British restaurateurs abroad – how Germans fell in love with fish & chips and cream teas

Over the last decade there has been a significant rise in the number of British people choosing to move abroad, with an estimated 4.7 million UK citizens currently living overseas. Ever wondered what it’s like to open a restaurant business abroad? We caught up with three British restaurateurs who all have one thing in common: they have succeeded in selling British cuisine in Germany.

Scottish Mogwai-musician Barry Burns and his wife Rachel opened their bar Das Gift in the hip district of Neukölln in Berlin in December 2010 after stumbling across the premises while Rachel was looking for an artist’s studio. They had dreamt of living abroad in mainland Europe and, after doing some research, settled on Berlin. The couple was certain that they wanted to open a bar with “a big element of Scottishness in it” as Rachel calls it – and their menu aptly named “Das Gegengift” meaning “the antidote” makes sure to let that Scottishness shine through. You can sample Scotch pancakes with lemon curd at weekend breakfasts and award-winning MacSween haggis, Stornoway Black Pudding or their famous mac and cheese, which has been enjoyed by fellow Berliner and former R.E.M. frontman, Michael Stipe, on two occasions, in the evening. Whisky, small batch gins and Scottish ales are also on the drinks menu.

Rachel and Barry Burns have managed to successfully establish their British export by bringing something new to a foreign country, but integrating themselves at the same time. With regards to life and work in Germany, Rachel says: “We felt it would be wrong to rip out the bar and the décor because the bar already had a character and a history. It felt important to integrate ourselves.” Without a doubt, the couple have added to the local scene in Berlin. Their unique jukebox, for instance, boasts mixes compiled by an array of creatives such as Robert Smith from The Cure, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Teenage Fanclub, David Cross, Susan Philipsz and is certainly worth a visit.

Fellow Brit John Bywater also chose Berlin to sell another famous British export – fish and chips. His restaurant has been awarded by the German fine foods magazine Der Feinschmecker and German Michelin-star chef Sascha Stemberg also joined forces with Bywater’s business during the Eat Berlin Food Festival 2017. John Bywater, originally from Southampton, had been travelling to Berlin back and forth for ten years until he decided it was time to move there permanently. He was looking for a niche in the market and his very own love for fish and chips encouraged him and his business partner Thomas Forcher to open up Der Fischladen in Berlin. Even though he emphasises that it is important to adjust to your local market and has done so by adding traditional Berlin curry sauce and sourcing the fish locally from breeders based in the German capital, his fish and chips are traditionally served in a newspaper and the batter is specially imported from Britain. Bywater remarks that there is a growing British expat community who simply craves home grown comfort food. His tips for running a successful restaurant business abroad:

1. Believe in the concept you have and live it every day.

2. Listen and be prepared to change and evolve.

3. Adjust to the market you are in. A “chippy” exactly like in Britain would not work as well in the German market.

4. Social media is key: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. Nowadays, everyone checks out everything online before they go to a restaurant.

John Bywater’s concept seems to have worked: John’s business has established itself as a firm favourite amongst Brits and Germans alike in the German capital.

British cuisine and lifestyle is also the selling point for Munich’s Victorian House that was established in 1991 and is run by Jonathan Phelps and his German business partners Uwe Lindner and Tobias Karl Graf von Woizik. The trio originally met on board the Queen Elizabeth II where they held management positions and decided to sell the British dream on the German mainland, too. While eating scones and clotted cream (sourced from a Devonshire farm) and sipping on a cup of Earl Grey tea, you could really forget that you are sitting in Bavaria’s capital and not a living room in Mayfair. Since their opening, Victorian House has constantly been expanding due to its huge success. Even Stella McCartney decided to launch one of her new fragrances in the establishment and it is easy to see why: it really is a home from home and offers British style, taste and elegance. Phelps and his partners’ business which counts six locations in Munich has now also opened an online shop housing everything from exquisite British silverware to traditional shortbread as well as a new programme entitled “Kunst und Genuss” (“Art and culinary treats”), which offers breakfast or traditional afternoon tea along with a tour through Munich’s most loved museums.

This is a guest post from freelance journalist Beatrice Clark. She has written for Vogue, Glamour and Vanity Fair, among others, and has spent the past 15 years living in France, England and Scotland. She is currently based in Berlin and is always on the hunt for the perfect Eggs Benedict.

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