ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Sausage Trilogy part III: Katzenjammers

Concluding the BV silly sausage season, I thought it might be an idea to let the professionals take the reins and review a place that specialises in all things sausagey.

Of course, there aren't really all that many sausage-oriented restaurants around, but one bold exception is Katzenjammers, a German bierkeller close to London Bridge station where you can drink authentic Bavarian beers and enjoy a range of traditional sausages from the region.

Located down a fairly steep flight of steps from Southwark street's Hop Exchange - in what may or may not have once been the site of the legendary Becky's Dive Bar - Katzenjammers is owned by the chaps who run the New Wheatsheaf pub next door, and while the basement look and feel is similar to the 'Sheaf, what's on offer is very, very different.

With long wooden benches and continentally-accented bar staff dressed in Lederhosen (they may technically be Eastern European rather than German but it doesn't shatter the illusion) it does capture the bierkeller atmosphere, and you can even order your beer in litre steins.

One thing that isn't typically German is the lack of table service - you order from the bar, and about half the customers seem to just be in there for a few beers.

Das Bier

Cards on the table, I'm not the biggest fan of German beer generally. I find the range of styles just a bit uninspiring and I've long argued that the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) stifles creativity in their brewing industry rather than preserving quality.

A little piece of Bavaria, buried in a Southwark basement
That said, there's more here than just Becks and Holsten Pils.

Keg German beers on offer include Weißbierbrauerei Hopf (5.3%), a typically cloudy hefeweizen with notes of clove, and Paulaner 'Munchener Dunkel' (5.0) - a dark lager from one of the larger breweries in Bavaria.

Kaltenberg Pils (4.8%) is fairly standard yellow Eurofizz, and probably not the best advert for German lager out there, but to add a little variety, Brabandere 'Rosarda' (4.3%) is a fruit beer with mixed berries, imported from Belgium, that resembles Ribena.

Yes, it's a shame there's no German cask beer, but then that's uncommon even in most of Germany. The bottled beer list looks impressive, and there are some rare German wines too, though this really isn't the sort of place you'd want to be seen drinking them, ironically.

Das Essen

The flagship dish, as you might expect, is the Sausage Platter (£12.75) , offering no less than five different types of German sausage atop a massive pile of either sauerkraut or red cabbage.

Yes, it's a platter of sausages
Trying to work out which sausages you've been given can be a challenge as the selection can vary from day to day, but I like to think I identified them all correctly. (If I didn't I'll go to the German embassy and admit to being a shit food writer, how about that?)

So, first up, and easily identifiable, your reliable Frankfurter - pinkish, smoky with a smooth, consistent texture. You know, for many years I believed I didn't like Frankfurters, but this was entirely down to the slimy ones in a tin that people liked to boil in their own brine when I was a child. Things have clearly moved on in Frankfurt since then.

Then there's the reliable Bratwurst. You know what to expect here, a big German penis of a sausage, but with a subtler flavour profile. Good and meaty, and benefits from a bit of mustard or sauerkraut.

Moving on to the thinner Paprikawurst, we find a far bigger whack of flavour. It's like a wiry little Teutonic chorizo and I'd happily eat it all day.

There's one non-German contender, the thin, twisty Rohpolnische from Poland. With its coarse texture and salami-like pockets of fat, it's tasty enough, if a little unmemorable.

But the best sausage on the plate, by a goose-stepped kilometre, is the mighty Bockwurst. Thick, solid and delicious, it resists the penetrating cleavage of the knife before finally surrendering its full-on sausagey goodness.

Bockwurst bursts in the mouth releasing insanely intense flavours. It's extremely smoky, it's extremely salty, there's heat, there's oiliness and it's fabulous, basically. Wunderbar.

The platter comes without any kind of carbohydrate which might make it ideal for Atkins Dieters, but for most folk it seems a little unbalanced. Maybe you're supposed to have beer instead of bread/rice/potato?!?

Pretzel, Schnitzel, Sauerkraut-zel
There's an awful lot of sausage there, and if you can't manage the platter, other options include any two sausages with frites for £8.25, a single sausage in a bun with sauerkraut, onions and mustard for £5.75 and currywurst - bratwurst chunks served with curry ketchup, frites and salad (£7.95).

Die Nicht-Würstchen

There are some dishes on the menu that don't include any kind of sausage. For example, you could start with a soft pretzel, covered with gooey cheese and bacon bits, and tremendous value at only £2.30.

If you really want a non-sausage main course you could opt for a Schnitzel. I've always dismissed Schnitzels (and their French cousins Escalopes) as belonging to the lower order of completely pointless foods. Bland, dry, breadcrumby - a menu option for the entirely unadventurous.

While it wasn't brilliant, Katzenjammers' Jäger Schnitzel (£9.25, with frites and salad) is a better dish than I anticipated. It comes in a thick sauce with lots of mushrooms, though I'd still argue it's a waste of good pork.

I'd have liked a lot more sauce and more fries to dip in it, but then I am the anti-schnitzel, so I probably would.

Another very traditional German dish on the menu is the Munchener Schweinbraten, consisting of slices of roast pork in a dark beer sauce, served with potato dumplings and the ubiquitous red cabbage.

It's a very hearty plateful for £9.95 and with plenty of sauce to go with the fluffy, crispy dumplings, it's a definite winner for me. I just wish I'd ordered a dunkel to go with it as that would have brought out the richness of the dark beer in the dish. Some crackling would have been nice too, but then that might be me being too English again.

The place is open every day from midday to 11 PM, though I suspect the kitchen closes at 10.

So, what do we think?

Prices are reasonable and portions are large. Two people can eat extremely well and have a couple of beers each for under £50 and for this part of Central London, that's good value indeed.

The big long tables and slightly unusual theme make it an ideal party venue (there's plenty of flavours of Schnapps to be downed by competitive drinkers) though it's possibly not the sort of place you'd want to be eating and drinking in on a very regular basis unless you're really into this sort of thing.

I've been here a couple of times now, with an old workmate (who was impressed) and with Mrs B-V (who wasn't).

Despite my biased views on keg lager and Schnitzelled meat, I'm a fan, and next time I have to organise a fun meal out for a big group, I'm pretty sure we'll be coming here.

Oh, and if you're still wondering what 'katzenjammer' means and can't be bothered to fuck off to Google Translate... drink too much lager and schnapps, and you might just wake up with one!


Where to find it...

Katzenjammers
24 Southwark Street,

Borough,
SE1 1TY (map

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