Ask people in the Berlin restaurant industry what their favourite new restaurant in 2019 was, and chances are they’re going to answer “Barra”, the neighbourhood restaurant in Neukölln’s Schillerkiez that opened quietly in December 2018 with no further ambitions then to cook good food.
“ "Behind "Barra" was the seasoned crew from the pop-up series “To the Regiment”"
What people in the business knew before everyone else: Behind "Barra" was the seasoned crew from the pop-up series “To the Regiment”, led by quiet Englishman Daniel Remers, the chef who once spearheaded the expat bistrofication of Berlin at the legendary Sonnenallee eatery “Industry Standard” (a BFS favorit). Remers left the rowdy project in 2017 and joined forces with his partner Kerry Westhead (front of house & wines) and Scottish friend Neil Paterson (kitchen) to form “To The Regiment”, a pop-up project that in the next year would tour around Berlin and build up a reputation of a massively promising restaurant.
The crew eventually found a permanent home on Okerstraße, a quiet street in Southern Neukölln’s Schillerkiez, the rapidly gentrified district that’s most famous for its proximity to Tempelhofer Feld (Berlin’s former city airport turned open park). Behind the large window storefront they installed an open kitchen and an L-shaped bar draped by delicate woodwork. Next to the bar a couple of small tables, behind that a hallway that leads to the back room with its large, communal table. It’s a modern and simple space, dominated by grey concrete but with loads of warm, wooden elements, creating a living room comfort factor that invites you to linger.
“ "...creating a living room comfort factor that invites you to linger."
So how did “To the Regiment” become “Barra”? Ask the crew for the long (and fascinating) story over a glass of something, the short version is that while the crew were looking for a name that unites England and Scotland, a discussion happened about the Scottish island of Barra, which is the home of Neil’s grandmother. Here the 1949 movie “Whisky Galore” was filmed, telling the intriguing story of how a ship with a massive cargo of whisky washed ashore at the island during World War 2, causing drunken havoc in its aftermath. The name sounded good and after it also came to Chef Daniel in a dream (true story), the universe had spoken and “Barra” opened for the first service on November 15th, 2018.
“ "So how did “To the Regiment” become “Barra”?"
One year (and many dinner visits) later I sat down with the three and talked about why Barra had become one of my favourite restaurants in the city. Barra is for me a very complete restaurant (the crew is adamant to use the term “restaurant” and not "bistro") with a no-frills offering. Yes, it’s a total 201X cliché with small plates to share and natural wine, but it’s also a pleasantly simple version of that with loads of “common sense comfort food”, as Daniel once described it fittingly. The Barra menu is built around the comforting factor of constants. There are always raw oysters on the menu. There is always a salad. Always a soup. Always a pasta. Always a raw fish and a main course meat and one fish dish. Always the chocolate mousse dessert. This way you know what to expect, but through the continuous changes of menu items within these categories, you’ll also never be bored.
Boring is really also the last word to be used in the context of this utterly joy-evoking food. On my first visit I fondly remember this Austrian-style “Frittaten-Suppe” I was served - a clear consommé cooked on a wild boar carcass, so god damn tasty it put my senses into overdrive and burnt itself an eternal memory into my taste buds. I’ve had a raw sea bass with grapes, almonds and a pulsating, deep orange carrot vinaigrette - rooted in earthiness, but so vibrant and piercingly fresh it created a deep hunger. Salads have always been served exactly like they should, ultra fresh and crisp, for example in divine combos such as grated macadamia, Swiss cheese, pear and celery. Mains are usually blatantly simple but just on point: Battered cod with tartar sauce and tarragon oil (you gotta have the guts to put that on the menu) or the brilliance put on plates during game season, like a grilled pheasant with pickled elderberries, radicchio, dehydrated beetroot and a burnt garlic vinaigrette. And for dessert the only dish that’s stayed on the menu since the beginning: The phenomenal warm chocolate mousse with cardamom and olive oil.
“ "...so god damn tasty it put my senses into overdrive and burnt itself an eternal shrine in my taste buds."
On paper, the menu at Barra might on a first look like any other hip bistro where an ex-fine dining expat chef has hopped onto the modern eatery band wagon. But it’s not, this is much, much better. The flavours and deep comfort factor of this food are deeply rooted in Daniel Remers well-founded understanding of seasonality, localism and produce quality and his utter humbleness for food and life in general. With a cunning executor and pasta magician such as Neil Paterson by his side and a brilliant Kerry Westhead in charge of service and hydration, the results of this food experience is so precise and elegant that it roots the level of comfort deep down your gut. The truth is, Barra is not just any cool natural wine bistro, Barra is spearheading a new generation of modern bistronomy in Berlin and showing which exciting trajectory the whole Berlin food scene is in, with smarter cooks at the stoves and better produce available to them. This is why Barra is booked out every day and this is why the whole restaurant industry comes in night after night. For some good food, tasty drinks and nice people. That's it.