Unique in its concept of bringing a (genuinely great!) fusion of street food from North Africa to the Middle East to Berlin, KLX – Koshary Lux is a small but colourful restaurant in Charlottenburg that will really offer tastes you won’t easily find elsewhere. With a strong focus on organic meat products and high quality seasonings to help make your journeys through Cairo, Beirut, Tunis or Marrakesh taste as delicious as possible, owner Michael Landeck really has a strong vision in mind. We sent him a few questions to find out how a German came to fall in love so much with this cuisine and share his passion with us all…
Michael, you’re a German but seriously passionate about the cuisine of North Africa and the Middle East. How did this love affair with this cuisine begin?
Well, officially I’m German but I hardly ever lived here. Due to the work of my dad, I grew up abroad (Nigeria, Libya, Indonesia, Spain and Egypt). Most of my life (19 years in total), I spent in Cairo/Egypt where I went to school and university, and worked for 10 years. I always call myself a hobby Egyptian. In addition to this, I also spent a year in Yemen as student.
I love (good) food in general but due to all the time I spent in the Middle East and North Africa, I developed a special passion for the very diverse and rich cuisine of the region.
Were you a chef before you started KLX?
Actually, I’m not a professional chef. I studied Political Science, Middle Eastern Studies in particular, and started my professional career in Marketing and PR in Egypt, working for both local and international agencies.
Whilst you clearly enjoyed the food, what made you decide to take the leap to making it yourself and serving it at cool street food markets like Bite Club and Street Food Thursday?
In 2011, my wife (she is half-Egyptian), my son and I moved to Berlin, where my wife and I set up a branch of an Egyptian private university. I always loved food/cooking and it was always my dream to leave office/agency work behind and open up a restaurant. Even while still in Cairo, I already started working on a business plan for a gastronomic concept.
After working in Berlin for two years, I finally decided to make my dream come true. I developed the concept for KLX – Koshary Lux, applied to Markthalle Neun/Street Food Thursday, got accepted and started participating at SFT in March 2015 and later on at Bite Club as well.
What was the transition like going from streetfood stall to restaurant?
From the start, it was my plan to open up a restaurant. We started with the stall/cart at Street Food Thursday, because I was (and still am) a fan of the event but also to create a buzz for our upcoming restaurant project. In June 2015, three months after our debut at SFT, we opened up our restaurant in Charlottenburg.
As we planned to open up a restaurant from the beginning, there was no real transition from street food stall to restaurant. Our concept – corporate identity/branding and menu – was already fully developed before we started participating at Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Neun.
We then used the cart at SFT to get the brand KLX – Koshary Lux out there (appear at caterings for SEEK Berlin fashion show, etc.) and worked on opening up the restaurant at the same time.
And what made you choose Charlottenburg as your chosen restaurant area rather than the other popular districts in Berlin?
It was not really a conscious decision to open up in Charlottenburg. If you’re looking for a good location for your restaurant, you to have to look for the right spot in various districts at the same time. Besides Charlottenburg, our search included Kreuzberg, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Schöneberg. By chance, we finally found our current location in Charlottenburg, which was good value for money compared to the other available locations we were able to take a look at.
To be honest, I was rather skeptical at first but my wife was optimistic and believed in the “first mover advantage (being the first of a kind in a specific area). In addition, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is the district we know best, as our first apartment, when we moved to Berlin, was on Kantstraße.
In the end, we were lucky to have chosen Charlottenburg as the location for our restaurant as it took off pretty much from the start and a lot of customers told us that they were so grateful that we opened in Charlottenburg and not in Mitte, Kreuzberg or Prenzlauer Berg.
With so many influences in your cuisine, it’s fair to say you have probably been inspired by talking to chefs and food vendors when visiting the countries too. Being German yourself, has language and translation been a struggle to get the right information on preparation methods from the Arabic / African people you have dealt with?
My inspiration comes from many different sources. Besides continuous sampling of food at street food stalls, restaurants and most importantly homes of family and friends in countries such as Egypt and Yemen, I have been buying many classic cookbooks on Middle Eastern and North African cuisine over the years. Many of these are available in English and sometimes even in German.
Language and translation hasn’t really been a problem, as I can speak Arabic halfway fluently and most of my family and friends in Egypt speak English and can therefore translate recipes, if required. In addition, you can find many classic Arabic recipes online in English, French and even German.
Typically, I develop recipes such as our very own version of Koshary (Egypt’s national dish) by researching a number of different recipes, asking friends and family as well as experimenting/tweaking the classic recipes. The final result is usually a mix and match of various different recipes, plus a little bit of non-traditional tweaking in order to add our own signature touch.
What are the main differences in actually cooking this sort of cuisine to more familiar European styles?
The main difference is most probably the excessive use of spices and spice blends. Cooking times and techniques sometimes also vary and tend to be strange to new European team members in our kitchen.
In Egypt for example, pasta such as the macaroni in Koshary always have to be cooked through – al dente is a no-go!
Other than that, I would say that overall there are not so many differences to the European style of cooking (and if you encounter some occasionally, they can be adapted relatively easy).
What are your favourite dishes on the menu at the moment, and why?
My favorite dishes, besides Koshary, on our current menu are the following:
This is our version of Saudi Arabia’s national dish: basmati rice with regional organic chicken breast, homemade Kabsa spice blend and raisins, cooked in tomato sauce, sprinkled with roasted almonds and served with homemade hot sauce. This dish originates from Yemen and is widely popular throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The spice blend with ground dried limes gives it its special flavor.
Our version of an Egyptian street food classic (usually served as mezze or in form of a sandwich) Organic chicken liver with green peppers, onions, red hot peppers, garlic and preserved lemon-tahina, served with short grain rice with yellow lentils. I used to hate German-style liver ever since I’ve been a kid till my wife introduced me to this Egyptian liver dish years ago. Ever since then I’m hooked. I had this for seven days straight a couple of weeks ago.
This is Tunisia’s most popular street food besides Lablabi and we traveled all the way to Tunis to master it. It consists of fried Peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and organic eggs cooked in spiced tomato sauce, topped with a fried organic egg and a pointed pepper, homemade harissa (chili) paste and homemade potato- and sweet potato chips. It’s been on our menu for quite a while now but it’s still one of my absolute favorites!
This is one of my very own creations which doesn’t but could exist in a North African/Arab country. For this dish; I have simply combined some of my all-time favorite ingredients.Oven-roasted eggplant with chickpeas, homemade herb tahina, harissa, KLX pistachio spice blend and our signature caramelized onions, on zaatar-sumac potatoes and organic Labna-sheep/goat feta cheese dip. It is both satisfying and filling, and simply delicious.
This is a Lebanese salad made out of cubed cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers, radish and red onions with roasted crunchy pita bread. This salad is normally made with a classic Arabic lemon-olive oil dressing. However, our version comes with labna dressing with fresh herbs and sprinkled with dukkah (spice blend with roasted wheat and sesame). My entire family is addicted to this salad!
Many people dream of having their own restaurant, but tell us – what is the reality of it?
It really is a lot of work and clearly nothing for the faint hearted. You have to be prepared to work long hours and to constantly evolve.
Due to the high costs involved, it’s not easy to make a living with a restaurant, even if it’s popular.
However, if you’re passionate about food (which I clearly am) it may be tough, but it’s also extremely rewarding at the same time. Nothing beats the feeling when someone tells you how much he/she loves your food/shop!
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome to make the business work?
The biggest challenges are
a) how to make a decent profit that will allow you to live of the business (while not sacrificing quality, pay fair salaries and adhere to correct book keeping), and
b) to find good and reliable staff.
You can have a great revenue and still not make enough profit. The right pricing is crucial. We were far too cheap at the beginning as we were afraid not to scare off customers with high prices.
However, it is very important to make the pricing in a way that it allows you to make enough profit. Otherwise, you will not make any money, even if your restaurant is packed most of the time.
Good and reliable staff is hard to find, especially in the kitchen. Actually, the situation, at least in Berlin, is getting worse ever since we opened back in 2015. This is why we spent about six months with the paper work to get a chef from Egypt to work with us. Luckily we finally managed to get a work visa/permit for him and in December 2018 he flew in from Egypt to join our team.
Some restauranteurs in Berlin dealing with a usually spicy or heavily-seasoned cuisine tend to make everything milder to suit the German’s palette. Is this something you do too, or do you prefer to cook with a more authentic level of spice/seasoning regardless of if some people won’t be used to it?
We don’t believe in toning down our dishes to suit the German’s palette. However, we are creative and love adding our own touch. Therefore, we tweak most of the classic North African/Middle Eastern recipes or create our own dishes inspired by the cuisines of the region.
How do you manage to find your high-quality ingredients for all these Moroccan, Egyptian, Tunisian, Israeli and more dishes here in Berlin?
Luckily it is quite easy is to find all the special high-quality ingredients we need. The Harb GmbH in Tiergarten offers all of these special ingredients such as tahini, pomegranate molasses, date syrup, rosewater, dried limes, etc. in superior quality. They are our favorite supplier and I have a very friendly relationship with Oliver, who recently took over the management of the business from his father.
Many of your meat items are listed as organic, which is still quite rare to see in a restaurant in Berlin – presumably because of the higher costs. How important is this to you, and do you feel this is more relevant with your specific cuisine to help separate you from similar cuisine styled restaurants where perhaps lots of cheap, factory meat is used and the difference in quality is clearly tasted?
All our animal products are sourced from controlled organic producers (Demeter quality). We don’t use these because we want to separate ourselves from our direct competition, but due to ethical reasons.
We are very keen not to support factory farming and believe that properly reared animals will simply produce a better tasting product – be it milk, cheese, eggs or meat.
Which places do you like to eat and drink in Berlin when not busy working?
I’ve always been a foodie and ever since I’m in the business myself my nerdyness has even increased – I’m a sucker for quality! I still love our own food and eat it regularly. Therefore, I mostly indulge in other type of cuisines when I eat and drink in Berlin.
Here are some places I love to go when I got some free time: For food: Tommy’s Burger Joint, Udagawa which is Japanese, Son Kitchen (Korean-Berlin fusion food), Madame Ngo for a Pho soup, Lon Men’s Noodle House, Standard Serious Pizza and when working at Street Food Thursday I also like to eat at Big Stuff BBQ and Bone.
If it is a really special occasion, I also enjoy Nobelhart und Schmutzig.
Complete the following sentence
Berlin is special place to each of us for different reasons… what is yours? For me, Berlin is… “a place where everyone can be the person they want to be!”