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Chutnify: South Indian on the northside

Berlin’s best known secret at the moment is a charming little South Indian restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg. Friendly to both veggies and carnivores, the cuisine actually lives up to the hype. It’s always packed, so make sure to get a reservation.

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Photo by Erica Löfman

We almost wish we had something negative to say about Chutnify in Prenzlauer Berg, if only because the gale-force maelstrom of hype that’s been gathering around it since it opened four months ago might be too much for the cosy little South Indian joint to handle. Alas, it really is that good. Go. But for the love of Vishnu, make an online reservation.

Once you’ve scored a spot in that coveted upstairs dining room, take a moment to observe the impeccable DIY-style décor, which we’ll call “Bollywood-via-Pinterest”: bright colours everywhere, one wall lined with spice jars, another with exposed brick and mirrors, another with a portrait of a smiling prince eating a dosa. Delhi-born Aparna Aurora and team put equal care into their menu of modern-inflected South Indian classics: no greasy curries or sauce shortcuts to be found here, just well-cooked ingredients and expertly applied spices. And they run a mean kitchen – the wait for a table might take eternity, but you’ll get your food in minutes. They’ll also customise your order at the drop of a hat, though much of the food is vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten-free anyway.

Start with an order of Bombay Bhel (€4.20 small/€6.50 large), an addictively sweet-salty-chewy-crunchy snack mix of chickpea flour noodles, puffed rice, dried lentils, onion, peanuts, coriander, pomegranate seeds and chutney. Next, order a dosa. Chutnify’s signature crepes (€7.40-9.80) are light and crispy, just thick enough to register the tang of the three-day-fermented lentil and rice flour batter, and filled with all kinds of goodies, from the traditional potato masala to Goa-style pork to a popular green-chutney marinated paneer version (our only qualm – the overwhelming quantity of cooked onions). On the side, a variety of chutneys, from tomato to tamarind to a particularly killer pineapple-clove variation, and sambar, a piquant lentil soup. You can also request the “Chillifier”, a dried chilli-garlic condiment, but you really won’t need it – well-spiced, not overpoweringly spicy, is the name of the game.

If you go for lunch (the crowds thin out after 2pm), you also have the option of getting a thali lunch platter (€7.50), which lets you sample three dishes, two chutneys, rice and a salad in a partitioned metal tray. You can choose between meat or veg; though the ground spiced lamb and chicken curry in the former were pretty good, it was the thick, hearty lentil dal and potato-okra combo in the latter that really wowed. To drink, try their Nimboo Pani (€2.90) a surprisingly refreshing lemonade punched up with Indian black salt, and, for dessert, their Indian popsicles (think nutty chai ice cream on a stick, €4.70) or sweet dosas (Nutella and banana, €5.80). Enjoy, but don’t linger too long – your table’s some of the most valuable real estate in Berlin right now, and it’d be unfair not to allow others a chance at it.

Originally published in issue #136, March 2015.