Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Review: BagCo, Charlottenburg
Whenever I am in Berlin I rarely venture to the west of the city. I'm not necessarily talking about the part of the city that used to be on the "right side" of the wall as I do hang out in Kreuzberg quite a bit - although I'm not sure that really counts. It's become something of a standing joke amongst my friends and family, and my Berlin-loving friend K likes to remind me that I no longer need to obtain a special pass to visit.
Anyway, last week we decided to venture across to visit Manufactum, a shop selling the most bizarre selection of goods I've seen since I visited A. Schwab's in Memphis. To give you an idea I came away with a product to make scratches in wood disappear; a big Chinese bicycle bell; and an old-fashioned glass bottle with a dropper. Before we set out I had sussed out a place for cake nearby and once we'd finished our shopping and had a little walk we decided to pop in (as if there were any chance we wouldn't...).
I'd read a couple reviews of BagCo which were pretty positive. I was almost put off by the name which struck me as one of those weird examples of Berliners embracing English but in a slightly odd way. I wasn't really sure what the "bag" referred to but hoped it might be tea. On arrival I was no less perplexed: although nicely decorated, with a particularly cool large pendant light in the centre of the seating area, the place had the definite feel of a chain. From the seemingly mass-produced signage listing their wares to the uniforms of the staff behind the counter, this place was about as far away from the individual, cool cafes that we usually visit in Berlin as it could be.
Having come so far from home (a good seven stops on the S-Bahn) I wasn't going to be put off by some questionable styling. It was a self-service place - another downer in my book - but I was pleased to see a good selection of tins containing loose-leaf teas. I opted for an Assam, usually a good safe bet with cake, and Coffee Boy had his usual latte. Cake-wise there was the usual vast array of delicious looking goodies to choose from. I have basically made a ruling that whenever we visit somewhere new we have to get two different cakes and share them. This is not necessarily good news for Coffee Boy who pretty much hates sharing food, but I insist as I feel it's difficult to judge a place on just one cake. So this time we went for a Mohnkäsekuchen (a poppy seed cheesecake) and a Pflaumen-Streuselkuchen (plum crumble cake). Although it wasn't by design we ended up ordering what I think of as two of the classic German cakes. Poppy seeds are really popular here and virtually every cake shop will have at least one poppy seed variety. And a Streusel is almost the definitive German cake. A firm base somewhere between a sponge and a biscuit covered with fruit and then finished off with a crumble style topping.
My tea came served in a nifty glass cup with a built in infuser and lid which allowed plenty of room for brewing. Sadly, the cup was more worthy of excitement than the tea it contained. Despite allowing the leaves to brew for a good few minutes the tea was rather thin and lacking in flavour - I'd have been hard pushed to even identify it as an Assam. The cakes, on the other hand, were really good: the poppy seed cheesecake had a lovely consistency and a distinctive but not overpowering poppy seed flavour; and the Streusel was fantastic. The sharpness of the plum was perfectly balanced by a crunchy, sweet crumble top. It went down very well indeed.
Yet again I am bowled over by the quality of cakes on offer in Germany. Overall I felt this cafe was nothing to really write home about. The decor was nice but felt, as I've said, strangely corporate (on finding the website when I got home I saw that there were two branches which can't really account for the chain feel). The cakes though were really good. If this cafe was in London I'd be tempted to make it a regular haunt, at the very least for a cake-away, but in Berlin where there are so many lovely cafes serving really good cakes I'm not sure I'll be stopping by too often. I don't mean to damn it with faint praise, I just think it's possible to do better if you're searching for the perfect afternoon tea spot - especially if you actually want to drink tea. Coffee Boy wasn't bowled over by his latte either so it wasn't just a tea-related disappointment. But there is no doubt the cakes were really good and if you find yourself in the area you could certainly do a lot worse.