Aishah Bennett visited Berlin for the first time over 11 years ago as an Erasmus student to study German. Berlin is now her adopted home and she is the proud owner of one Neukölln’s hottest cocktail bars and weekend brunch havens, Geist im Glas.
“After finishing University in London I travelled but ended up finding myself back here the whole time. Broke and homeless, you know the usual in Berlin!”
In the early days, Aishah had stints doing editorial work for a local English publication, Exberliner and worked in marketing for the publishing house, Berliner Verlag. After the financial crisis hit in 2009 and the sudden shift towards digital media, she found herself bored with this new direction.
“I wanted to do something tangible, which I can build and see and doing supper clubs at my friend’s place became my outlet, for me to feel excited again.”
The intent of serving food was always on the cards from day one, when she took over the location where Geist sits today. The issue was she underestimated what it would take to turn the former hairdressers shop into a full-blown gastronomy concept.
“I was completely ignorant back then; taking over a space from the fucking 1920’s and was crumbling around us. We found out we could not fit a full kitchen and I was starting to run out of money! ”
Aishah decided to start with opening the front half as a as a bar. She already had a loyal group of friends wanting to “get drunk” together and just like that, Geist was born!
“I was always experimental drinking, at cocktails bars. I always like dingy and smoky places, so I wanted to create an artisan dive bar!”
The cocktails we tried are a testament this philosophy. Geist has the ability to create cocktails with interesting flavours and colours. The vibe it creates is to have fun when you drink and not to take things too seriously.Once she saved enough money again, she renovated the dining space and it allowed her to restart her supper clubs every Sunday at Geist. The menu would change weekly with a nostalgic focus on dishes like Sunday roast and bangers and mash. The response was great but as much fun as the events were to put together; commercially it was not doing as well.
The bar at this point was running for almost two years with a good staff in place, it gave Aishah the flexibility to take on a new role. The experience at the Bird was eye opening. She caught on to the idea of having a small and consistent menu with reduced waste resulting in a positive impact to the bottom line. It was an incredible learning experience to understand how a kitchen worked and to deal with the daily issues that went far and beyond just making food.
“Looking back at it now I don’t fucking know how I did it! There were days I would wake up not know if it was day time or night time anymore!”
Her next stint was with with Guillermo Luengas and Lennart Döring, the duo behind the now closed Papi Crunch Brunch at Parker Bowles. After working with them, she felt it was the right time to move forward to with her own food concept.
Chipotle black bean-soaked house-made tortilla Chips, chilaquiles-style loaded with tangy guacamole, lime infused sour cream, spicy pico de gallo and pink pickled onions. Two sunny side up eggs on top and grated feta cheese.CabSlam was her inspiration for her version of the huevos rancheros. The chilaquiles style provides a beautiful texture as the cheddar cheese melts between the fried egg and bean sauce.
Banana filled pancakes, topped with a massive dollop of dulce de leche with a shot of bourbon maple syrup on the side. Arguably one of the fluffiest pancakes in Berlin. The banana bits ad a level of balance to the richness of the dulce de leche that makes you want have more. This dish comes from Aishah’s time at Parker Bowles and thanks to Guilermo, formerly of Papi Crunch Brunch, she has the rich dulce de leche that gets you every single time.
Biscuits and Gravy
Two cheddar and japlepeño buttermilk biscuits, topped with sausage and spicy sage gravy. The idea came through her travels in New York. “I visited this place in Queens and it was fucking awesome! The idea of white sage sausage gravy blew my mind away.” The current version at Geist is closer to a traditional English scone and in combination of the sausages from the “Sausage Man”, Simon Ellery and Aishah’s mushroom gravy, this dish is a hearty base to nurse that Sunday afternoon hangover.
Chicken in Sweet and Spicy Waffles
Buttermilk and sriracha waffles stuffed with a spicy ‘crisp filet’. Drizzled with kewpie mayo and hot sauce, served with a shot of toasted chilli-maple syrup. The inspiration for the recipe comes from Whistle Pig’s Instagram account and is a dish that Aishah describes perfectly as “Ace”. The chicken is from Berlin’s chicken shop superstar, Risa. You can expect all the amazing crispy and tenderness the chicken has with a beautiful waffle batter layer on top.Growing up with an English and Palestinian background, she was introduced to various styles of cooking at a young age. A lot of what Geist represents is part of that upbringing.
“I come from a family of gluttons, we love to eat and cook. We are also incredible hosts. So in many ways this comes naturally to me.”
Geist is currently approaching its eighth birthday. It’s a hard thing to maintain the quality and standards at any restaurant which is why this is a testament to Aishah’s vision and hard work. Also most importantly, when you are cooking something personal, it almost always turns out good.
“I still fucking love my brunch! It’s the same menu I have had for years and I still enjoy eating it!