Foodies take note: you can indeed eat very well in Berlin. While restaurants in London, Paris and Copenhagen have hogged the headlines in recent years, the culinary quality and breadth in Germany’s capital has quietly taken a quantum leap forward. For 2015/16, the city gained another five Michelin stars, pushing the total to 26 spread over 20 gourmet temples, including the sleek Pauly Saal featured on our list.
But it’s not just in the top echelon of restaurants where you can send your tastebuds into orbit. Berlin’s vibrant pastiche of people from 184 nations has also generated delicious culinary diversity. Apple pie to zebra steak, authentic Japanese cuisine as at Zenkichi or humble yet sublime hummus at Hummus & Friends (both featured) – you will find it here, along with plenty of authentic German food.
Lest you think of ‘authentic German’ as football-sized pork knuckles paired with boiled potatoes and greasy gravy, you’ll be in for a surprise. Today’s maverick chefs have seriously expanded their repertories, relying on seasonal and regionally sourced ingredients prepared in nutritious and yummy ways. Just try La Soupe Populaire or Restaurant am Steinplatz to see for yourself.
Berlin has also finally embraced the street food trend with the fervor of a religious convert. Food trucks pop up all over town and the biggest food event of the week is Street Food Thursdays, held in a historic market hall. Aspiring hobby chefs from around the world lure hungry hipsters with an exotic smorgasbord that might include New Zealand meat pies, Argentine pulled pork sandwiches or Korean tacos. It’s a first-class journey at economy prices.
Hummus & Friends
'Make Hummus Not Walls' is the charming motto of this easy-going cafe right next to the stunning Moorish-style New Synagogue in the heart of Berlin's revitalized Jewish quarter. Hummus is naturally the menu star - a creamy, mouthwatering concoction whipped up with the finest garbanzo beans imported from Israel's Galilee region. Prepared kosher-style in an open kitchen, it is served in combination with other meatfree ingredients such as egg, fava beans and tahini. Other popular choices include the 'Freedom Salad', a dreamily healthy blend of herbs, nuts, tomatoes and cranberries dressed in a tangy orange-vinaigrette. The setting is stylishly rustic with plenty of character supplied by unpolished wooden tables, antique-style armoires and historical garbanzo-themed photographs. In summer, the tables in the cobbled-stoned courtyard exude Mediterranean flair. (030-5547 1454)
This gastronomic jewel pegs its inception back to 1853 when August FW Borchardt opened a delicatessen and wine store and quickly became a caterer to the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and even the royal court. With such an illustrious pedigree, it's not surprising that today's incarnation, open since 1992, is again regularly invaded by a mob of A-listers like George Clooney, Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio and Barack Obama. Fortunately, thanks to a sterling kitchen team, there's plenty of substance behind the buzz. You can't go wrong with yummy cuts of aged steaks matched by a choice of such soulful sides as horseradish-laced red beet salad, creamy celery puree or thyme-infused savoy cabbage. The fragrant bouillabaisse is a dependable staple, as is Borchardt's most popular menu ambassador: the Wiener schnitzel. Served with a side of warm potato salad, it's reportedly the best in town. (030 8188 6262)
'Ross' translates as 'horse' which is an appropriate name given that one of Berlin's newest culinary hot spots (since August 2015) occupies a former horse barn in an enchanting historic courtyard. In a softly lit dining room festooned with artful lamps and an old sign reading Haus des Friedens (House of Peace), diners are treated to what head chef Uri Triest calls 'shared cuisine'. Inspired by his music background, a childhood in Israel, extensive travel and a bottomless curiosity for the cuisines of the world, Triest's dishes are intuitively composed mashups of flavors and textures. On the menu they may seem deceptively simple lists of ingredients with no clues as to what kitchen magic Triest will put them through. But the self-trained chef wants to make no secret of what he does and is in fact planning his own cooking show on YouTube. Stay tuned! (030-2758 3422)
Restaurant Le Faubourg
Following an extensive makeover, the Restaurant Le Faubourg at the Sofitel Berlin Kurfürstendamm now presents itself with cosmopolitan flair and such eye-catchers as Bauhaus-inspired furniture, avant-garde Portuguese copper lamps and a wall-sized painting by German artist Junior Toscanelli.
The cuisine too has been revamped, or rather ramped up, thanks to chef de cuisine Felix Mielke's inspired takes on seasonal, French-inspired cooking. At the heart of the menu are just five main courses that can be ordered either prepared in classical or in contemporary style. Think sautéed turbot vs sousvide confit turbot with chorizo. Meals kick off with a selection of two soups and 10 creative and deliciously plated appetizers like caramelized goat cheese and confit of Duroc pig that are meant to be shared.
For the perfect wine pairing, Germany's youngest sommelier, the 21-year-old Mathias Brandweiner, stands capably at the ready. Together with Mielke, Brandweiner also hosts bi-monthly wine evenings called "Mein Wein by Mathias" that give guests the chance to meet winemakers and to sample less familiar or not as widely available vintages. (030 800 999 7700)
Restaurant am Steinplatz
At Restaurant am Steinplatz, the glamorous 1920s get a 21st century makeover both in the kitchen and the decor. Black-and-white photographs of cabaret dancers set cheeky accents for the classic dining room whose elegant tables are orbited by mustard-yellow chairs and lit by contemporary-floral chandeliers. At the far end is the open kitchen where veteran chef Marcus Zimmer and his team orchestrate modern interpretations of time-tested German and Berlin recipes. The signature dish, called 'Königsberger Klopse', pairs feathery veal dumplings with a light sauce subtly laced with lime and capers. Bordering on genius is his take on Eisbein (boiled pork knuckle), a dish normally found on beer hall menus, which here is freed of its slippery fat with only the succulent meat finding its destination in spring roll-sized croquettes. Most ingredients come from regional suppliers and that goes for the drinks as well. The beer, for instance, hails from the Rollberg microbrewery across town and the bottled water from a regional spring. The wine list too is dominated by handpicked German wines from nearly all growing regions.
Nice touch: in addition to an amuse geule from the kitchen, diners are also treated to a small welcome cocktail from the bar. (030 554 4440)
Since opening in 2013, it was clear that the young chefs at Richard deserved a Michelin star and in 2015, the vaunted restaurant inspectors finally agreed. Solidly rooted in the fine French tradition, the fare here is so exceptionally orchestrated that you'll be tempted to lick your plate (or at lease use the crusty bread to wipe it clean). Only the finest ingredients make their way into such flavor-packed dishes as rack of lamb that gets a Middle Eastern touch from cumin and eggplant, or the warm red beet salad that pairs harmoniously with snowy frozen goat cheese. Competing with the food is the venue itself, a design feast of stained-glass windows, vaguely risqué art work, bubble chandeliers and, perhaps most impressively, a grand coffered ceiling. The site looks back on a century of history that included stints as a Nazi lair in the 1930s and as a lefty student hangout in the 70s. (030 49207242)
Wine lovers and fans of hearty German cuisine cherish the Weinbar Rutz, helmed by Marco Mueller who's also the mastermind behind the gourmet restaurant Rutz upstairs. Here Mueller practices a more down-to-earth form of cooking that shines the spotlight brightly on quality ingredients from various German regions. Crispy ducks hail from Oldenburg, the black pudding bread has roots in Berlin, and the ox shoulder comes from Holstein. A true highlight, though, is the enormous wine selection with over 850 different bottles to choose from. The focus is squarely on Rieslings but there are lots of other German wines as well, many available by the glass. (+49(30)-2462-8760)
It took Pauly Saal only one year to enter the pantheon of Michelin-starred food emporia in 2013. Its chef, Michael Höpfl, is known for his bold interpretations of hearty German fare wrought from locally hunted and gathered ingredients. There are a few vegetarian choices but, by and large, robust meat dishes dominate. The seasons stir the menu, which might feature fall-off-the-bone Pomeranian ox ribs or hazelnut-encrusted wild duck. The setting in the former gymnasium of a Bauhaus-era Jewish girls' school is as memorable as the food, thanks to a high ceiling, custom-designed Murano chandeliers and eye-catching art. The giant red rocket by Cosima von Bonin and Daniel Richter's stuffed fox sculptures should provide plenty of conversation fodder. (+49-(30)-3300-6070)
La Soupe Populaire
Berlin star chef Tim Raue has a knack for capturing the city's culinary zeitgeist. In his latest venture, he has ditched his Michelin-starred Asian crossover cuisine in favor of honest-to-goodness German comfort food and camped out in a disused 19th-century brewery. Amid raw brick walls, exposed pipes and shiny steel girders diners sit at vintage tables overlooking an art gallery. Don't expect beer hall-style pork roast, though. Raue's interpretations are all carefully calibrated modern spins on beloved classics such as Königsberger Klopse. In this perennial bestseller Raue pairs caper-laced meat balls with shredded beetroot and places both in a pool of Riesling-reduction sauce. The beautiful dish was even part of the state dinner he served to President Obama on his 2013 Berlin visit. (+49-(30)-4431-9680)
The fact that Japanese food is about more than just sushi is hardly a surprise. But what exactly does make it onto the plates in Tokyo or Kyoto? Motoko Watanabe and Shaul Margulies provide a delicious answer at Zenkichi, a modern Japanese brasserie in a cozy cellar in the central Mitte district.
Trust the chef and order the seasonally changing eight-course omakase (chef's tasting menu) or take things into your hands by putting together a meal from the small-plate a la carte menu. Whatever you do, don't leave without sampling such authentic flavor bombs as miso-marinated grilled black cod and filet mignon served with ginger garlic soy sauce. All dishes are brought to you by smiling and exceedingly polite Japanese waitstaff. For drinks, there's a superb selection of all-natural premium sakes, handpicked by Motoko, a trained sake sommelier.
The setting too is very Tokyo style: a lantern-lit labyrinth with pebbled pathways lined by bamboo- and burnt-wood beams leading to cozy booths shielded by wooden blinds for extra privacy. (030 2463 0810)
About Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Andrea has made a living as a travel writer and photographer for over 20 years, visiting some 70 countries in the process and authoring a similar number of guidebooks, mostly for Lonely Planet. Add to that hundreds of articles in print and online, magazine editing, travel consulting, developing content for travel apps, translating from German to English and vice versa...
Andrea’s destination expertise is especially strong when it comes to her native Germany and especially to Berlin, where she makes her home. She also has extensive knowledge about Crete, Dubai and the UAE, California and various Caribbean islands.
Read more about Andrea Schulte-Peevers here.
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