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Madinina: Creole comfort

Looking for something to warm up your belly on these chilly autumn days? Grab a taste of the Caribbean at Madinina. And don't forget to complement it with their signature rums.

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Photo by Erica Löfman

Looking for something to warm up your belly on these quickly cooling days? Grab a taste of the Caribbean at Madinina. And don’t forget to wash it down with their signature rums.

We find our way to the tiny Martinique Creole restaurant on one of the coldest, least Caribbean days of late summer… so the charming mural of fishermen with a freshly caught swordfish laid out beneath palm trees, the madras-clad wooden tables and the musical backdrop of Senegalese beats feels slightly out of place.

Walking past a pretty collection of pickled chilli jars, we encounter something resembling a Caribbean beach bar. This is where Martinique native and multilingual owner/cook/ waiter Eric Milia hides his stash of rums; a cask of white for cocktails and his own special concoctions complete the décor.

Eric has lived in Germany for 20 years. Previously, he worked as an industrial climber (he helped hang that Telekom ad on the TV tower during the World Cup). Despite the chill, he welcomes us with a warm smile and jots down the impromptu menu for the day: banana gratin, fresh sea bass and sardines, chicken and beans.

The Berlin community of expats from the French isle in the Antilles (Madinina in Creole) is tiny, hence its food is practically unknown here. We’re anxious to try it, but first things first: we order a Ti’Punch. Nothing better than a shot of rum agricole with a squeeze of lime and cane sugar to warm up.

The plate of accras, mini batter-fried bites of cod (€7) or veggies (carrots in our case; €6), feels perfect to soak up the alcohol. The large accompanying salad de crudités – slices of tomatoes shaved of their skin, long spirals of cucumber and delicious shredded papaya – scores high in the dressing league with a minimalistic vinaigrette livened up with a dash of parsley-onion-garlic. Sometimes less is more! The accras are a bit mild, so we ask Eric to bring us a couple of jars of his homemade chillis – whether pickled in vinegar with papaya or passion fruit, puréed or macerated in spices and oil, they’re all sure to give your dish (and you) an instant kick. But don’t drench your plate with them – “Only novices do that, it spoils the food!” Just add a bit on the side, like mustard.

The star of the evening was definitely the whole sea bream, which you can get either fried or grilled (€12). We chose the latter and were not disappointed: a sizeable animal, firm flesh and deliciously crispy skin served with a sauce chien (“dog sauce”, named after a popular chopping knife among French West Indian housewives) – a tonic concoction of chopped tomatoes, garlic, onion, parsley and thyme spiced with chillis.

Depending on daily availability, you’ll get a side of rice and beans (cooked with the distinctive flavour of bois d’inde, or Bay rum tree leaves), sweet potato croquettes or, on special days, Eric’s béchamel-based (savoury!) banana gratin – the Creole answer to comfort food! The fried sardines were not a bad choice either – at €8, fleshy, served with rice, beans and salad, they hit the spot perfectly.

So did the lunch menu, which included lamb, soup and a cup of tea. Our only gripe: some dishes were not served as warm as they should have been. The lentils were lukewarm and some croquettes still cold inside… but at €7, we couldn’t complain.

Surprisingly for such a small one-man business, desserts haven’t been forgotten. Eric makes delicious ice creams with coconut, mango and papaya. “From fresh fruit, not syrup,” he insists. He also bakes – we’re looking forward to the sweet potato cake.

But one of Madinina’s best desserts is not on the Nachtisch menu and not for kids. His amazing homemade coco punch – rum, coconut milk and condensed milk served over ice – is a delicious velvety wonder to be consumed in moderation (€5).

Also in his cabinet of wonders: “Liqueur Interdite” (forbidden liquor), a beautiful bottle of rum containing ginger, cocoa, cinnamon and cola nut, recommended for digestion.

And even more intriguing: Eric’s own family recipe, a dark yellow rum elixir containing both the leaves of chenille trèfle, a plant reputed to cure snake bites, and the actual caterpillars living off the plant. Eric remembers how his mum would force him to drink the wormy potion to boost his immune system, and confesses to having a shot every time he heads for a party: “It’s a good anti-poison.”