The food scene is on the rise and part of what has made Berlin approachable for tourists and visitors from all over the world. How is the gastronomic culture developing, and where is it going to lead us in the future? We will aim to provide restaurant reviews or simply share our opinion on the newest gastronomic projects that we have discovered.
Chinese dumplings are often treated as a side or starter dish in Berlin. I don’t understand why: dumplings are the perfect comfort food. They should be treated as the star of any meal. In Paris, a couple of years ago – in Belleville, to be exact – I had my first encounter with a ‘real’ dumpling restaurant, where you could basically order the Chinese jiaozi (also known as gyoza) by the kilos. I’m glad to announce I found a similar dumpling restaurant in Berlin: Wok Show.
As a strict Muslim (lol) I’ve never had a chance to really enjoy a lot of Chinese food, as it always seems to be made with, fried in or baked into pork. Even vegetarian options often come with an extra layer of pig lard or are cooked in boar blood. And dumplings… surprise pork guaranteed! At Wok Show – a cute, family-style Cantonese restaurant that specializes in dumplings – there are many non-pork options to choose from and that, my friends, is already pretty satisfying.
The dim sum 1 come by the 20 at Wok Show, so you can rest assured that there’ll be enough for everyone to go around. They’re best enjoyed in a sweet and sour vinegar sauce or with some Sriracha and other spicy condiments, but that’s really up to your taste. Order them pan-fried or steamed in the classic bamboo baskets – both variants are exceptionally great. Well – not as great as the dumplings I’ve had in Paris, but good enough.
We’ve tried the vegetarian options and the beef options (once with carrot and one with celery), and all of them were great. The shredded potato salad, young kimchi and cucumber salad weren’t remarkable, but welcome and refreshing between steaming hot bites of Jiaozi (burnt my tongue by the first dumpling – of course).
Aside from the food, Wok Show is the kind of restaurant that is unfortunately currently dying out in Kreuzberg and Neukölln (where I live)… restaurants that aren’t overpriced, conceptional and pretentious are a scarcity nowadays, as more and more enterprises are trying to compete in the ‘modern and creative kitchen’ scene. Typical (Chinese) restaurants – you know the ones that are affordable, reliable and perfect to bring your whole family to – are out of style.
Well, Wok Show is the kind of place I wish we had around here, but either way it’s worth taking the (long, long) trip up to the north of Prenzlauer Berg to enjoy a comforting and special meal. Make sure you bring all your friends and make it a Sunday activity.
Brasserie Colette by Tim Raue is a solid restaurant for French classics and modern variations of them. It’s also part of the Tertianum project, a premium residency complex and retirement home for the elderly. I met Steve Karlsch, culinary director of the Colette franchise, for a little chat about the restaurant and the project.
Notoriously famous for his “Berliner Schnauze”, Tim Raue isn’t exactly an underdog of Germany’s culinary scene. Even so, one of his youngest enterprises – the Brasserie Colette, vis-à-vis of the historical KaDeWe luxury shopping mall – doesn’t adhere to his typically star-awarded vision of fine dining. In fact, the French bistro-restaurant is a wonderfully casually and relaxed place for lunch and dinner in a comfortable but refined atmosphere, run by Raue’s hand-appointed culinary director Steve Karlsch. Yet – apart from bringing the philosophy of the charming Brasserie back into the limelight – Colette is especially interesting due to its unique location: the Tertianum retirement home.
“The restaurant was part of the project from the beginning”, explains Karlsch during our lunch visit on a calm Saturday noon. We’ve arrive in a quaint side street of the Ku’damm, where a Russian delicacy store and a sleepy café seem to be the only neighbours. The restaurant does stand out with its black facade, but if you didn’t know there was a whole world (of old people) hidden behind the residential complex next to it, you would think it’s stand-alone.
Tertianum, an apartment complex project for the elderly, was founded in 2005 and is connected to Colette by a backdoor through its lobby. It’s not just a retirement home – it’s a first class housing enterprise that puts most hotels to shame. “There’s a library, a spa, and a service contract connected to the lease of the apartments – and of course, the Brasserie Colette.” The project isn’t exclusive to Berlin, as there are other dépendances of Tertianum – including franchises of the Brasserie Colette – in Munich and Konstanz as well.
Although jokes have been made about the quality and novelty of the concept (a quick Google search reveals that all local newspapers were eager to spin another joke on ‘dining with the elderly’), our host insists that it has been a rewarding challenge to create a restaurant that would appease the regulars from Tertianum as well as outside guests.
A sneak peek into the Tertianum lobby
“Logistics were difficult, because we’re actually sharing a kitchen with the Tertianum canteen”, Karlsch says, “but we were also dealing with a very new situation: unlike a regular hotel-restaurant, we’re cooking every day for the same people. And they’re not just any people. There are certain things we had to learn about the diet and the comfort foods of older generations.”
Some of the Tertianum guests missed their mashed potatoes, others complained because their fake teeth didn’t go well with rice kernels. Karlsch had to adapt to his new guests by changing his ambitious culinary plans from the beginning. “We had to get to know each other and find out what works, but we’re definitely in a good place now.”
Thankfully, patrons who aren’t 60+ mustn’t fear any compromises: if you didn’t know that Colette was part of a senior residence, you wouldn’t notice from the menu’s balanced composition of French classics, the modern and sleek interior and that slight fetish for Asian flavours that Raue’s cooking is known for.
Octopus, Tomato & Crêpes
Despite his international fame, I’ve never managed to visit any of Raue’s restaurants – presumably because I don’t dine out at star-awarded restaurants as much as I would like to. Fortunately for me (and for my wallet), the Brasserie Collette is, as Karlsch emphasizes, “a restaurant for every day”, and after my visit, I can whole-heartedly agree: optics, taste and accessibility, Colette is composed to make anyone feel at home. The food is easy to understand – a good mix of French elements, more refined and perhaps even a little uplifted, but never at the loss of familiarity.
Of the dishes that we tried, my favourite was definitely the juicy and spicy grilled pulpo with topinambur from the evening menu, although the starters weren’t half bad either: The tuna tartar’s faint Sriracha component wasn’t my thing, but the sweet and tangy tomato salad with passionfruit hit the spot. Accompanied with attentive service in a relaxed environment, there is nothing to complain about at Colette.
The golden finish was delivered in form of the dessert – the Crêpes Colette – which was the perfect symbiose of sweet and salty and, obviously, the name-sake of the restaurant. “When Tim was a child, he ate his perfect Crêpes on a French beach, made by the famous Madame Colette”, Karlsch explains.
Tuna tartar with crispy bread
Tomato salad with passion fruit
The Brasserie Colette makes for an ideal lunch stop while touring Charlottenburg, the Ku’Damm or KaDeWe on a Saturday afternoon, or for a night out with friends. While certainly not as expensive as other localities in the vicinity, Colette nestles itself in a mid- to high-range category. And for everyone who keeps asking me where to go for a “Beuster or Goldener Hahn style” dinner out in the West: here’s your answer, finally.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to try an interesting new restaurant concept in (urgh) Mitte called Night Kitchen. Hailing all the way from Tel Aviv, the restaurant is hidden in a little remise in the quaint and boring Heckmann Höfe of Oranienburger Straße, not to be mistaken for Heckmannufer or Oranienstraße in my beloved part of town, Kreuzberg, where I’d much rather go to spend my evenings.
But, despite being in Mitte, I really loved my evening at Night Kitchen and the subsequent soft opening party that I was invited to. The Mediterranean flavors, the gorgeous interior and the lovely staff gave me already many reasons to return and endorse the project, but what really caught my attention was the “dinner with friends” concept – a curated menu on a flat-rate; an all-you-can-eat-buffet without the buffet; a miracle cure for everyone who hates splitting bills with Germans!
Anyway – because I was so smitten, I asked the owners – Shaul Marguiles, owner of Zenkichi and House of Small Wonder, Gilad Heimann, who transplanted his original idea from Tel Aviv, and head chef Omri, the magician in the open kitchen – a few questions about their newest culinary endeavours.
What is the philosophy that defines Night Kitchen?
Gilad: At Night Kitchen we don’t serve, we host. It’s about enjoying an experience
together with good company beyond having dinner. Don’t get me wrong… delicious dishes and thirst-quenching drinks are an important part of the night. But it’s how effortless the entire package comes together that makes a night out truly memorable!
Which 3 dishes off the menu do I have to try?
Omri: Tomato Carpaccio, the Octopus á la Plancha, and the Hangar Steak.
What happens when someone orders the “dinner with friends”?
Gilad: Dinner with friends is a chef-curated menu that is completely tailored to
your mood and preferences. It’s not a fixed course menu but rather a style of dining
that takes the worry out of “ordering”. Omri: Tell us what you love, what you like and what isn’t for you. Tell us how
hungry you are and what mood you’re in. Come into our home and let us cook
some dishes that hit the spot. It’s designed to share family-style, served at your
pace and isn’t limited to a certain number of courses or plates. Put your evening
in our hands and we’ll take care!
What’s your favorite drink at Night Kitchen to cure a hangover?
Gilad: Negron… I love a clever twist on a classic. Our Negron actually has a smoky mezcal base that will smooth you over. Shaul: Yasso Lassi is my go-to drink, every time. Wait, is this hangover-curing or hangover-causing? Isn’t it all really the same if you’re doing it right? Omri: Rough Margarita. With a name like this, you can’t really go wrong. And just like the name suggests, it really revs the engine. With a hint of heat from chili and some mouthwatering tartness, it’ll wake you up for the next round.
All the way from Tel Aviv to Berlin – what do those two cities have in common for a restaurant like Night Kitchen to work?
Gilad: An appreciation of gastronomy… Berliners are also well-traveled and educated diners. The city itself is a hybrid of old world history and liberal, adventurous thinking. We are playful but have strongly rooted influences in everything we do – from the food to the drinks, from service to our design. Berlin is a vibrant and growing gastro-scene, just like Tel Aviv. Shaul: People want to have a good time. They want to be discerning in their dining choices, to challenge old school dining rules but to still acknowledge its impact on today. To have the quality of a fine dining meal but in a fun, approachable setting. It’s not enough to just eat the best “mushroom” in the world, it has to be accompanied with the right mix of other ingredients: style, vibe, service, company.
What’s the secret to opening a successful restaurant in Berlin?
Gilad: To know who you are! It’s so easy to bend to this opinion and to that opinion when opening a new restaurant. We want our guests to feel comfortable but at the same time, offer a unique experience. This often means trying something different and stepping outside of your comfort zone. To ask our guests trust us means being confident and certain of what we bring to the table – literally. Shaul: Putting the emphasis on the overall experience… a restaurant is more than the sum of its parts! We think about every detail and how it contributes to your experience: how you find and even walk into the restaurant, how we greet and treat you, what the music tells you about us… even what we intentionally omit. I love when people crave a specific dish. I love even more when people come because they also crave a certain feeling and vibe.
If Night Kitchen was closed, where would you go to eat and drink with a couple of friends on a Saturday night without having to make reservations?
Gilad: Katz Orange… gorgeous space with lovely people! Shaul: I’d hit up Chicago Williams for good people and some proper chow.
A big shoutout to the Night Kitchen crew for patiently answering my questions and letting me try their delicious menu. All I can add to what was said is that Night Kitchen is the kind of place that can flip from “dinner with parents” to “bonafide nasty rave” within minutes, meaning it’s exactly my kind of vibe.
I like to think of Tropez as the frugal mans version of Soho House. I mean, there are hardly any differences: You get to sit by a semi-clean pool with a good look at the contemporary Berlin art scene recovering from a collective coke hangover and french fries are the only thing on the menu that are not overpriced.
Haha, kidding. EVERYTHING at Soho House is overpriced! Which is why, for as little as 5,50€ entrance fee (or a seasonal club membership for 70€), Tropez, the new kiosk / späti / contemporary art center / Frittenbude / Jugendtreff at the Humboldthain summer pool (the official title is Humboldthain “recreational center” which is kinda like calling the Berghain toilets a luxury Spa) is my new favorite thing in Berlin.
Tropez is a space for art inside the public pool Sommerbad Humboldthain initiated by Nele Heinevetter. For the first summer exhibition POOL, artists, performers, musicians, authors, and curators will mingle with the guests of Berlin’s most beautiful public pool, among them Søren Aagard, Broken Dimanche Press, Creamcake, Sofia Duchovny, John Matthew Heard, Hervé Humbert, Michael Kleine, Kris Lemsalu, Zoë Claire Miller, Alejandro Almanza Pereda, Mary Audrey Ramirez, Jen Rosenblit, Starship, Markus Wirthmann, and Samson Young. Tropez is also a kiosk. Every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
First of all: the french fries are the best Freibadpommes in Berlin, period. Second of all, the concept of Tropez abides fully by the rules of my self-invented “only in Berlin lel” formula:
I should clarify that I have no idea what this means and there were no drugs involved in my visit at Tropez (at least I wasn’t involved, unless you count Frozé as a drug).
Tropez opened up a few months ago at the beginning of the summer season, and one must inevitably ask first: Who in their sane and right mind would open a snack booth in a SUMMER pool in Berlin? This type of font doesn’t have enough cuts to emphasize the “Berlin” and “SUMMER” part of my sentence, it needs more exclamation marks: BERLIN SUMMER BUSINESS!!!!!!!!. Literally, it’s been the shittiest summer since the dawn of time, and there is no high hopes for the next season to be better.
But Nele Heinvetter, the owner and creator of Tropez – and who apparently loves swimming – is probably single-handedly bringing summer vibes back to a deserted pool. She integrated her profession (irgendwas mit Kunst ;) with her passions and created a wonderful place in a very unexpected location.
And what a brilliant idea it is to revive the concept of the pool kiosk! Sure, it’s self-service and you’re surrounded by screaming children, but that’s as cheap as urban luxury will ever get. And I can appreciate it. Tropez might not be able to bring the summer heat back to Berlin, but it damn if the atmosphere isn’t tropical.
I went specifically for a reading at Tropez on an overcast day, enjoyed the ultimate summer snack trifecta of fries, frozé and filter coffee, and was impressed by HOW FUCKING AMAZING THESE POMMES ARE!
Crispy and golden on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with an honest slab of mayo and ketchup, no fuss and salted to the point. I know Pommes are making a strong comeback in the city these days, but Freibad-Pommes specifically play a very important role in any pool experience: being immersed in water and tanning or playing in the sun makes most people (me) starve to death already after 10-15 minutes, so the Pommes are crucial for survival. This season, the Frittenbuden at Prinzenbad, Columbiabad and even the Steglitz Sommerbad only served sad and soggy, traumatizing French Fries that invoked pity and made me hate other people. NOT WORTH STANDING IN LINE FOR.
But the Pommes at Tropez? GODLY, pure bliss. I am happy for the children with a Humboldthain-Sommerkarte and I am happy for myself because FRIES BEFORE GUYS.
POOL exhibition at Tropez
I haven’t focused on the art part of Tropez, because I feel predominantly ‘meh’ about art. But it should be said that readings, exhibitions, talks and music programs are lively parts of the schedule. The first exhibition at Tropez, POOL, went on for the whole season and is coming to an end next weekend.
My only ache about Tropez is that it hasn’t managed to blur the borders between the well-off expat community, rich in cultural capital and social mobility, who come to visit the shows and performances, and the actual regulars of the public pools, namely kids and apathetic teenagers and their parents. It’s not an easy task and I understand that, but Tropez is an island in a sea full of cultural differences. Berlin is already plagued by plenty of parallel societies, it would be a pity if this project, too, became secluded by cultural codes and a bubble of ignorance.
Next Saturday will be the last day of Tropez, a new enterprise that lasted much longer than summer itself, proving again how irrelevant sunshine is when you have a good idea and even better fries.
Facciola is a type kind of pasta. It can be found only in a hard to reach village, somewhere in Italy. The recipe is passed down from grandmother to granddaughter, where she has to keep it in her crotch until it’s her turn to pass it on. The ingredients of the rare Facciola pasta are sourced from a magical forest where only carbs can grow, and you won’t taste its true, mind-blowing flavors until you’ve had twelve to fifteen shots of Limoncellos.
Ah, you got me. I made all of that up. Facciola isn’t a pasta, although it sounds reasonable enough. Facciola is a state of mind. The state of mind of a person called Aurora Facciola, to be pedantic, but it’s proven to be contagious.
Facciola – a name that sounds like a perfect example of onomatopoeia – is also, conveniently, the name of Auroras wine bar on Forster Straße.
The Facciola state of mind
But what is the #facciolastateofmind? Well, any good marketing person (I am potentially a very good marketing person, unless I’m marketing my own stuff) will tell you that hashtags symbolize L I F E S T Y L E S, but any lifestyle also brings certain social rules and boundaries with it.
First of all, to get Facciola in the head, you must drink wine. A lot of it. Then you must also drink Limoncello, but it is absolutely forbidden to drink either by yourself, you MUST drink with the whole bar, and that includes all the other guests and the staff and potentially the neighbors and call your friends, too.
Follow everything you say with an enthusiastic alora, but generally try to switch between speaking German and English as much as you can.
Eat all of the aperitivo snacks. Come back for more.
High five Sebastian, he will be the hungover one behind the bar. He will also complain that I didn’t mention him in my first draft of this article, so I had to rewrite it. THANKS man.
Anyway, those are the rules, and they are pretty straightforward.
It’s taken a little bit more than a year for me to appreciate the inconspicuous new wine bar in an otherwise desolated street of my neighborhood. I was still mourning the closing of my favorite breakfast place in the world, Atlas, in the same spot that Facciola is today.
But to be honest, it wasn’t the wine or the Gnocchi or the Lasagna that won my heart (although the Lasagna specifically played a big role): Facciola is special because Aurora and her team are permanent fixtures in the place, they breathe soul and life and a little bit of dolce vita into an otherwise more and more interchangeable nightlife scene in Kreuzberg.
Sure, there are really cool and conceptual and interesting places around Kreuzberg, restaurants and bars that are well designed, with the finest cooking and the most premium selection of wines, but every visit somehow takes place in a social vacuum.
Full anonymity, with a 8:2 tourist to local ratio, meaning you will never meet the same person twice at the same bar or at the same restaurant. I think one of the biggest complaints among my circle of friends is that “you can’t go anywhere anymore”, which doesn’t mean that tourists aren’t welcome, but that it’s become harder and harder to find your place in the middle of all those strange people. They are not part of your neighborhood, they are not residents in your streets – they come and they go, and that’s great, but I miss the places where I can go and know what (and whom) to expect.
I just like being a regular among other regulars. I like when people chat with me about their day and their lives, sit down to talk about the latest gossip, and treat me like I’m part of their big restaurant family. And that’s what Facciola’s been all about to me.
Here, neighbors often stop by to say hi to Aurora, who is not just a great host but also a great entertainer (not surprising, considering she used to be an actual entertainer). Although this is her first enterprise in the hospitality business, it feels as if she’s been doing this forever, with a big smile and an even bigger laugh and a wholesome thunderstorm of Italian curses.
Meanwhile, every German person is trying not to choke on their Hellos. Goddamn those gifted Italians.
There’s a little inconspicuous deli on Wilmersdorfer Straße which you should add to your list of great Italian pasta places in Berlin. Granted, not many of us (and the least of all me) venture out to the uncharted territory of Wilmersdorf, but maybe we should do so more often, as my visit to the the family-run business “Il Tortellino D’Oro” proves.
Il Tortellino D’oro is as authentically Italian as it gets: handmade, fresh pasta that you can buy to go or eat for lunch (and sometimes for dinner), a wonderfully quirky business owner from the northern regions of Italy, and her charming parents behind the counters.
The place is small and practical, refreshing in its lack of contemporary decor. It may not be as cozy and warm as other restaurants (i.e. Goldener Hahn in Kreuzberg, my favorite Italian restaurant in Berlin), but it’s almost shockingly authentic. That’s the kind of restaurant you discover in the outskirts of Bologna while you’re looking for something eat during afternoon nap time. And since we’re already on the topic of authenticity, don’t expect the three hosts at Tortellino D’oro to speak German (or much English for that matter). If you watched the last season of Master of None, you should be just fine speaking culinary Italian though.
Pasta and wine at Il Tortellino D’Oro
The restaurant isn’t always open after 8pm, it’s primarily a lunch spot. We made reservations for dinner, which meant that the restaurant would stay open – but the menu was already pretty thin by the time we arrived.
We ordered a bottle of vino, Bruschetta for starter and two pasta dishes (Trofie with Chanterelle and Tagliatelle with Salmon). Needless to say: everything is fresh and homemade. We were quite convinced by the Bruschetta, and the pasta was great, although not perfect. The Trofie were a bit too al dente and the salmon pasta was made with smoked salmon, something that hadn’t been communicated when we ordered.
Despite these flaws, I don’t doubt the high standard with which food is prepared here. Just sitting there and listening to the hectic cackling of Leti and her parents catapults you to a wonderful place in Italy.
I was already completely wooed by the food and the atmosphere, but it was the creamy, delicious and perfect Espresso that finally won my heart over. Leti uses the Guizzardi coffee from Bologna, one of the best brands of Italian coffee. I’ve never tasted an Espresso like this, I swear. It was mild and without any hint of bitterness; almost like a hot cocoa rather than coffee. Paired with a piece of cake for dessert, of course.
The magnificent avenue of Unter den Linden connects Alexanderplatz to Brandenburger Tor and stretches along some of the most important landmarks of Berlin. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the restaurants that line this crucial vein of Berlins foot traffic. I pity the tourists and visitors who have to endure mediocre franchise chains and overpriced old hotel restaurants (cough, Adlon, cough).
Luckily, the iconic Einstein Unter den Linden has decided to step forward in an effort to rescue the “Prachtboulevard” from its culinary decay. If you’re looking for a classic dinner in a sophisticated place, step inside.
Einstein has become a landmark in its own right, known for being THE meeting point of politicians (i.e. Helmut Kohl) and journalists. But after so many years of being in the business, even an icon has to do some spring cleaning. And who’s going to do it better than the nifty guys behind the Grill Royal dynasty1? They have made it their mission to revamp the Viennese Kaffeehaus carefully, and they’ve definitely succeeded in doing so.
Einstein Unter den Linden: Fresh vibes & Viennese traditions
Don’t mistake the “Kaffeehaus” theme for a mere lunch stop option. Although the institution has been open during breakfast, lunch and (of course) Apfelstrudel for the past 20 years, Einstein Unter den Linden have now expanded their business to include a formidable wine and dinner menu.
The menu is a testament to the classic Austrian cuisine, with a nod to a younger and more contemporary foodie crowd. Specialities like Tafelspitz, Backhendl (elegantly fried chicken) and naturally, the notorious Wiener Schnitzel are part of an elaborate menu. But there is also the perfectly well cooked asparagus from Kremmen, or a very unexpected Octopus salad on thick, juicy runner beans from the Austrian region of Steiermark. A modern twist on the Austrian heritage, with an unbroken passion for succulent and fresh ingredients.
Perfection on a plate: asparagus & hollandaise
Left: whole salad with asparagus, potato and pumpkin seed pesto; right: Käferbohnen & octopus salad
But my favorite dish off our order? The Backhendl. Lorda mercy. You know it’s good when you don’t even need to sauce it up. The evenly crispy crust, the structured yet soft and juicy meat, that right sprinkle of salt… damn. Or maybe I just love fried chicken.
Spargel, Schnitzel and the potato salad which comes along with the Backhendl
Finally a feel-good restaurant for the inner city center
Einstein Unter den Linden is one of the rare restaurants that will cater to everyone’s tastes (and budgets) very well. It’s a modern classic, perfectly suited for parents, business partners, romantic dinners, quick lunch stops, drug deals, soliciting, coffee breaks, family gatherings, people watching, nightcaps, bachelor parties, birthdays, pre-gaming and office meetings.
While finally bathing in an ocean full of Kaiserschmarren and Topfenknödel, we watched passers-by adoring our plates with envy. And we watched right back, as if in a movie theater; as if this was the golden 20’s and not crappy ole gentrified super-whack 2017.
Sitting outside of Einstein at those precious little bistro tables 2 while the sun set lazily over Brandenburger Tor made us feel – for the first time ever – charmed by the grand boulevard Unter den Linden.
Nobody can talk in all ernesty about wine without sounding like a bougie prick. Unless, of course, it’s someone as charming and passionate as world-class sommelier Rakhshan Zhouleh, whose capturing tales of textures, colors and subtleties will lure you into the centuries old myth of wine.
Together with a few fellow bloggers from the FIBER gang, we were invited to a bespoke wine tasting experience at the formidable Das Stue Hotel in Tiergarten. But the focus of the event was neither the wine nor Zhouleh, who – bless his heart – tried his best to teach some of his ignorant audience (me) about the textures and tastes of wine. The star of the night? The cork.
Sustainable and sophisticated – #NATUERLICHKORK
Zhouleh, who has been working his trade for over 20 years, is a big fan of cork. The ceremonial process of opening a bottle of wine or champagne is not just an illusion of wealth, tradition and sophistication, it is indeed a vital part of the life of a bottle. Sure, if you’re one of those cheap supermarket wine grabbers, you might find yourself facing a whole wall of bottles with plastic stoppers. They might do their job for young wines, but for anything that is supposed to age in the bottle, you will need the natural cork to act as a natural controlling mechanism for the air supply of the product.
But let’s sideline the technicalities of bottling wine. Plastic or aluminium caps on wine bottles are cheaper than natural cork for the producers, but they come at the high price at more waste and highly inefficient manufacturing process. Meanwhile, cork is from the mighty cork oak (or as I call her in German, Die Korke), 100% recyclable and part of an important ecological system in Portugal. The bark of the cork oak is the material used for corking bottles, but also for creating sustainable fashion, furniture and other products.
A study about cork revealed that the production of alternative caps for wine bottles produced 10 (plastic) to 26 (aluminum) times as much CO2 than cork.1 Once you also consider the recycling of the cork (if done right), the ecological footprint can be reduced even further.
Alright, you’re probably wondering why I’m rambling on about cork. Besides the obvious sentiment of corked wine being classier than a twist cap, the cork oak plantages of Portugal are threatened. If cork is slowly substituted by other materials, the tender cork oak forests will fall victim to deforestations, taking down a regulated ecosystem with it. The #NATUERLICHKORK campaign by Deutscher Kork-Verband e.V. is trying to combat this development, drawing attention to the precious material.
Our top 5 (wine) bars in Berlin
Now that I’ve enlightened you about why cork is important, it’s time to get drinking. I’ve listed for you my 5 favorite bars in Berlin 2 where surely you will only be served out of corked wine bottles. Make sure you specifically ask, as most twist caps will be opened before the table is approached.
Vineria Gallina, Kreuzberg
Das Stue Hotel
Prior to our little tasting event I had not been to the Stue hotel in the former Danish embassy, but I was stunned by the intricate contemporary interior design and the exquisite service. At Das Stue, the wines were chosen before the menu (with help by no other than Rakhshan Zhouleh himself), which should tell you something about the priorities of the house. Das Stue Hotel, Drakestraße 1, 10787 Berlin
The Cordobar is an institution for Berliners with a knack for wine. The easy-going, Austrian and slightly punkish atmosphere of the petite bar doesn’t hint at the carefully curated and highly stunning wine menu. Better if you’re hungry, too, as the tapas style snack dishes have absolutely deserved their Bib Gourmand treatment. Cordobar, Große Hamburger Str. 32, 10115 Berlin
The youthful, Italian vineria right next to its restaurant sister Goldener Hahn in Kreuzberg’s picturesque Pücklerstraße is a wonderfully romantic but lively location for a night-cap. I specifically like Gallina for its lack of business-casual customers and fratboy tourists; a feel-good place for the neighborhood. Just like in Italy. Bar Gallina, Pücklerstraße 20, 10997 Berlin
While I’m not honestly subscribed to the whole ‘natural wine’ act that has been flooding the city, I can appreciate the concise wine menu at Wild Things. It’s one of my favorites during the weeks, for when the evenings are slow and the rain is painful. It’s not as cozy and more of a “trendy” place than other wine bars, but out of all the other natural wine bars (jaja, for example, is so tiny that you end up sitting on someone else’s lap), Wild Things was the one that didn’t annoy me. Their snack menu is worth a try, too, although steeply priced for this part of Neukölln. Wild Things, Weserstraße 172, 12045 Berlin
At Facciola, nights are always young. This fresh Italian wine bar serves delicious drinks and accompanying snacks, but for me, it’s really the kind, generous and highly entertaining owner Aurora and her charming staff that make any visit here an experience. Don’t expect to leave this place sober. Or alone. Facciola Berlin, Forster Str. 5, 10999 Berlin
After my favorite vegan Vietnamese joint closed down earlier this year (RIP FOREVER MY LOVE) I was desperate to find a worthy alternative. Although it’s quite different and will never replace the classic soul food of my beloved Quy Ngyuen, I was delighted to discover the innovative and crafty cuisine of Con Tho.
Admittedly, it took 3 tries to be convinced. The first try – we were a group of 7 people – was delightful. We shared pretty much all of the small and medium sized little dishes from the menu. What surprised me the most was the love for detail that went into creating and plating the dishes. I would say that Con Tho is in a healthy price range (anything really from “quick lunch” to “elaborate dinner with friends on a special occasion”). At around 17 to 25€ for a decadent meal (two starters, main dish, shared dessert and drinks), I do not expect that kind of special attention for the small things.
Con Tho: Innovative simplicity for traditional flavors
All of the dishes are innovative but fairly simple. Fried aubergine steaks with nori leaves, petite Bhan Baos with homemade Kurkuma mayonnaise or steaming hot soup bowls with fried noodles for dipping make Con Tho an outstanding place to try new compositions of comforting flavors. Basically, it’s nothing like next-door neighbor Hamy (tbh I wouldn’t mind if someone gentrified that place, if only it brought Quy Nguyen back).
Now, my second try was rather disappointing (and even more so as I was hailing Con Tho as my new favorite spot for the summer). The staff literally stared at us for around one full hour before they bothered to service us, then brought the wrong dishes, then delivered a rather bland Saigon Summer bowl (think: the Vietnamese version of Bibimbap).
But at my last try – I really wanted this relationship to work – the food was absolutely fantastic again. I think the trick is to choose two or three of the small and medium “snack” sized dishes and NOT share them with other people, but instead devour them as a main. Steamed mushrooms, a simple sweet potato in mayo, the aforementioned aubergine and the crispy tofu might not reinvent the Vietnamese wheel, but their simplicity is on point.
For some more creative dishes, the Tofu carpaccio or the leeks are amazing. What I specifically like about Con Tho is (I assume) the lack of sugar or excessive oil to give their vegan ingredients flavor (I’m looking at you, 1190). Instead, they’re actually working with their regional and seasonal produce, trying to squeeze out the best of it. This is a concept that works for me in many different ways. I like it when cultures of food merge without necessitating definitions like “fusions”. It’s not fusion cuisine, it’s integrative cuisine. It feels young and unrestrictive, like someone’s actually trying to create something with what they have on hand.
God, I love that sweet potato.
On the other hand – that sometimes means that the dishes don’t deliver the typical, 100% “I need a Pho” sort of Vietnamese comfort of taste. But I can absolutely live with that.
Fried aubergine steaks with Nori
Bonus points beyond the food:
a large terrace
sweet and careful interior
pay with EC- and Credit Card (and nobody makes a fuss about it)
special cutlery and tablewear, straight from the ‘gram
By the way, the restaurant isn’t exclusive for vegans. I’m pretty sure the selection of wines, shakes and tasty dishes will also make meat lovers rejoice. Just saying.
Once you’ve entered Horváth, you’ll forget everything you know about Michelin star restaurants. The laid back atmosphere, young staff and typical German Gemütlichkeit of wooden-paneled walls have nothing in common with the contemporary fine dining standards. At Horváth, there’s no open kitchen, and a refreshing lack of the ubiquitous industrial Berlin chic.
The Kreuzberg restaurant, tucked away between run of the mill diners and cafés on Paul Lincke Ufer, seems a little bit out of place in it’s location. Considering its rustic interior, it might even look outdated to the experienced Foodie. But Horváth is leading the scene when it comes to the work of youthful and charming chef Sebastian Frank.
Chef Sebastian Frank: Undogmatic, but confrontational
Horváth’s saisonal menu is an exciting journey through 5, 7 or 9 exceptional dishes. Course by course, we were delighted to notice the rather delicate commitment to meat and fish. Chef Frank looks beyond the typical animal-centric menu and instead cultivates a plant based cuisine without glorifying it.
Ultimately, every dish becomes its very own entity – and a spectacle of new flavors.
That being said, I do believe that chef Frank thrives on controversiality. Some ideas were downright offending – until a critical moment, a climax of harmony and culinary understanding was achieved. Even an amateur like me comes to appreciate the complexity of uncommon ingredients at Horváth. But I admit it took some time to open up completely.
The “Sellerie Reif und Jung” – dried and aged celery – was very uncomfortable for someone who doesn’t like celery at all (me), but then unfolded an unexpected, delightful sweetness that made me question what I knew about my own taste. I think that’s essential to the concept of fine dining: without confrontation, there is no lasting memory to it. To include a disturbing element in almost every dish takes balls that other chefs haven’t proven (yet).
More suitable to my liking than the celery challenge: the home-baked Langos and the “deconstructed” Bratapfel, a bold choice for post-Christmas season – but unexpectedly perfect.
Another example of greatness was the amuse gueule, a venison broth cooked for days, served in drinking glasses and accompanied by cold water. I have yet to taste something as intense as this. I will make it my life’s mission to recreate this testament to savoury, wholesome flavors.
Of course, the menu can be put together as vegetarian-only option.
Non-alcoholic drink pairing? A stroke of genius
Frank’s fearless approach to an adventurous menu is the prime reason for why I would like to recommend the wine pairing: it adds another layer to an artistic concept, which otherwise only reaches about 95% of its full potential. Although to be fair, I would recommend the wine pairing in almost every Michelin star restaurant.
Although we also tried & liked the cleverly matched Austrian and Hungarian wines – outstanding was the Zenit wine from Hungary, a budget wine with a powerful elderberry flavor -, the new and unique beverage creations without alcohol won our hearts. They are the completion of Franks holistic approach to his daring and sometimes disturbing menu, and questions the natural necessity of alcohol for haute cuisine.
Oils, whey, fermented vegetable juices, fizzy or non-fizzy: the non-alcoholic beverages managed to pair excellently with the food, if not sometimes even overshadow it.
The only caveat being the slight feeling of heaviness to some of the drinks in comparison to the wine – there’s only so much fermentation my stomach can stand.
Highlights definitely were the Waldmeistersirup mit Chardonnay-Essig & Gemüsesaft (Syrup of sweet woodruff, Chardonnay vinegar and vegetable juice) and the Geschäumtes Berliner Kindl Kraft Malz mit Rubinette Apfelsaft & Zitronenzesten (Frothing Berliner Kindl Malt with apple juice and lemon zests).
Horváth: Holistic fine dining approach with an Austrian touch
The hearty and homey Alpine inspired menu offers excitement and novelty through and through, reflected in the setting of the poetic restaurant. Horváth may look like a typical Kreuzberg gastropub – it’s long standing history as bougie café & bar Exil notwithstanding – but it’s a little gem, and seems almost traditional compared to the current wave of fine dining restaurant.
Berlins current obsession with locally sourced ingredients (who knew Brandenburg had so much variety to offer) might be expanding the scope on culinary challenges. But chef Sebastian Frank manages to creatively compose an authentic, modern menu that is focused on his Austrian heritage, without limiting himself to any dogma. And, to be honest, I was getting a little bit tired of all the turnip experiments in the rest of the city.
Horváth is a great deal for a 2-Michelin star cuisine, with an excellent 5 course menu that costs as much as an average night out in most average restaurants in Berlin (89€ for the menu and 50€ for the wine pairing).