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April 2005

Lunch Pads

City center spots for a bite to eat

There are a lot of places to eat in Munich, I know. But for some reason, every time I’m in the town center and try to think of somewhere to go for a small bite to eat at midday, I come a cropper. It’s fine in summer—grab a Leberkässemmel and a seat at the Viktualienmarkt beer garden, no probs. But when the weather’s not so hot? We set out to find the perfect places to lunch...

It’s taken its time—but the German answer to all these American coffee/bagel bars has finally arrived. Aran (Celtic for bread), at Theatinerstrasse 12, is one of a small chain of sandwich and coffee shops that is slowly spreading throughout Bavaria. So what, you may wonder, sets it apart from other, faceless chains? The answer—thick wedges of German bread, topped with one of a choice of spreads, ranging from wild curry to artichoke and tuna or feta and avocado. The slabs are served on white porcelain bread boards, and cost between € 2.80 and € 4.50, depending on the size of your slice and the topping you choose. There are also a couple of paninis on offer, for those who don’t do the dark bread thing, as well as a range of pastries and girl-size sweet nibbles. Drinks include a variety of organic juices and the usual range of coffees as well as Unertl Weissbier and a selection of wine. And, if you’re taken by it all, you can always buy a sack of coffee beans, a bread basket, a porcelain sandwich board or even a loaf to re-create the whole thing in your own home. The bar also sells a range of cook- and travel books, including the entire Jamie Oliver collection. Though the atmosphere is on the whole very pleasant—think lots of chunky orange candles and soothing French chanson in the background—it’s not the sort of place you’re going to want to linger. Yes, the big drawback with Aran is that it has no seats, bar one leather rail to prop yourself up against, although that’s too far away from the large wooden table to make eating feasible. Furniture problems aside, it’s not a bad bet for a quick lunch on the run.

It may look way too cool from the outside, and its location may scream “pricey,” but Bar Comercial in the Fünf Höfe (Theatinerstrasse 18) is well worth a lunchtime stop. Honestly. Assuming, that is, that you don’t mind that “goldfish bowl” feeling—the only seats available are often the ones down the side, where customers sit in a row, their noses pressed up to the glass watching shoppers go by, or vice versa. As for the food, Comercial offers a selection of toasted sandwiches, including the pastrami and sauerkraut special, for the extremely fair price of between € 2 and € 4.50. Fillings are plentiful and tasty, and it’s also worth checking out the specials board. This can prove somewhat difficult for those who do end up sitting in the goldfish bowl, as you are not only well out of sight of the rest of the bar, the specials board, the staff … you get the idea, but it is also so narrow that it makes it very tricky both for you to get out, and for waitresses to get in and serve you. Makes you wonder who in their right mind would design a bar in such a ridiculous shape.

Another Fünf Höfe hit—which, again, may not look entirely “accessible” for anyone other than Munich’s beautiful young things, is Café Mirabelle (Kardinal-Faulhaber-Strasse 11). But brave the trendy exterior, and you’ll really be pleasantly surprised. As well as a number of sandwiches (for between € 4 and € 6) you can also snack on a delicious piece of quiche, with a touch of salad for € 4.50. Daily-changing set lunches are also very reasonable—we had the choice of a mixed salad or soup to start, followed by beef tortellini or a goats’ cheese salad, and hot cherries and vanilla ice cream to finish, with both options costing € 7.90. It isn’t exactly the most laid-back of places—the staff are somewhat Munich old school (i.e. a bit “off”)—but there’s a nice choice of simple, bistro-style food and a pleasant outside terrace.

The only reason I came across the above three bars is because I decided it was high time I tried something different from my usual—Bar Centrale at Ledererstrasse 23. I shouldn’t say it, because this place is busy enough as it is, without attracting more publicity, but this has to be Munich’s number one city center lunch spot. Yes, it’s quite a hip bar by night. And by day. But it’s also quite a genuine, friendly place, with an emphasis on quality. Sandwiches, like the staff, are Italian and range from piadinas (Italian flat breads filled with scrumptious ham and cheese, then toasted) to the better-known focaccia and panini—all of which are quite delicious and cost just a couple of euros, depending on your choice of bread and filling. There is also a range of pasta dishes on offer throughout the day, but if you take my advice, you’ll stick to the sandwich and leave yourself space for a slice of the bar’s delectable (and I mean, delectable) chocolate cake. There again, you could skip the sandwich and just lunch on chocolate cake...

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