Pret A Diner

by Guest Blogger

Pret A Diner is in Berlin for its second season, a two-month long “affordable” Michelin-quality dining experience bookended by Fashion Week and the Berlinale, events for which the not-a-pop-up restaurant aims to be the centre of debauchery for the city’s überchic society circles, fashion models and movie stars, while also offering the opportunity for the general public to partake in a semi-exclusive capacity… if they are lucky enough to get a reservation. We sent along Sandy in Berlin to soak up the atmosphere.

The theatrics begin immediately upon entering the venue, the Alte Münze. A grand staircase strewn with candles casts flickering shadows up onto a vast ceiling hung with hundreds of paper birds. At the top, a crucified Minotaur surrounded by a ring of fire and pierced with dozens of spikes stands solemnly in the corner as clouds of rich incense waft out of the adjacent hallway. Door after door of neon lit rooms display edgy artwork for the beautiful people lounging on plush couches and drinking slender flutes of Veuve Clicquot.

The drama is heightened by the opening of the exhibit, “Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe” by Marcus Mahren in the main room, which the artist describes as “a celebration of life at the moment of death.” Tall columns with cascades of white orchids stand sentinel over giant, black and white photographs of ethereal men posing Christ-like, crowned with barbs or swathed in white cloth while an operatic soprano wails over the intermittent pounding of a bass drum. This being his first exhibition, Marcus claims that he is not an artist, just someone who wants to share an idea about pleasure and love. Draped in red and wearing tinted glasses in the dark, Marcus explains that he was just returning from a teaching with the Dalai Lama: “It doesn’t matter if one is Buddhist or Catholic… the time will come where this life ends and all are equally powerless, and we all want to find a way to have another life again.” He continues, “some people react negatively to this work, not liking to see the vulnerability of a dead body, but they need to see that life is like a gift, we should all be thankful and be ready to go with pleasure.”

Continuing on, several flights of another staircase are descended, one that is hung with long strands of straw, to which dozens of small, feathered bird bodies are clinging as recorded chirping echoes from the nooks and crannies. Cookies Cage is at the bottom, the cocktail lounge where the aperitifs are presided over by a giant relief mural of Angela Merkel with a third eye in her forehead, a gift left by Alexandre Farto, a.k.a. Vhils, the infamous Portugese street artist. The rest of the décor is also inspired by birds; cages painted on the walls and the central area overhung by steel black bars to which scores of white plastic birds are affixed.

The gin and tonic is served with a splash of ginger ale and slices of cucumber, and I settle into a cracked red leather sofa to interview the host of the “event”. A handsome metrosexual with a delightful Gold Coast lilt, Rich Jay describes January’s Fashion Week as having blown by in a blur, the conventional trappings of a restaurant overwhelmed by the schmear of a high-octane soiree. As he puts it, “we were happy to cater to the extra level of naughtiness that this kind of crowd demands, they needed our haven to really let their hair down – on one night the Cage was packed with 600 revelers rocking down the house.”

Next up is dinner in the main dining area, the work of interior designer Nora Von Nordenskjöld. It’s an exquisitely designed, creatively chaotic room bursting with thousands more birds, heavy candelabra, and chic couples curled into acorn chairs and sipping from bulbous glasses. The menu aims to showcase the latest and greatest in the world of gourmet dining, providing a cacophony of taste that changes every two weeks. We sample the creations of Tim Raue and Ollysan – both of which are simply extraordinary. After an amuse bouche of steak tartar in a small waffle cone, Raue serves up succulent lobster in rice wine with coriander, a delicate whitefish on a bed of mild sauerkraut and tender pig cheeks in a tangy sweet and sour sauce. Ollysan’s menu begins with fresh salmon that has the consistency of butter, a plate of creative maki sushi topped with little pats of tartar, fried quails eggs, and crispy onions, and finally sliced velvety roast beef with al dente vegetables. For dessert: beetroot ice, mango and black sesame gel mold filled with tapioca caviar and balsamico sauce.

The restaurant is now evolving into a club, and the tables on the main floor are cleared. From where we are tucked in the corner we watch the parade of stylish men in fedora hats and sparkling women in miniskirts heaving onto the floor to dance. Some friends join us, Rich pops by for another chat, and we order a bottle of vodka, Red Bulls and a bucket of ice for the table. We learn that the restaurant concept also pops up in London, having hosted such celebrities as The Edge, Snoop Dogg, Madonna escorted by Valentino, and Kiera Knightly. In 2011, the Berlin venue was visited by Brad Pitt, and so far this year Boris and Barbara Becker have made appearances, albeit on separate evenings. What’s left of the German aristocracy also swings by later in the evening to tour the building and eat in a private dining area reserved for the elite visitors.

It is an evening to remember, and even more so one to repeat. I will definitely be back at Pret A Diner this year, if not for the food, then for the fabulous party and the gorgeous people that make it the moment’s ultimate place to be in Berlin.