Like a Pig in Sh…..
For full disclaimer. What usually follows is a character-fully written preamble to set the scene on whatever place I’ve stumbled across. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. What is actually about to follow this prior warning, is actually a loving ode to an almighty piece of pork.
You see the German people; they love you and want to make you happy. And if there’s one thing they love more than satiated people, it’s succulent cuts of pig. I’d go as far as to say it’s a way of life in fact. And, in the case of Zur Letzten Instanz, they’ve been making people happy and (very) full since 1621.
The restaurant is Berlin’s oldest and stands as a testament to all that is great about traditional German cuisine. The name translates as ‘in the last instance’ and comes from when ‘guests’ at the nearby court came to settle their differences over a stein, “in the last instance”. Certainly, the welcoming attitude still continues to this day. Surrounded by medieval walls, the brick floor with wood paneling and exposed beams make you feel like little must have changed.
But you come for the food, not for classic German interior design. Zur Letzten Instanz is incredibly well known and recommended for one of its German culinary traditions – Eisbein; or Pork Knuckle. This isn’t just any old pork, however. They slow boil the whole knuckle in poaching liquor until it’s tender. Then roasting it off with malt syrup, rendering all of the delicious fat down. What is left is rich, succulent pork that falls off the bone with an outer layer of the sticky, lacquered syrup. Crackling perched on top like a salty bow for your porky present.
It’s served atop a pile of vivid red cabbage that’s sweet and deep with stock from the poaching. My eyebrows raised at strawberries replacing more common apple but they lend a fruity tang. I hear they sometimes use blueberries, but this strangely works just as well to cut through the richness of the pork.
This majestic piece of meat seems to continue relentlessly. You think you’ve finished and you find yourself relieved to turn the bone over to another meal worthy portion. It’s the kind of meal where you’re full long before you ever stop eating. Ours were accompanied by hearty steins of the refreshing local pilsner and a generous bowl of fried potatoes cuddling up to some bacon. It’s like a pork mecca.
There are starters too. As we order two cured meat and cheese boards, we were warned that two would be too much, even for five strapping lads, if we ordered the pork. So we settled on one. The waiter was right, it turned out. It was enough to show that there’s more here than just the pork, however. The usually unsung bread is one such thing. With a firm crust, soft inside and crunchy hazelnuts running through it, it was something I may, in fact, be singing about for some time.
The prices are very reasonable when you consider the bounteous portions, but come hungry. The Eirbein coming in at €17, or roughly £15, and is more than enough food for one sitting. It’s tricky to run up a bill of more than around £40 a head with alcohol and tip. Believe us, we tried. There’s even a beautiful beer garden, in case you’re not self-conscious and don’t mind being watched devouring a huge hunk of meat.
But it’s the pork. You feel it’s always been the pork. One of our group started sobbing half way through the meal, with pure happiness. (NB. It had nothing to do with the steins of beer). Ultimately that is the best testament one can pay to that tender, sticky, rich pile of German culture.
Zur Letzten Instanz
A Piggy Feast
When you’ve been operating since 1621, you’ve got to be doing something right. Zur Letzten Instanz is a pig lovers paradise, with homely portions and a level of expertise in traditional German dishes that only comes with years of passed down knowledge. Loosen your belt and prepare to feast.