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1 Am Markt, Bremen, Germany
0421 321 676
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Down in the Cellar with the Rats
Northampton, United Kingdom
May 5, 2011
Best of IgoUgo
During a recent visit to Bremen I volunteered to take an Italian colleague for dinner. She’d only been to the city once before and I felt rather obliged to make sure that she saw something of the lovely old city centre, forgetting in the process ...
During a recent visit to Bremen I volunteered to take an Italian colleague for dinner. She’d only been to the city once before and I felt rather obliged to make sure that she saw something of the lovely old city centre, forgetting in the process that she’s actually rather hard work as a dinner companion. I didn’t feel I could get away with my usual stunt of going to the restaurant in the Ubersee Museum where I usually polish off a massive bowl of pasta – that wasn’t going to wash with an Italian who (according to one of my colleagues) is a bit of a foodie. So I put her on the tram and we jumped off near the cathedral to consider our options.
There’s really never much point asking someone what sort of food they fancy. Even if she’d demanded vegan Vietnamese I couldn’t have delivered. So I was heading vaguely in the direction of the Boettcherstrasse where a couple of my favourite places are located. On the way I recalled a member of one of the review sites telling me some time ago that he and his family often eat in the Ratskeller (the cellar of the Rathaus). Since I knew that he was spending his own money and going over on Ryanair, I guessed it wasn’t going to totally break the bank to give that place a try.
The Ratskeller – as anyone who knows a bit of basic German will have worked out – is the cellar of the Rathaus, or Town Hall. The Town Hall is considered to be such a fabulous example of brick Gothic architecture that it forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the endearing statue of the Bremen Roland which stands directly in front of the Hall. The original building dates back to the early 15th Century but has a much newer façade and bits of added on ‘stuff’ that’s much newer. As you might expect, the cellar is one of the oldest parts of the building. The Ratskeller has been used as a place of wine storage for about 600 years which makes it the oldest such wine cellar in Germany. The wine heritage is plain to see in the giant wine barrels that decorate the dining area.
Entrance to the restaurant is down a flight of stone steps which take you into a large vaulted room. I am not aware of any alternative access routes so anyone with a pushchair or with mobility problems would be advised to check with the venue if there is another way to get down there. We arrived about 7.15pm which is quite late by German standards and many of the larger tables were already full and the groups were a long way into their meals. You can’t miss the giant wine barrels with their crests, coats of arms and grotesque gargoyles.
The waitress brought us menus that looked more like telephone directories and were about half an inch thick. The menu offered a wide assortment of hot and cold starters, salads, meat and fish dishes and a rather tiny vegetarian section. The prices were quite high by local standards but I was not unhappy about that as I’d rejected my usual dining place on the grounds that I didn’t want to look like a cheapskate by taking my colleague there. I ordered a small Weissbier and was told that only large was available (so go on, twist my arm) and my colleague ordered a still water insisting that it had to be "really no gas" since she had the impression that most German still water wasn’t quite still enough. Not eating meat always helps me with choosing dishes since I have only a limited part of the menu to mess about with. I hadn’t realised how tricky Rosanna would prove to be. She doesn’t like or can’t eat dairy and so had to interrogate almost every dish to work out whether it might be OK.
For starters we both ordered a dish of hot smoked salmon served on a bed of salad with a potato pancake underneath. This was served with a lurid green dressing which must have been something herby but I wasn’t sure which herb. The fish was delicious and the size was good but I couldn’t help thinking that €9.50 was steep for a starter. For my main course I chose a vegetarian flammkuchen (the traditional Alsatian version of an ultra-thin pizza) whilst Rosanna went for steak served with green beans and grilled tomatoes which was served without the Hollandaise sauce but with a large dish of fried sliced potatoes. Whilst the starters hadn’t been overly large, the mains were massive. My flammkuchen was a massive irregularly shaped monster about 12 inches across and it was pre-scored to make it easier to tackle. I tend to always order flammkuchen if a vegetarian one is available because they’re usually very delicious but this one had not been a great choice since it was altogether just too cheesy for my liking, having a layer of herby cream cheese underneath a layer of melted regular cheese with mushrooms scattered around in a random fashion. I’m not a great cheese lover and the herby cream cheese wasn’t something that I really liked. One of the two cheeses might have been manageable but together they were just too overpowering. The base was very good and rolled extremely thinly but on balance if I wanted flammkuchen again I’d definitely walk a little further and get it from the Staendige Vertraetung on Boettcherstrasse.
Trying to get the waitresses attention to order more drinks proved to be a major task. Considering our table was practically in the corridor she must have had to really concentrate hard on looking the other way every time we tried to catch her eye.
We ordered desserts. Honestly I have no idea why as I was already stuffed but in the interests of keeping my colleague company I went along with her request for something sweet. I wasn’t going to bother but there menu included an intriguing option that was referred to as a ‘sweet lasagne’. How could I resist? I wish I had because what it turned out to be was a couple of slices of very hard, think fruit cake with dollops of admittedly very good chocolate mousse in between. The mousse was made with a local Bremen chocolate and was absolutely heavenly but I did wonder who ever thought it might go with fruit cake. Rosanna opted for a fruit salad – without the custard or the ice-cream which clearly had both me and the waitress totally baffled.
The bill came to slightly less than 70 Euros for the two of us for three courses, a large beer and a couple of bottles of water. It wasn’t outrageously expensive but for the price I’d have liked better service and slightly better presentation of the food. I have since checked the restaurant’s website to learn that they have some very good value lunchtime menus as well as some daily specials which we missed. I can imagine that these pull in a lot of the dining crowd as the food didn’t seem exceptional enough to me to justify how busy the restaurant was. I had a pleasant enough time but the food wasn’t really to my taste, the service was lacklustre and I probably wouldn’t rush back.
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