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Eat your way around the world with our best Berlin gastro picks



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 Restaurant Le Faubourg 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. 


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Vox Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Vox Restaurant


Moms and dentists have long told us that sugar is bad for you. But even those who limit their consumption of candy and cakes are still exposed to plenty of carbs lurking in everyday processed food like pizza and coleslaw. The good news is that there are plenty of sugar alternatives, as the new menu of the Vox Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt on Potsdamer Platz demonstrates with style and panache. The focus is still on regional and seasonal cuisine with international accents – only now head chef Florian Peters has completely banished all industrial sugar from his shiny open kitchen. Birch sugar finds its destination in sushi rice, fig mustard replaces tomato chutney and agave syrup now sweetens the sorbets. Best of all, he's done it without sacrificing a lick to the taste gods!


Pauly Saal
Photo courtesy of Stefan Korte


A key member of Berlin's pantheon of Michelin-starred restaurant, Pauly Saal wows diners with a truly unique setting and the bold yet subtly complex cuisine of Arne Anker. The young chef has impressive credentials, most recently as sous-chef of The Jane in Antwerp, the culinary laboratory of triple-Michelin starred Sergio Herman. Here in Berlin, Anker quickly made his own mark by giving German food a youthful, almost playful touch while still staying true to the seasonal-regional credo. The setting in the former gymnasium of a Bauhaus-era Jewish girls' school is no less memorable than the food. The custom-designed Murano chandeliers and eye-catching art by Cosima von Bonin and Daniel Richter should provide plenty of conversation fodder. On a sunny summer day, lunch in the leafy cobblestone courtyard is a sweet treat.




Among meatheads, Bernhard Hoetzl is very much a Berlin household name thanks to his animal-centric restaurant Fleischerei, fittingly located in a former butchershop. By contrast, his second venue clearly shines the spotlight on vegetables, a concept also reflected in the name Gaertnerei ('Plant Nursery') and in the rustic-elegant decor that juxtaposes minty-green chairs with frilly chandeliers. The kitchen is helmed by Berlin veteran chef Sebastian Radtke who digs deep into his extensive bag of culinary tricks to coax maximum aromas out of the entire vegetable kingdom, including rediscovered gems with a strong native identity such as sorrel, parsnips and black salsify. Since Gaertnerei is not a purely vegetarian restaurant, though, these sometimes cuddle up against pike-perch or pork belly. The presentation is pure eye candy and the service as impeccable as the wine list for which Hötzl has selected top vintages from his native Austria.


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Restaurant Richard
Photo courtesy of Restaurant Richard


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.


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Charlottenburg - Wilmersdorf
Restaurant Le Faubourg
Photo courtesy of Le Faubourg Restaurant


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.


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Charlottenburg - Wilmersdorf
Restaurant am Steinplatz
Photo courtesy of Andrea Schulte-Peevers


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.


Weinbar Rutz
Photo courtesy of Wienbar Rutz


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.


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Charlottenburg - Wilmersdorf
Mine Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Mine Restaurant


From Russia with Love is not just the title of a famous Bond flick but it might as well be the maxim of Aram Mnatsakanov. After wowing celebs like Mick Jagger and Mikhail Gorbachev at his five restaurants in Moscow and St Petersburg, the Armenian-born gastro entrepreneur and TV chef (nicknamed 'the Russian Jamie Oliver') is now dishing out serious palate candy in Berlin. Smack dab in the upscale western district of Charlottenburg, Mine is helmed by Aram's son Mikhail who honed his kitchen craft at the prestigious Ferrandi school Paris. His culinary ammo is focused on Zeitgeist-embracing twists of classic Italian fare such as the twice-baked glazed eggplant with burrata and tangy tomato marmalade. Another menu star is the rabbit ragout that's been made melt-in-your-mouth-tender in a 12-hour oven marathon. Father and son also place much emphasis on the wine line-up, which features 120 bottles from Germany, Italy and France that should make even the most demanding oenophiles swoon. The restaurant's stylish décor only matches the ambitious menu by channeling feel-good shabby chic with its sparkly Tom Dixon lamps, Belgian oak tables and wallpapered ceilings.


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Charlottenburg - Wilmersdorf
Cell
Photo courtesy of Andrea Schulte-Peevers


The symbiosis of art and food is not exactly a break-out concept, but Evgeny Vikentev has taken the philosophy one big leap further. Indeed, art is practically the DNA of his new restaurant Cell, pervading all building blocks from food and décor to wine and service. A celebrated chef in his home town of St Petersburg, where he operates a restaurant and a wine bar, Vikentev takes you on an evening-filling taste trip with two nine-course menus to choose from, one of them plant-based. He builds each course around a local ingredient but then digs deep into his bag of global tricks to take your palate into uncharted territory. One ingredient from each course then finds a new destiny in the next one, essentially creating a culinary narrative. And as if that wasn't enough, the intensity of aromas grows – Bolero-style – with each course until reaching a crescendo in the dessert. If all that sounds a bit high-falutin', don't worry: you'll be eatin' good! And drinking too, given the tightly curated line-up of biodynamic and organic wines. The décor is as much part of the concept as the food. Borrowing from Bauhaus, it's an elegant assemblage of squares ("cells"), softened by a wall of mirrors, chandeliers, earth-hued suede banquettes, Russian contemporary art and a direct view of the kitchen. And even Vikentev's body is a paean to creativity thanks to ample tattoos that are almost as big a passion as cooking for the young Russian chef.


Layla
Photo courtesy of Layla Restaurant


A once-neglected nook of Kreuzberg is now sparkling with culinary fireworks thanks to Layla, the newest outpost of Israeli star-chef Meir Adoni. Long a household name in Tel Aviv and New York, Adoni now brings his own brand of "fine casual" dining to the German capital. A richly nuanced postmodern mashup of European and Middle Eastern ingredients and flavors, the menu will take your taste buds on a wild carpet ride. Sharing is caring is the table motto, so bring your posse and load up on a parade of palate knockouts streaming from the open kitchen in the center of the dining room. Kick off with a tantalizing trifecta of Jerusalem sesame bread, kubbana (a Yemeni brioche) and sourdough so full of crunchy goodness that even carbophobes shouldn't feel guilty about falling off the wagon. Dipped into red-pepper aioli or tomato compote with schug, they're like little bites from heaven. A top menu pick is the smoked eggplant-carpaccio, a literal swirl of tastes from date honey to feta cheese snow. Yum! Another star: the grilled octopus curled up on a dollop of Jerusalem artichoke-cream and yuzu yoghurt.


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Meet 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...  More About Andrea

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