Katzenjammers was the second place we visited for the blog. It had already been a personal favourite for a number of years. Reading that post again, it’s easy to see the blueprint before it was fully fleshed out, but it’s also quite amatuer. Those early posts had a tone of a naïve, Peter Parker-esque, over-enthusiastic schoolkid writing a “What I did on my summer holiday” report. Our Katzenjammers review, which is somehow still our third most read post for the site, crawled so that future writings could run. The good news is in the years since that publication the expertise and writing ability has improved. We have progressed. Happily, so has Katzenjammers. The menus have expanded. The reputation has grown. The website now has a catchphrase: London’s coolest Bierkeller. To us, this was a perfect enough excuse to get down to Borough Market again.
I got lucky once or twice and came here just as they opened and was the only one in the place and my goodness; a deliciously hushed, library like atmosphere. The waitresses says hi as you walk in. The aroma of an active kitchen fills the room. Frying and browning and the dense tang of sauerkraut is in the air. The bar itself is a gorgeous spread of on tap beers. You’d have to have the liver of Richard Burton to get through ’em all. If they aren’t German, they certainly have the German seal of approval! The very first time I came here – in 2015 – the menu was one double sided sheet. The beers have expanded so much that they have their own drinks menu and it’s so extensive it’s more of an accordion type item.
“. . . The cheese and bacon pretzel [is just] damn naughtier. . .”
More on variety; the first couple of casual times we came here there were two sausage choices. Now that’s expanded to seven, amongst them Frankfurters, and seasoning variants like Paprikawurst. This leaves options as a sausage platter as a meal in itself. The food menu has expanded most fluently and competently. It also makes finally choosing a dish that much harder, too! And last time, we bitterly lamented the lack of meat free options. Presumably responding to trends, now there is veggiewurst and vegan schnitzels, with a few other things to try: Mac and cheese, and most curious my eye is Spatzle; Bavarian pasta cooked with cheese and onions, or with cheese and bacon. Can’t tell if it’s the cheese, or the onions, or the bacon, or the pasta but something about that sounds great. . .
For starters, we have a few breads. The pretzel with cheese is just amazing. That cheese smell is so rich in the air. The same texture in the mouth as a cheese toastie but there’s a few more things going on. It’s heavily salted for instance, making the dough stand out more. The mayo – perhaps not a surprise – gives a lovely mellow fat feel to the bread on cheese, with the salted bread and the fat of the mayo, it works like a fully fatty butter spread. The cheese and bacon pretzel gives you more of the same but just damn naughtier. The bacon doesn’t add that much apart from the literal contexts of brined schwine. So it’s salty pork, on bread, with cheese. Satisfying to say the least!
And if you haven’t tried the on tap Floris Framboise then take our word for it that you should. Raspberry flavoured beer that is smooth and velvety. Sweeter than a typical beer but gentler and less candied than a cider. Making it the best of both worlds. A gently sweet and velvety beer. With a nice little sharpness and tang to compliment that silk. Served in a traditional litre Steiner for £12. It tastes like a fruit preserve. The menu says it has a ‘tart finish’, which I can’t disagree with. It’s like a very fancy, complicated Strongbow dark fruit. A gorgeous bouquet that reminds me of a fruit preserve in liquid form. The Mobru is cut from the same cloth but is far tartier, tangier, a deeper taste, if that makes sense? It’s even peppery. Oh my, divine.
In other drinks, there’s the ABK dunkle. For those of you that like a little sweetness with their drink will certainly appreciate this. It looks like a coke-Pepsi, it’s a thin fluid but it has that wheaty heaviness behind it too. The caramel notes really take the sting out of the malt. You get a beautifully blend of both worlds. Truth be told I’m a little too old to want to run the gauntlet of their entire beer roster so I’ll just take it with a vote of confidence on the strength of these two that they certainly know what they’re doing.
“. . .The cheese is a classic German type, a buttery fat. Mellow and smooth. . .”
For a main meal, we also ordered sausages with pomme frites, and chose the paprika Wurst. For the optional side I chose the sauerkraut. (£10.95). The plate comes to the table, smelling herby, and deliciously pungently. The meat of the paprika Wurst is far, far tougher, and redder, smokier and thicker. The texture makes me think it wants to pick a fight with my knife. A lot more like pepperoni. This is a lot more cured and spiced. Glossier too, and tougher to chew, but the flavour is far, far more fattening. Again, the mustard rounds itself off, tomato ketchup helps the flavours, too. That sugary taste keeping the fat at bay. There’s clearly a quality there just as much as there was in the Mighty Herman’s ze German. The skin is lightly, delicately crispy, and the meat is soft and tender; I poked my fork with it a few times just to see the teeth of it quickly sink in and out; so tender. There’s plenty of salt and pepper seasoning in there. The sides have had some care and attention too. The sauerkraut is vinegary-velvety, so soft and light and tangy in the mouth. Like a savoury candy floss mouth feel, stringy, heavily acidic though. The fries are a touch pale, but hot enough to make me believe they’ve come straight from the fryer. The mustard they serve is traditional Bavarian mustard, made with brown sugar, which compliments those spicy notes in the food so incredibly well. Heat wise it is moderate, so go hell for leather with a slather of it. Helps to round out the tang of the acidic vegetables and the fat of chips.
The red cabbage falls apart at the fork like shredded duck or pulled pork. It’s a lot heavier than the sauerkraut, but truth be told, I don’t know how to take it. The bitter, vinegary taste doesn’t endear itself to me. I saved most of the mustard for it. That spice making the sourness more palatable. That heat gives the sourness a bit of a fight taste wise. There’s a push-pull. This is most likely me moaning more than a failure on Katzenjammers part. The mustard however only carries it so far however.
I wanted to order the sausage platter but without knowing which sausage is specifically which I can’t really judge anything, or I could guess which one is which but if you’re doing that then why not order the lamb shank and review it for being a pizza? So anyways, instead we also ordered a Bayerische wurst und käseplatte, which is beautifully photogenic German style charcuterie board. It’s ideal to pick or nibble at if you’re peckish but not fully hungry. The cheese is a classic German type, a buttery fat. Mellow and smooth. The meat selection,
Black Forest schwarzer Wald ham and salami, is a fleshy, smoky affair. Three different types of slices of sausage slices, thinly cut and kept at room temperature. The rye bread is a little, ahem, preserved. Almost with a seitan like texture. Half of them had a lovely toasted crust which redeemed them. The other half were either stale or left out too long or something. It was also weirdly peppery. And instantly falls to pieces when you smear the cheese on top. The salad was blanched with some sort of honey-mustard reduction which counters the herby greens with a little acidic spice. The pickle selection is eye watering. A soffriti of slices of celery and onion and carrot. But gah, it just is too strong of little ole me. Reassuringly, there’s a small pot of grapes to take the sting out. But that hard rye bread? Disastrous. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and say it was simply a bad batch but consider it the last of the doubt.
It’s been said before on this blog, and we’ll say it again. German food is criminally underrated. No one does sausage like Germans. No one quite has a handle on beer like Germans. No one knows how to salt chips like the Germans. Here and Herman ze German both salt their chips so, so good. And how is this for perfect German humour? Merriam-Webster tells us the name Katzenjammer translates into “Hungover!” If you like beer and meat, where on earth are you when you’re not here?
Drawbacks? Half the tables are reserved and more than more than once, on more than one occasion I’ve seen people get moved around and it ends up being a bit of a musical chairs kinda thing. Not really sure what the alternative or the solution to that problem would be other than to make it fully private or just work with walk ins, neither of which are particularly pragmatic. Also, I have to make a very valid complaint, more than a few flies congregated around the table. Never had to complain about flies, even when I review open markets and festivals. Guys, if you have to lose a bit of face by installing one of those ultra violet lights that zap the fuckers then lose face. We would hate for you to lose your top score Hygiene Rating. Having said that I did nail a couple of the suckers with one of the menus. So there’s my testosterone out of the way for another day.
My cohort inquires:
“What percentage is the schnapps?”
“Twenty per cent.”
“Wow, that is strong!”
“Well you’re the one drinking a Steiner .”
Bartender banter aside, Schnapps are a perfect nightcap. Which Katzenjammers do a large variety of flavours of. Thirteen, to be precise. They are as good as ever. Although my cohort says the chocolate flavour tastes exactly like a Baileys. The lemon schnapps smells and tastes exactly like limcello. The vanilla flavour comes milky in colour and mouth feel, like a lighter Baileys. Carries that sweetness and creamy feel. Nevertheless, if we’re talking strength the redcurrant is silky but strong with a capital “holy fucking shit that’s strong!” Whereas the fruit flavoured ones taste like Sourz, but with far, far better flavouring, they come on strong and don’t give up. That flush, that warms up your body. If you want to know, that’s actually your blood pressure spiking. And when that happens it really is time to call it a night.
Lamentably, the noise level really is something to take into account. It’s a closed off environment with lots of stone and wood. Add in other patrons and you’re halfway there to a Motorhead concert. The last time we were here to review the place, in exasperation, we drained the Steiner and used the glass as a makeshift megaphone to yell over the tinny din. Okay, it’s not a drinking anecdote that matches one of Harris’ or O’Toole’s but it does exemplify how noisy this place is. But on the other hand, do you want an authentic bierkeller experience or don’t you? What do you want them to do? Put up soundproof foam? The plus side is that it gives a better atmosphere. Indeed, View London said ‘it’s the atmosphere at Katzenjammers that raises this bar above that of the usual watering holes. So guess it’s a trade off at the end of the day. If like us you’re here primarily to eat, come here for a lunch or a weekday. When we review places we tend to come at less busy times, where things are quieter and emptier, just easier to focus that way. It makes it so much more enjoyable. Perhaps your tolerance for loudness is a little more than ours though, perhaps you’re coming here for a party anyway. It’s a place of two extremes, successful either as quiet library or the deafening roar of a party. That bipolar extremity came a lot more into sharp focus when we got into conversation with a local. Because of that, it wasn’t until recently someone informed us there are traditional Bavarian bands that play downstairs.
‘Hold on, there’s a downstairs?’
‘Uh yeah mate, they get full on Bavarian bands in.’
We’re going to come here again, aren’t we?