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St. Bart: Pub grub done better

Jane Silver test drives Australian-owned Graefekiez hotspot St. Bart...

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Photo by Hannah Robinson

Lee Thompson is adamant that his Graefekiez restaurant St. Bart is not a British pub, and he’s right for several reasons. For one, nobody involved is actually British: Thompson himself is from Sydney, and his lean crew of chefs, bartenders and servers are a German-Antipodean blend. And although some dishes will prompt sighs of recognition from Brexpats, their cravings for brown ale, Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas will go unfulfilled. It’s more accurate to say this is the pub Brits wish they had back home: a cosy, noisy nook where locals congregate over drinks, snacks and excellent plates of food that’d be dirt-cheap in London and are a bargain for 2019 Berlin. A typical night sees nearly as many people eating around the bar as in the narrow dining room behind it, all of them in high spirits despite the sometimes long wait times. Many order the bacon sandwich, a beauty of a butty that stands up to the lorry-load of praise that’s already been heaped upon it. Starring thick grilled slices of homebaked white bread, generous rashers of back bacon from ubiquitous Kiwi butcher The Sausage Man Never Sleeps and homemade ketchup that’s vinegary enough to cut through the fat, it’s a meal in itself for just €7.

It’s one of just two constants on St. Bart’s menu (the second being the Scotch egg, coated in a pork mince that’s ground in-house). Other dishes rotate by season and whim. Right now the consensus favourite is the brick chicken (€15), a spatchcocked free-range bird that’s brined for 24 hours and cooked to a golden-brown crisp under, yes, a brick. The result is so moist and well-seasoned that it barely needs the butter, caper and herb sauce it comes with – although it sure doesn’t hurt.

You’ll want some veggies to pre-empt the meat sweats. Current options include an elegantly stacked salad of tart green apple and marinated kohlrabi (€6), al dente broccolini atop mild labneh cheese (€8) or whatever’s on the specials board; when we were there, it was charred Jerusalem artichokes with preserved lemon aioli. And leave room for their Sunday-only liquorice tart, a dense, pitch-black confection that cured our decades-long liquorice aversion in a single bite.

If there’s a nitpick, it’s that the wine list far outstrips the beer one – the selection of low-intervention eastern European varietals is lovely, and a hoppy ale or two on tap alongside the Kindl, Störtebeker and Potsdamer Stange would work wonders. Our only other concern is that this kind of blood, sweat and tears-type enterprise doesn’t tend to last long in Berlin without jacking up its prices or succumbing to coke-fuelled cynicism. But a year and a half in, at least, St. Bart is still firing on all cylinders – and you don’t need to be British, or even Australian, to appreciate the outcome.