June 24, 2018 Chris

La Lucha

By far the most progressive Mexican restaurant in Berlin, La Lucha is one of the most talked about places in town – with not only excellent food but what we say is Berlin’s BEST service! We talked to owner Max Paarlberg about how it came to be…

La Lucha isn’t your first gastro venture in Berlin. What other places where you involved with before and were you always in the hospitality business?

I have been in the hospitality business since I was 10 years old.

When my parents had their friends staying over from abroad, I charged them 1 pound per night to stay, provide a breakfast menu and an evening whisky menu (my parents’ best friend was an avid Scotch drinker), and serve breakfast with a tea towel draped over my arm.

My father is also in the hospitality business, and together we own a small 9 room luxury hotel in Amsterdam, and a Michelin-starred restaurant in a small town near Utrecht.

Before I opened La Lucha, I co-created the Chicha concept (Peruvian restaurant near La Lucha), and then I went on to open a Bourbon Whiskey bar called Bourbon Dogs.

 

 

So, what made you decide to open a Mexican restaurant?

 

I lived in Mexico in 2008 for a few years and fell in love with the country and its people. That fact, coupled with my observation that Berlin was seriously lacking good quality Mexican restaurants, led me to create La Lucha.

 

 

 

Your Mexican food at La Lucha is unlike anywhere else in the city. This was seemingly always the vision, but how did you go about achieving it on the creative front?

 

Of course, I needed a Mexican Head Chef to run the La Lucha kitchen. Mauricio Acosta is now the Head Chef of La Lucha, and when we opened we started with another Head Chef couple, from Mexico and England.

 

The way we have created the food concept is with myself giving conceptual direction, and simultaneously giving freedom to the Head Chef to create the flavours and presentation of the food.
I don’t get involved with the recipes, presentations and flavours of the food, I leave that to the Chef. I just give creative direction and let the kitchen team talents shine.

 

 

We honestly think that the service from your team is some of the absolute best we’ve received anywhere in Berlin and it reminded us very much of the high service standards in cities like London or New York. Was this very important to you from the start and HOW did you go about getting such a motivated, highly professional and friendly team – and ensure they stay like that?

 

Giving a high level of service doesn’t happen by accident. I am very service oriented, and still believe the outdated saying that “The customer is always right”, and I was very conscious to implement a very memorable style of service at La Lucha, and I am very happy about the outcome so far.

 

Of course we are not perfect and we make mistakes, but the whole team are completely dedicated to customer satisfaction of everyone who walks into our restaurant.

 

We really only have one rule if you work in service at La Lucha: Every customer leaves happy. This is in fact a rule, meaning that the front of house staff are responsible for this to happen. Not making every effort to make sure every customer they interact with leaves happy, would be breaking that rule.

 

This rule doesn’t need much enforcement, because the team tend to do this naturally, through the selection process of hiring our team, and through training we provide.

 

 

If you could only pick one plate to showcase La Lucha with, what would it be?

 

I would have to say our fish taco. It’s one of my favourite dishes in terms of pure flavour, and conceptually it demonstrates well what we are trying to do. It is in fact a fairly traditional,

 

Baja California style fish taco, except for the creamy sauce, which has some less typical ingredients such as ginger and soy sauce, creating an authentic taco experience, but with some new flavours that you might not expect in a classic Baja style fish taco on the streets of Baja California.

 

I am also very satisfied with our tortillas, which, for my taste, are some of the best I’ve tasted in or out of Mexico. Unfortunately, the tortilla industry in Mexico is dominated by a huge company owned by Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, meaning that the tortilla has become industrialised and optimised for cost and volume, not for quality and flavour.

 

Our tortillas are produced the ancestral way, grinding fresh, organic corn and pressing them into super flavourful tortillas.

 

 

Cocktails at La Lucha are also fantastic. It seems as though the customer is being educated in what they’re drinking, as perhaps Mezcals are not as well known here in Germany compared to elsewhere (which is a shame as they are wonderful!). How important is a drinks menu to the overall experience of a restaurant?

 

When I go out to eat, the beverage offering is not less important to me than the food offering. I go out to eat to have an experience, not just to get full, and I believe our customers share that lifestyle.

 

Unsurprisingly, going out to restaurants is my favourite pastime, and I always choose restaurants that put importance not only on their food concept, but also their beverage program. This is why I set out to create the largest agave spirit selection in Europe (we are in second place, we ran out of space to display bottles).

 

The idea behind the cocktail program, is that the drinks are at a high level of quality and creativity, but not nerdy and overly complex. I’ve created the bar concept with the idea that a world class bartender should be able to order with confidence, as well as my mother. That is why we also have a mojito on the menu, but make a damn good one!

 

 

 

The decor of La Lucha is bright, colourful, funky and fun. Not many places in Berlin would dare to do this. Who did you appoint to achieve this design and did you have any doubts about this more international style of decor in a city like Berlin, where many locals are used to less flair in restaurant design?

 

The restaurant design concept has been created by a design studio called Ett La Benn. They also created Chicha, and many other beautiful restaurants in Berlin and other German cities. I thought Kreuzberg was ready for something new in terms of design, and I didn’t want to blend in with every other nearby restaurant in terms of shabby design concepts.

 

 

What struggles did you encounter whilst setting up La Lucha?

 

Stuff breaking. Every day.

 

My advice to restaurateurs opening a new restaurant: buy high quality new equipment.

 

What are your future plans with La Lucha, or with new projects?

 

I am now in the process of opening a high-end seafood restaurant with an oyster bar. I can’t say more than that right now, but its going to be something completely new for Berlin, just like La Lucha was when we started.

 

 

Where do you like to eat, drink and relax in Berlin?

 

Mrs. Robinson was a phenomenal restaurant experience, as was Nobelhart & Schmutzig. I also like to go to Lode & Stijn.
Velvet is my favourite cocktail bar.

I’m not a big cafe person, I prefer to drink coffee in my home office.

 

Complete the following sentance: “For me, Berlin is…”

 

For me, Berlin is small. Thats what I like about it. You wave to people on the street, bump into people you know everywhere, it has a community feeling which I like. Berlin has a feeling of lawlessness which I also like (even though its just a feeling and not actually true). Berlin gives you the feeling that anything is possible as an entrepreneur.

 

Still drooling over those food photos? Us too! Be sure to check out La Lucha soon – we say it’s best enjoyed with a group of friends on a night out to sample lots of the menu, alongside some of their awesome drinks too!

 

 

 

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