Saturday, 6 April 2013
Review: Sowohlalsauch, Prenzlauer Berg
I'm not quite sure why I have never written about what is probably my favourite cake place in Berlin. It isn't a reluctance to share the love for fear of never getting a table: the place is always rammed anyway. I think it might have something to do with the fact that my feelings are pretty conflicted about the place. Sowohlalsauch occupies a large corner plot in the prettiest bit of Prenzlauer Berg and is always, day and night, really busy. During the summer the enormous terrace is full of locals, tourists, dogs, sparrows, and anyone else who is quick enough to reserve a coveted sunny spot. Even in the autumn everyone huddles under blankets beneath the huge awning that keeps off the rain and the worst of the wind.
In the winter - or the sorry excuse for a spring that we're currently experiencing - getting inside the cafe is an altogether more competitive affair. The decor is loosely styled on a Viennese coffee house: ochre walls; a large mural depicting Klimt's The Kiss; and a vitrine full of amazing-looking cakes. Yesterday we were lucky enough to snag the last free table - right by the door but hey, beggars can't be choosers - and I headed straight for the vitrine. I was disappointed to see that my favourite cake, the richest chocolate ganache layer cake you could possibly imagine, wasn't there. In truth that was probably a good thing because if it's there I can't resist it and I really ought to branch out more in my cake choices.
Coffee Boy & I decided to go for two different cakes (we often share one between us as the pieces are huge but having had no lunch we went for one each) and split them between us. We chose a chocolate praline layer cake and a gooseberry torte.
I've written before about how much I love the German willingness to embrace gooseberries in their cakes and desserts and this confection was just the kind of fruit cake I love. Thin but dense layers of firm sponge sandwiching a huge pile of gooseberries held together with a gooseberry jelly - and all topped of with a thin layer of soft meringue. It was really fantastic: sweet yet sharp; soft but held together; just really tasty. The chocolate praline cake was no slouch either: alternating layers of chocolate sponge and a chocolate praline cream it managed to be both light and rich at the same time. I really hate cakes that look chocolately and taste of nothing much: the cakes at Sowohl Als Auch are never like that.
As far as the hot drinks go they have a really rather good selection of teas, including my favourite Russian Tea served in a lovely little pot and accompanied by a cherry preserve (I never use) to sweeten it. They use loose leaves but inside those large fill-it-yourself teabags that are popular here. The coffees and hot chocolate are pretty good - nothing to write home about but not at all bad either (I realise you're probably looking at the photo above thinking this hot chocolate looks pretty amazing but really it was fine rather than awesome).
I'm aware that I'm not sounding that enthusiastic given I'm claiming Sowohlalsauch as my favourite cake spot in Berlin. The hot drinks are pretty good; the decor is nice enough but not really the kind I get excited about (and the music they were playing yesterday was terrible!); the service is at worst indifferent and at best Berlin average (more brusque than brisk); but the cake, THE CAKE, is never less than fantastic. That coupled with the fact that it has a great location that really comes into its own in the warmer months is enough to have me returning there on pretty much every stay in the city. And in a place where the cake options are legion that is a serious recommendation.