Berlin's food culture is as diverse as its population – to the point where its traditional cuisine often gets overlooked. Heading on a mission to find German food in the capital can uncover some pleasant surprises, since the city offers abundant opportunities to test your notions of what constitutes traditional German cuisine.
Sauerkraut? Pickled herring? Wurst? Check, check, check. But you’ll also find Spätzle and Maultaschen, the delicious Southern German take on pasta, tasty Klöße (dumplings), smoked trout, bolete (meatballs) and plenty of pork hocks, all backed up by a dizzying array of cakes and locally produced wines and beers. Guten appetit (and Prost!).
If you’re craving classic German food but with an edgy twist, mosey on over to the restaurant of acclaimed German chef, Stephen Hartmann. His inventive and elegant approach to Deutsche Küche, which features such refined dishes as “young venison duo with sauteed Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and brioche dumpling” recently bagged him a Michelin star. The menu, which changes according to the season, isn’t frightened to experiment further, combining smoked pork belly with langoustine or rabbit ham with baked octopus. Desserts are equally “neo-traditional” (and just as memorable) and guests can create their own 3-7 course menus.
Hartmann’s, Fichtestraße 31, 10967 Berlin (030 6120 1003, www.hartmanns-restaurant.de). Open 6pm-midnight, Mon-Sat.
This atmospheric Palatinate wine bar is slightly hidden amongst a huddle of Spätkaufen (late night kiosks) and commercial stores in Charlottenburg. Despite its locale - and Berlin's ever-evolving culinary landscape - the weinstuben has sustained its authentic and distinct flavor for over 75 years. The menu represents Palatine cuisine with items such as Saumagen - pig's stomach - a particular favorite of the Palatine diet along with bratwurst, grieweworscht - a blood pudding sausage, and läwwerknedel - liver dumplings. Even more impressive are the more than 20,000 bottles of wine in the basement.
Kurfplaz-Weinstuben, Wilmersdorfer Straße 93, 10629 Berlin (030 8836664, www.kurpfalz-weinstuben.de). Open 6pm-1am Tues-Sat, 6pm-midnight Sun.
Zur Letzten Instanz
Zur Letzten Instanz dates back to the 16th century, and as such is one of Berlin’s oldest pubs. Appositely located in the Nikoleiviertel (Berlin’s ersatz Old Town), it has done its best to retain an Old World charm, with simple wooden tables and chairs, old photographs and paintings on the wall and a menu that pays hearty tribute to Germany’s traditional cuisine. Dining here can be a serious gustatorial endeavour with mains that cater to the German appetite for large portions, featuring house specials like "Berlin in a clay pot" - the equivalent of a meat pie stuffed either with Buletten (Berlin meatballs) or pickled herrings and heavyweight three-course options. Recommended are the braised shoulder of lamb with fried dumplings or the mouth-watering Eisbein (pork shank), which arrives already impaled with a meat knife.
Zur Letzten Instanz, Waisenstraße 14-16 ,10179 Berlin (030 2425528, www.zurletzteninstanz.de). Open Midday-1am Mon-Sat.
This Prenzlauerberg hotspot is one of the best examples of traditional German cuisine in town. Despite the high caliber of its food, its wooden interior and simple furnishings lend the place a down-to-earth German pub feel. The menu is limited but changes daily and reflects locally available seasonal ingredients; consistent highlights are the marinated sheep's cheese and the pork fillet stuffed with plums. Note that this is a highly popular place and it’s sometimes difficult to secure a table after 8pm, especially at weekends.
Oderquelle, Oderberger Straße 27, 10435 Berlin (030 44 00 80 80, www.oderquelle.de). Open 7pm-1am daily.
Prenzlauerberg’s Gugelhof pays tribute to the exquisite taste that the Franco-German region of Alsace continues to exude today. It takes influence from the well known gastronomical hotspot located between three major rivers (Mosul, Rhine, Saar), and where ingredients are as diverse as they are numerous. The space has a solid, traditional feel with large wooden tables and professional service, and previous guests have included former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Gugelhof’s regional specialities range from Flammkuchen (known in France as Tarte Flambé, a flatbread pizza smothered in fromage blanc or crème fraîche and baked in a wood fire oven) to Alsatian cassoulet, composed of potatoes, leeks, onions, beef, lamb marinated in Alsatian white wine.
Gugelhof, Kollwitzplatz (corner Knaackstraße 37), 10435 Berlin (030 442 9229, www.gugelhof.de) Open 4pm-Close Mo-Fr; 10am-Close Sat-Sun.
Named after German film director Ernst Lubitsch, this restaurant blends Berlin's flair for the arts with its insatiable craving for traditional comfort food. Directors, film and TV stars mingle with locals and the smell of fine food that wafts from the kitchen. Lubitsch's menu changes according to the seasons and features beloved house classics like der "Lubitsch" burger, Maultaschen (filled Ravioli-style noodles) with fresh tomato salad or the Berliner Kartoffelsuppe. If the prices are too high for an evening meal, enjoy a casual lunch for a €10.
Lubitsch, Bleibtreustraße 47, 10623 Berlin (030 8823756, www.restaurant-lubitsch.de). Open 10am-Close Mon-Sat, 6pm-Close Sun.
Cafe Obermaier's main ingredient is authenticity. Located off bustling Kottbusser Tor, Obermaier's menu offers a tasteful blend of Alpine and Bavarian regional classics, such as pork loin smothered in cranberry sauce served with fried dumplings and Wiener Schnitzel. Its atmosphere is simple and sparse lending itself more to the down-home charms of a biergarten with its bulky wooden benches and tables clad in blue and white checked tablecloths. The extensive selection of domestic brews provide a nice window into German beer culture, as well as the perfect complement to the hearty fare - all at the very unbeatable price.
Café Obermaier, Erkelenzdamm 17, 10999 Berlin (030 6165 6862). Open 6-11pm daily.
Spätzle & Knödel
As the name implies this place is a hotspot for those Swabian staples spätzle (pasta) and knödel (dumplings). One of the few good German-themed eateries in Friedreichshain, don’t let the small, almost dingy exterior and minimal interior put you off: the food is very decent. Aside from the eponymous main attractions, other Southern classics are on offer such as liver dumpling soup and sauerkraut, touted for its unique acidic taste and high nutrient content. There’s a sweet selection of Bavarian brews too.
Spätzle & Knödel, Wühlischstr. 20 (030 2757 1151, www.spaetzleknoedel.de). Open from 5pm-Close Mon-Fri, 3pm-Close Sat-Sun.
Overlooking Görlitzer Park, Eckbert-Zwo's fresh approach to traditional German cuisine sets it apart from other establishments. Regional cuisine is mixed with a seasonal philosophy to create concoctions such as kohlrabi soup, bratkatoffeln (pan-fried potatoes cooked with bacon) and Rindergoulash, a German take on Hungarian goulash. The simple minimalist interior – all plain, dark wooden tables – might not appeal to lovers of swank but the high quality cuisine keeps it deservedly popular.
Eckbert Zwo, Görlitzer Straße 53, 10997 Berlin (030 6272 5726, www.eckbertzwo.de).
Open 11.30am-2am Mon-Fri, 10am-2am Sat-Sun.
Nansen got game – in particular it has clever concoctions like venison leg served with onion tart and sides of yellow beets. Located in the heart of Kreuzkölln along the canal, its experimental approach to traditional Deutsche Kuche is gutsy enough, with a menu that breathes new life into German classics and is peppered with seasonal charisma. A good example of the pseudo-chic German restaurants that have started to emerge across the city, Nansen nonetheless manages to not take itself too seriously, morphing into a late night watering hole when the kitchen closes.
Nansen, Maybachufer 39, Berlin (030 6630 1438, www.restaurant-nansen.de). Open from 6pm daily.