‚Äú Stresemannstra√üe 374, 22761 Hamburg, Tel.: 040 89963100 ‚Äě
When someone suggests a restaurant it's always a good idea to find out why they chose it before you make ANY comment about the place. I live in fear that I'll burst out laughing and launch into a witty but rather cutting assassination of a restaurant only to discover that the place is A - owned by an uncle/sister/close friend of my host or hostess; B - the place they held the wake for her father/grandmother/favourite Labrador; C - the host/hostess's absolutely favourite restaurant in the whole-wide-world.
So I was pleased that my slightly snide asides about the d√©cor were not made to Annette - the colleague who kindly invited 3 of us to go for dinner when I was last in Hamburg. We later learned that Graceland was the venue for her wedding dinner so it's a very good job I kept my fat mouth shut and good thing the food was excellent so I was able to be very effusive about that.
Our party consisted of Annette from the Hamburg office, myself and Alison from the Manchester office and a chap called Mike who had been teaching us about Project Management all day. It was intended to be a girly night out but we didn't have the heart to leave the old boy sitting in his room at the hotel so we invited him along.
Firstly you might wonder why there's a restaurant in a hidden corner of Hamburg that's named after the home of the late-great Elvis Presley. Secondly you'll probably be thinking that the deep fried peanut-butter and jelly sandwich MUST be on the menu - but you'd be wrong. It turned out that the owner of the restaurant loves Elvis and all things Southern (in the sense of Southern USA) and has, somewhat amazingly, managed to register the website address www.graceland.de Now I would have expected a lot of corporate lawyers in expensive suits and big hats to have stopped that happening but it's true, he got the address. The food is Caribbean and black-southern US style. Not that nasty Tex-Mex, much more of a Florida-Louisiana-Tennessee type feel (apologies - my US geography is really lousy so if that's a daft description forgive me).
Where is the restaurant? I wish I had a clue. All I can really say is 'half way from our factory to Annette's house' which doesn't help you at all as you don't know either of those places. It's not central - I'm sure of that because there were carpet warehouses and industrial-looking buildings around the area. The website didn't give me a lot of clues either but a bit of googling found me this address - Stresemannstra√üe 374, Hamburg, 22761 as well as the information that it's in the Altona district of the city and the nearest station is Holstenstra√üe which is served by the trains S11, S21, and S31. So there you go - dead easy.
We arrived by car and if Annette hadn't known what she was doing I don't think any of us could have found the restaurant. It's tucked behind another restaurant and set amidst some small businesses. The car park is tiny and was almost full even though there were few people in the restaurant. It's a 'drive in - back out' car park without the space to turn around.
Annette had told us the restaurant was 'South American' - cue my fears about 'animal on a stick' style dishes. I've been to Brazil and Argentina and I know that a meal's not a meal without half a cow on a plate. If you are lucky, it'll be both dead and cooked. So I was nervous about finding anything to eat because I don't 'do' meat. On arriving and seeing the big alligator sign and the name Graceland outside, I was puzzled. This didn't sound very South American and it turned out that what Annette meant was Southern USA. So one fear out of the way and another quickly replacing it - 'Oh my, we've been brought to Hamburg's answer to TGI Fridays - get me out of here'.
We entered the restaurant, left our coats and took a good look round the room. It looked - forgive me village halls everywhere - like a village hall decked up for a barn dance. There were chequered table-cloths everywhere. The walls were painted an unfortunate shade of terracotta orange - the type that you can never get to cover evenly. My sister had it in her bedroom for a few years and it never looked right. I guess it represented adobe-mud walls but fortunately they had the sense to keep the lighting very low to reduce the impact of the paint although making it hard to read the menu. The ceiling had what I assume must have been a large skylight which had been covered by hand-painted sheets. Actually let me just retract the village hall analogy - this looked a lot like my school assembly hall when we decked it out in parachutes and camouflage netting for the sixth-form dance (some advantages at least for being in an area much populated by the army).
The restaurant was 80% empty - but it was a Tuesday night so that's perhaps understandable. We took our seats and looked at the menus. The waiter - who had one of the strangest haircuts I've seen since the mid-1980s, shaved on the sides and the back and long on the top - took our drinks order and brought us some bread before returning to take the food orders.
The menu is in German but bizarrely the names of the dishes are in English. I've commented before that I'm pretty much 'fluent in food and drink' but lacking in anything else that might be useful (I can do a pretty good impression of a Lufthansa stewardess asking 'anything to eat or drink' in German but I'd struggle to find the railway station). The good news was that there was plenty of fishy stuff to choose from although any proper vegetarian would have been quite restricted for choice. The full menu is available on the website if you really want to know what they've got but there's plenty of choice in meat and fish dishes and not so much for vegetarians.
The restaurant's motto is "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again" and if you are still reading at the end of the review you can test whether you correctly identified the source of that quote. As a hint, it's nothing to do with Elvis but it IS southern. But true enough, you'd need a big appetite to go hungry at Graceland.
For starters I was going to have Key West Shrimp on sugar cane and spicy mango sauce but when the waiter described it, it sounded too much like a Chinese restaurant crab claw and I was put off. So instead I ordered 'Spicy Cuban black bean soup'. Alison took the interestingly-named 'Bermuda mini-triangles with chilli glaze and tropical fruit salsa' and Mike went for the 'Famous Graceland Chixx Stixx'. Annette took a pass on the starters - she'd been before and obviously knew how big the dishes were. To put those dishes into context, the soup was just under Euro5, the chixx stixx (oh dear - too many xxxxx) were Euro7 for half a dozen and the triangles were just Euro5.50 despite being stuffed with prawns.
For main courses we all ordered fish or sea-food. I had the Key Largo crispy shrimp, Alison went for the 'Surfin' Sunshine' Mahi-mahi (I think because she liked the name - I mean Mahi Mahi not Surfin Sunshine - jeez, where do they get these names?) and Mike had the Catfish. Annette - remember, the only one who'd been before and the only one who understood the menu - ordered Jambalaya which meant I was humming The Carpenters song that starts 'Jumbalaya, Crawfish Pie' for most of the eveing.
The dishes ranged from Euro12.60 for the catfish up to around Euro15 for the prawns and mahi mahi. We also ordered a bottle of white wine at a very reasonable Euro15 per bottle, as well as some fizzy water.
When the food arrived we couldn't help but wonder if they'd brought the main courses instead of the starters. Everything was enormous. The black beans in my soup were so crowded together you could almost feel them jostling for a little bit of elbow room. They were tender and spicy and ever-so-ever-so black. Like black kidney beans I suppose. I've not seen such a black dish since I got sick on squid ink pasta in Milan many years ago. On top of the soup was a big dollop of sour cream with some salsa on top - it was delicious. Alison's Bermuda triangles were like little prawn samosas and came with a couple of prawns as well - all this for about ¬£4.50! And Mike's chicken skewers were served with peanut sauce and he seemed to think they were pretty fine.
Main courses were also a delight. Key Largo prawns clearly swim in the effluent from a nuclear power station and have mutated to be the size of buffalo - well maybe not quite that big. These were JUMBO prawns in keeping with the 'everything's bigger in America' principle. There were six of these monsters in a very light dusting of batter, still with their heads on but with their shells taken off before cooking. They were sitting on a bed of two different salsas - one a hot spicy tomato and onion and the other a tropical fruit blend that was a touch too sweet but a good counterbalance to the hotness of the other. This was all served with half a coconut shell full of rice. Mike and Alison tucked into their fish and Annette's face fell when she was presented with a dish, decked out with mussel shells. Despite being the only one who could read the menu, she'd totally misjudged the dish and failed to notice it was full of mussels. She hates mussels! And there were so many she couldn't even pick them out. It was such a shame. If it had been me, I'd have called the waiter over and asked for something else instead - even if I had to pay for it. Instead she sat there with a long face, turning down offers to share some of our food whilst we slurped with delight. I felt so sad for her but also relieved that the person who got the bad choice was the one who'd chosen the restaurant and so nobody else had to feel bad for that. She picked at a few bits of chicken but I doubt she ate more than 20% of her dish.
Throughout the meal there was music playing in the background - not actually Elvis himself, but a lot of Elvis-era music. It wasn't too intrusive or too loud and made for a pleasant atmosphere. The restaurant remained 80% empty throughout our visit which was a shame because the food was excellent, the prices were great value and it really deserved more diners.
Pudding was out of the question after so much food although we did all take coffees. I'm not sure what the total bill came to as we stitched Alison up to pay for it, but based on the cost of the wine and the individual dishes, I think it was very reasonable and the quality was fantastic for the price. I'd go back again in a flash but maybe I'd learn more of the words to the Jambalaya song before I did - I've been singing them wrongly for 30 years already and sometimes it's a good thing to learn something new.
Remember the quiz earlier? The quote is from Scarlet O'Hara in the film 'Gone with the Wind'.
And the title of the review is of course from 'On the Bayou' by the Carpenters. Irritating annoying song that it is!