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Ohlàlà: French vegan brunch

With a selection of vegan crépes, cupcakes, quiches and a sumptuous range of stews and salads, you can always leave it to the French to be so sinful first thing in the morning – and ethical, too!

Image for Ohlàlà: French vegan brunch
Photo by David Ghione

Friedrichshain is catching up with the city’s exploding vegan trend with its very first animal-free brunch option at Ohlàlà – quite a bold move for a French café. When owner Clarissa Orsine – aka burlesque artist Mademoiselle Kla – opened Berlin’s first tartes shop in autumn 2010, we raved over her authentic quiches and perfect dough.

In summer 2011 Clarissa, a vegetarian for 20 years, decided to take the ham and salmon out of her tarts and serve vegetarian and vegan food instead – and she found a niche in the market. (After all, wasn’t 2011 dubbed ‘year of the veg’ by a leading Berlin publication?)

On Saturday, the 20 seats in the little café fill up quickly, and most tables already have yellow paper signs marking them as reserved. Neatly set up and conscientiously labelled food is heaped across the counter encircling the kitchen, starting with a big plate of mini croissants. Clarissa herself can often be spied standing behind the counter wearing a t-shirt that shows off her brightly coloured tattoos.

Ohlàlà’s brunch spread emphasises French pastry classics, interpreting them in a vegan fashion: no egg, no butter. The croissants and pain au chocolat, made with margarine and soy milk, aren’t as delicate and flaky as conventional ones, but a dab of apricot marmalade fends off dryness.

The beginner’s mistake is to start by gobbling up the delicious, spongy-textured crêpes, soft mini-cupcakes and moist pain perdu (French toast) that greet you first on the food counter, and thus ruining your appetite for the savoury dishes to come. So keep things in Ordnung and aim for the seductive mini-quiches first: a choice of spinach, leek, aubergine and olive, or tomato and mustard fillings.

After you’ve pigged out on the baked goods, the main courses may feel like an afterthought. The shepherd’s pie-like hachis Parmentier and the two stews, ratatouille and blanquette de “veau” (soy cream-based mushroom ragout with textured soy protein instead of veal), were less interesting than the breakfast items. But the salads, especially the vinegary and garlicky green beans, brought balance to all that sweetness.

Still, all that pastry and sugar can be hard to handle for the inexperienced brunch-muncher – leave it to the French to be so sinful first thing in the morning and keep their wasp waists!