet with rice, and a medium hot pork curry sauce which had plenty enough of a kick for me and I love hot, spicy food (choose between mild, medium hot or hot). At 650 yen (about £5.00) this was great value, and filling.

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Just your average curry menu?curry options at this restaurant in Kyoto include: Cheese filled hamburger curry, soft boiled egg and chicken meatball curry, scrambled egg curry – food innovations you’d only find in Japan!

The verdict: Trying a Japanese katsu curry is a *must do* in Japan.

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
– Type: Katsu curry
– Address: Yurakucho branch branch at Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Yurakucho 2-9-14 – before JR Yurakucho Station, Tokyo, Japan
– Nearest station: JR Yurakucho Station
– Website + menus: C&C Curry website
– Photos on flickr: images of C&C Curry food
– Location: C&C Curry map

Lyndhurst New Forest – where to go

K and I spent four days in and around the New Forest, Hampshire over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

We stayed in Lyndhurst (unsurprisingly busy being a bank holiday, and touristy with heavy traffic) hired mountain bikes, saw lots of New Forest ponies (prompting a chucklesome, horse-themed Spotify playlist – see the end of this post), sampled some local pubs and restaurants, drove to the Hampshire coast and saw the Magna Carta on display at Salisbury Cathedral.

Here’s sharing our highlights and recommending some things to see and do.

 

 


 

01. AA Bike Hire

Hire quality mountain bikes from AA Bike Hire (behind the tourist information centre, off Gosport Lane) @ £10 a day per adult. Bikes are hired on a first come first served basis and they do run out as we discovered on our first attempt (a Sunday morning).

Top tip: get there for 9am – opening time – on Sundays.

The closest alternative bicycle hire is from CycleExperience at Brockenhurst. They also run out.

 

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1. Bikes from AA Bike Hire; 2. New Forest ponies; 3. Exploring the forest; 4. Knightwood oak; 5. Enjoy

 

On our second and successful attempt on the Monday, we benefited from the owner of AA Bike Hire’s invaluable knowledge about the forest – recommended routes, and what to look out for.

 

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Recommended cycle route: A.E “15 country miles”

 

We followed route A.E., a “good fifteen country miles” (some steep hills) taking in the impressive grounds of Rhinefield House Hotel, freely roaming ponies, redwood treesBolderwood Ornamental Drive hosting the biggest tree in the forest (a knightwood oak probably between 400-600 years old) and a deer sanctuary. Returning to Lyndhurst through Emery Down, passing (or pausing via…) the New Forest Inn and Swan Inn.

 

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Rhinefield House Hotel + grounds

 


 

02. Siam Thai Lounge, Lyndhurst

Excellent Thai food in a comfortable and spacious restaurant, with truly hospitable and efficient service.

 

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Siam Thai Lounge interior

 

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Siam Thai mixed starters @ £12.80: chicken satay, prawn toast, tod mun fishcakes, spring rolls + we substituted mushroom satay instead of chicken wings

 

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Tom yum soup @£4.95 – gorgeously spicy

 

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Tofu and veggie curry @ £6.85 – Thai red curry with kaffir lime leaves, red and green pepper, mushroom, tofu, fine beans, carrot and coconut milk

 

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Gang Massamun @ £9.50 – rich curry with tender beef, coconut milk, peanut, onion + potato

The total bill for two came to £76.35 which included two bottles of Viognier (great dry white wine) @ £17.95 each.

 

Quick ref info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: Thai
~ Address: 24 High Street, Lyndhurst, SO43 7BG
~ Tel: 02380 283061
~ Website + menus: Siam Thai Lounge website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Siam Thai Lounge food

 


 

03. Lyndhurst Art Gallery

 

 

 

The Summer Show at Lyndhurst Art Gallery runs from 29 May 2015 and features contemporary British Art from the likes of Sandra BinneyNagib KarsanKate Richardson and Yvonne Coomber.

 

I love the mixed media paintings by Penelope Timmis, particularly this Hen Party @ £750.00 including frame – it just makes me smile.

 


 

04. Tea Total

First impressions of Lyndhurst High Street might make you think it’s a bit twee, with its numerous antique shops and tea parlours.

But Tea Total is a tea shop with a difference – check out the playfully named teas on their tea board for a start.

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Menu – click to enlarge

Staff are friendly, welcoming and really know their teas, serving up expert knowledge with every cuppa.

Our visit *was* after our “good fifteen country mile” bike ride. We’d worked up a thirst and were in need of a sugar fix.

The ‘Tea lover for one’ @ £6.95 each seemed like a good reward: a choice of 50+ teas served with a homemade plain scone with jam and clotted cream and a slice of cake (gorgeous, oh-so-moist carrot cake on this occasion).

 

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Tea lover for one – IngenuiTEA pot for one, scone with jam + clotted cream and a slice of carrot cake @ £6.95 all served up with experTEAS…

 

K chose a monkey magic (golden monkey tea from Fujian, China) and I chose a passage to India (a spicy masala chai from Sri Lanka), each served in an IngenuiTEA pot with our own timer (a minute for K’s monkey tea to brew to perfection, three minutes for my chai).

Novel, perfectly brewed, two very satisfied customers.

 

Quick ref info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: Tea + cakes
~ Address: 23 High Street, Lyndhurst, SO43 7BE
~ Tel: 023 8028 4585
~ Website: Tips N Leaves
~ Photos on flickr: images of Tea Total

 


 

05. Starskys

The ‘Starskys’ name and the restaurant exterior may not be overly appealing but it’s a different story inside. On our visit, staff welcomed us the moment we stepped into the restaurant; there was an interesting (if limited) choice of craft beers on offer (that we didn’t find anywhere else around Lyndhurst) and it wasn’t a problem to go ‘off menu’. And the food was great too.

 

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Starskys interior + Stevens Point pale ale

 

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The Texas burger – 6oz 100% prime lean beef patty served in a brioche bun with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, lettuce, red onion + tomato, with either rustic, skinny sweet potato fries or jacket potato (sweet potato fries were recommended by our server) and with a side salad @ £13.25

 

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Mac cheese side dish – not on the menu but that wasn’t a problem

 

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Georgia pulled pork from the smoker – Slow cooked pork marinated in Starskys own rub and served with a homemade BBQ sauce. And sweet potato fries.

 

Quick ref info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: American/smokehouse/burgers
~ Address: 16 High Street, Lyndhurst, SO43 7BD
~ Tel: 023 8028 2991
~ Website + menus:  Starskys
~ Photos on flickr: images of Starskys food

 

New Forest Ponies horse-themed Spotify playlist:

LardButty in Berlin – The Bird

The Bird in Berlin – saving the best til last

This is the one we’ve been waiting for. The big one. Our last – and hopefully special – dinner out. A little piece of America in Berlin.

The Bird may not look like much from outside but don’t let that deter you. There’s a whole happy cavern overflowing with meat and beer awaiting inside…

 

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The Bird – outside dining on a chilly eve

 
Our table is reserved and waiting for us when we enter, but only for two hours. It’s a busy restaurant and we’ll be booted out when our time’s up, so we’d best crack on, starting with a round of dark köstritzer schwarzbiers (@ €3.50 per half litre) and an entertaining read.

It’s a good menu, short and specialised: the food is serious and the tone lighthearted:

 

At least try eating the damn burger with your hands. All you uptight people with forks and knives are driving us crazy. And for God’s sake don’t order your meat well done… menu cheekiness

 
It’s all about the meat – a variety of burgers and steaks (you choose the weight and how you’d like it cooked) with the best beef being imported from the States.

Because ‘bigger steaks are better’, the advice is not to order a thin, little steak each but to share a bigger – juicier and tastier – steak with others. Our waitress was super helpful and guided us on portion sizes.

 

IMG_6482 Chicken wings

 

We share sticky chicken wings – six pieces @ €4, and a da woiks burger, medium rare with Cheddar cheese @ €13 as starters. D’s been here before and enjoys sitting opposite us, watching our faces. We’re in raptures, mumbling things about “best chips ever…” and “seriously amazing burger…”. Chip miracle

 

How they’ve made them the *best* chips ever, I don’t know. They’re really well done with a slightly crispy outside but are perfectly soggy too. They look almost burnt. But they’re not, they taste amazing. It’s a miracle – a deep-fried potato miracle. That’s all there is to it.
 
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Köstritzer schwarzbier

 

IMG_6486b_FILLET 300g fillet steak with best ever chips and spinach

 

The joy of steaks
We share two steaks – both cooked medium rare – between the three of us: a 300g fillet steak @ €54 (it’s €18 per 100g) and a 500g New York strip @ €62.50 (it’s €12.50 per 100g).

 

IMG_6487 500g New York strip with best ever chips and salad

 

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Slices of fillet and New York strip steak

 

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Da Woiks burger Cheese (stilton), mushrooms + bacon with skin-on fries

 

For those who don’t mind the wait and crush at the bar, there’s an Angry Hour – buy one get one free on beer between 6 – 8pm (only at the bar). We preferred the chill-out, table-service option – full price being €7 a litre (that’s £5.85 for 1.8 pints, not bad).

The only *slightly* disappointing thing about this restaurant is the two hour turnaround on tables (it’s advisable to book ahead as it’s very busy, even on a Sunday evening). But as it says on the menu: …we ask for your patience and understanding. If you have none, please go elsewhere, this isn’t the place for self-important whiners The tone of the menu clearly gives you an idea of the kind of place it is: special yet not taking itself too seriously. It’s down-to-earth, with no pomp and ceremony, and is easy to feel at ease here.

Oh. Did I mention the best chips ever?

 

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The Bird re-visited – May 2016

 

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: American (in Germany)
~ Address: Am Falkplatz 5, 10435 Prenzlauer Berg
~ Tel: +49 (0)30 5105 3283
~ e: info@thebirdinberlin.com (or for reservations: thebirdreservations@gmail.com)
~ Nearest station: Schönhauser Allee -S and U
~ Website: The Bird in Berlin website
~ Menus: The Bird in Berlin menu
~ Photos on flickr: images of The Bird in Berlin
~ Location: The Bird map

 

RELATED LINKS
 

More Berlin dining:
 

~ Auszeit – good for brunch in a scenic spot
~ The Bird – simply the best chips ever + amazing meat. Go! what are you waiting for?
~ Makoto – great donburi at this Japanese noodle bar
~ Oranium – sausage-fest breakfast treats
~ Porta Nova – favolose Italian restaurant in Mitte
~ Volver – Spanish tapas restaurant
~ Zitrone – good brunch spot in Kreuzberg