The first time I came to Berlin I was 18, I had to beg my head chef at the time to take 8 weeks off to go travel Europe. You can only imagine his reaction but in fairness to him he said ok. I had been working as a chef while in my first year of catering college at the then “Tea Rooms at the Clarence Hotel”. I remember listening to all the chefs talk about the food in all the different parts of Europe and thought I need to experience that. So that summer myself and two other friends packed up and began our adventure.
Our first stop was Amsterdam and well, we all know what goes on there. What I was really looking forward to was taking a sleeper train from Amsterdam with a quick stopover on the Dutch/German border to Berlin, my first stop in Germany. The journey was pretty uneventful for the most part, as one can imagine it is pretty dark at night so not much sightseeing.
However a very serious German soldier on leave, in full combats, joins the three amigos in our carriage and to say you could hear a pin drop is an understatement. We honestly thought he was going to kill us. After about an hour he left, presumably to terrorise another set of young travellers. However he returned twenty minutes later, again the tension mounted until he broke his silence, asked where we were from, and proceeded to crack open two bottles of Jagermeister and hand out beers. Honestly one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He jumped off somewhere near Hanover.
With too much dark German spirit sloshing around in us we tried to get a little shut eye. It was with a slightly fuzzy head that I saw Berlin for the first time. With the Brandenburg Gate practically being the first thing I saw from the train, it is incredible that with the level of destruction inflicted on the Germans during the war the gate remained. The sheer size of the city is incredible. I have returned to Berlin and Germany numerous times over the years but Berlin is a place I truly love. Honestly if I were 15 years younger I would live there in a heartbeat.
Most tourists tend to stay in the west or central, where the big hotels and shopping are situated, but for me I love the east, areas like Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, which are in my opinion are much better for food and drink. These areas are also great for a more authentic Berlin experience and are perfect for foodies and families alike.
Timplhof airport, which is obviously no longer in use, is the perfect place to chill out and have a few Raddlers in the summer months. However for a truly enjoyable experience Mauerpark flea market, which is held every Sunday from 9am to 6pm, is so much fun. Don’t think of it as a flea market, think of it as more of a weekly food and goods market. The best part of Mauerpark has to be the famous Bearpit Karaoke which is hosted by a man from Palmerstown in Dublin. Gareth Lennon is the ringmaster from April to October and it is absolutely wild. Think Roman blood sport meets Pop Idol. It is notoriously difficult to get a chance to sing. My wife, a professional singer in a past life, to date has been unsuccessful in her attempts to get on the mic. Definitely worth a trip.
Like many old world cities, most people have an idea of what the food will be like. Yes you will find big massive hunks of Ham Hock (Eisbein), great Weiner Schnitzel (my personal favourite), Curry Wurst and of course the ubiquitous Doner Kebab (which the city does better than another but I’ll get to that later).
Berliners are like no other, they aren’t rude and don’t look down on any other parts of Germany. They simply are Berliners. They don’t give a “feck” what you think. They do what they want, where they want. Being one of the most tolerant cities in the world, Berlin is a city that offers something to everyone at any time of the day or night. A weekend in Berlin is good for the soul.
Over the last 20 years, Berliner restaurants have gained a reputation for being some of the best in the world and for good reason, that inclusive “do what you want” spirit has found a home in some of the city’s best eateries and watering holes. Here are some of the delicious and fun places I have been to on my visits to this fantastic city.
So let’s talk food!
Mrs Robinson is the brain child of Samina Raza, and Israeli chef Ben Zviel. They met in the line to the toilet at the Berghain and, as they say, the rest is history. I came here with my wife and a friend of ours who lives in Berlin. We were told this is one of the best restaurants in Berlin and he wasn’t wrong. Produce-led and very clever cooking with a great sense of humour make this a must with anyone looking for serious food without all the “madam and sir” BS.
The menu is season-driven so it changes whenever Chef Ben wants. We enjoyed incredible German white asparagus with rhubarb, which sounds a bit mad but was honestly one of the best dishes I have ever eaten…(fecker!). The meal ended with a shot of schnapps which was made at Noma in Copenhagen called “Fuck Trump and his stupid fucking wall blend”, which was a very tasty way to finish a meal.
Zur Letzten instanz is the oldest restaurant in Berlin, boasting on their website that famous guests have included Jack Nicholson and Charlie Chaplin, to name a few. This is old school and I love it. I don’t know, maybe in my mind this is what I thought all restaurants in Germany would be like. Lots of wood and a big Berliner welcome. The smell of pork, mustard and sauerkraut in the air, all washed down with weissbier.
On a cold winter’s day in Berlin (where it can get well into the negative Celsius) this place will make you feel good. You must have the Königsberger Klopse, usually veal or pork meatballs served in a creamy sauce finished with capers, delicious!
Restaurant Tim Raue
I’m sure most of you saw this “bad boy” of the Berliner dining scene on the hit Netflix documentary “Chef’s Table”. OH!! He’s such a bad boy!!! Well forget all that. Yes I sure as hell wouldn’t want to work for him, but eating at Restaurant Tim Raue is a truly stunning dining experience. Precision and beautifully spiced dishes are the name of the game here.
Bottom line, the incorporation of east meets west is taken to a whole new level here. The Wasabi Langoustine is truly a world class dish, as is the Peking Duck preparation. I must admit my visit was some years ago and doing my research for this piece, I see the restaurant has evolved even further more into a pseudo east/west fusion. Tim Raue is one of the most focused chefs on the planet for sure, but I’ll enjoy from the safety of the dining room, thank you!
Mustafa’s gemüse kebab
Of course this Berliner mega hero doesn’t have a website, and why should it when it usually has a daily queue longer than the line to the Berghain on a Friday night. As a younger chef, my Friday night treat was always a mixed Doner Kebab. Chicken and lamb with red cabbage, tomato, lettuce, garlic and chilli sauce in case you were wondering. As I said earlier, I have been to Germany and Berlin in particular numerous times, so to say I have done my research on the kebab is an understatement.
We are all guilty of the 3am kebab, usually in a styrofoam container on the way home from the usual Saturday night shenanigans. However in Berlin this simple meat between bread is elevated to an art form. From the Turkish durum wheat bread to the grilled vegetables and homemade sauces. The kebab is filled and usually grilled again to result in a hot and crisp textured bread… heaven. At Mustafa’s the queue is very much justified. My advice? Order two at a time and thank me later.
Kumpel und Keule
Kumpel und Keule serves MEAT, founded by Jörg Forstera (who is the youngest meat meister in Germany) and Hendrik Haase. These guys are bringing back the lost art of low production but super top quality meat butchery and this place is a showcase of that wonderful work. On my visit I ate stunning sausages… Yes I had Currywurst and it was the best, plus braised ox cheeks in red wine and some incredibly aged beef steaks. Definitely one for the colder months. Remember there is so much good stuff going on here so don’t make the same mistake I did… pace yourself.
On to drinks!
As I was saying earlier, Berlin has something for everyone… I will admit I tried and failed to get into Berghain! However luckily for me Berghain is not the only place in the city to party. In my later years, my focus has shifted from all night raves to a more civilised version of myself. Here are some great places to quench your thirst and sate that desire for a perfectly prepared cocktail.
This tiny bar in Shoneburg is owned by Gregor Scholl. Honestly, you wouldn’t swing a cat in this place but the cocktails are world class. Every review of this place says the same thing: “don’t ask for a mojito”. Basically, in true Berliner style, if you do you’ll probably be asked to leave. If you’re a cocktail person this place is definitely for you. There is no menu so know what you like in advance… no “Shirley Temples” here and don’t get me started on asking for a “Screwdriver”. Perhaps have two or three different cocktails that are your favourites in mind and ask him to make them. This is a great place to perhaps have one of those cheeky Thursday nights, when let’s say your friend who lives in the city has to work the next day but you’re on holidays… sorry PJ!
Bar 3 is as hip as they come, located near Sohohouse. This uber cool Berliner bar is where the arty film and theatre crowd go. If you want to feel cool, and are perhaps contemplating moving to Berlin, this is definilety the bar for you. I liked it because it serves one of my favourite styles of beer, Kolsh from Cologne, which I found hard to come by. The vibe is thirty somethings and is a perfect starting place before hitting the town.
If, like me, beer is your favourite tipple, then you already know that some of the best beers in the world come from Germany. The Reinheitsgebot was introduced to Bavaria in 1516 and all of Germany from 1906, and stated only water, hops, barley and yeast are permitted. Hangovers aside, traditional beer halls can be found all over Germany, mostly Bavaria, but Berliners have created their own style and at the salon of Shneeeule you are definitely in beer heaven.
Schneeeule is one of the best known breweries in Berlin with their famous Berliner Weisse. My advice come early and cosy up in this perfect spot for day drinking and having a good old chin wag with friends.
To be honest Berlin is a city full of clubs, bars, cocktail bars and you can even have a beer on the street. Every time I come to Berlin I find a new place, that’s just Berlin. When it comes to eating and drinking in this incredible city there is literally no end to the options. From kebab shops to multi-Michelin starred restaurants, the local pub to a multi-storey night club located in the basement of an art installation…that’s a story for another article!
Berlin is the poster child for a good time, fantastic people, amazing culture and of course, world class food and drink. If you find yourself in Kreuzberg on a warm summer’s day, a pint of Raddler and a Currywurst are the order of the day… when in Rome!
Konigsberger Klopse Recipe
-200g pork mince
-200g beef mince
-1 diced onion
-4 salted anchovy fillets
-1 pinch all spice
-25g unsalted butter
-400ml chicken stock
-2 tbsp of capers in brine
-Juice of half a lemon
Serve with: small potatoes of your choice with loads of parsley and butter
- For the meatballs, soak the breadcrumbs with the cream and leave for 5 minutes.
- Once soaked, add these to the rest of the meatball ingredients and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
- In a wide pan add the butter and sauté the meatballs until golden brown.
- Next add the stock and simmer the meatballs for 10 mins until cooked all the way.
- Add the cream and reduce by half.
- Lastly add the capers and the lemon juice. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley.
- Serve with buttery boiled potato with loads more parsley.
“When in Rome” – Berlin with Eric Matthews
For the last 6 years Eric Matthews was the head chef at Dublin’s famous Michelin starred Chapter One. Eric has over 18 years experience working in Michelin starred restaurants around the globe, having trained under some of the best chefs in Ireland and internationally, including Heston Blumenthal, Philip Howard and Guillame Brahimi. This year Eric was named in The Independent’s annual Top 50 People to Watch in 2022. Eric is also a food content creator and a regular at Taste of Dublin. More recently Eric was a judge on the RTE series ‘Battle of the Food Trucks’.
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