The economic struggles of many European countries has seen a steady stream of young migrants coming to Berlin in recent years – and the upside is a palpable surge of energy in the local culinary landscape. Nowhere is this more visible than in the ‘New Spanish Wave’ of restaurant openings, with tapas, Basque and Catalan cuisines well represented. At the helm is Bar Raval, owned by actor Daniel Brühl, of Goodbye Lenin and Inglorious Basterds fame. Half-Spanish and a Barcelona tapas expert, Brühl teamed up with an old friend, restaurateur Atilano González, to show Berlin how it’s done. In a modern canteen-like setting overlooking Görlitzer Park, the pair imported tiles from Spain and filled their cellar with excellent Spanish grape. The open-plan kitchen serves classics such as Spanish omelette and salt-cod fritters. They do a weekly paella night and regional monthly specials, such as Valencian monkfish in paprika sauce or Basque veal cheeks.
Lübbener Strasse 1, Ecke Görlitzer Strasse.
Authentic Japanese-style ramen is booming everywhere. Originally imported from China into Japan, the dish consists of three key constituent parts: the base broth, the noodles (varying wildly in size but made with alkaline water giving them elasticity and their characteristic yellow colour) and finally the ‘style’, which includes both the added soup flavouring and toppings. Head to Cocolo for the best in Berlin: originally a tiny bar in Mitte, due to popular demand it has opened a spacious second space by the canal in Kreuzberg. There’s a small choice of sides, such as gyoza dumplings and edamame. Then there are representative versions of all the classic ramen styles, from the light shoyu (soy sauce) soup to more unconventional varieties like Tantan, a spicy broth with sweet corn and minced meat.
Gipsstrasse 3, Mitte.
Inside a Brutalist apartment building at the top end of Uhlandstrasse, Gal Ben-Moshe has been spinning straw into culinary gold. The chef cut his chops under two of molecular gastronomy’s leading lights, Claudi Bosi at Hibiscus and Grant Achatz of Alinea, the menu here reflecting the movement’s playful use of science to alter taste perceptions. The black dining room is dominated by a central space walled off by undulating reflective silver fabric, which conceals a compact kitchen from which impeccably plated dishes of surprising flavour combinations emerge. Starters come impaled on smoking cinnamon sticks; soups are adorned with savoury sorbets and most impressively, the showpiece ‘Candybox’ dessert re-imagines the staff’s favourite childhood sweets – there’s Snickers snow, passion fruit Gummy Bears, popping candy and a flash-frozen chocolate mousse, all served directly onto the table. Choose from two rotating tasting menus, of which one is refreshingly vegan, a lifestyle choice often hard done by in the haute cuisine world.
With its entrance on the promenade by the Spree below the Weidendammer Brücke, this comfortably cavernous restaurant is more reminiscent of London or Paris than Berlin. In the beginning it seemed full of local celebrities but has now settled into a lively eaterie for a well-heeled, colourful crowd. A favourite destination for the art scene in particular, locals and tourists come to enjoy fine steaks of Irish, French or Argentine provenance, plus many other meat and fish dishes.
Probably Berlin’s best restaurant right now, and with the awards to prove it. Chef Thomas Kammeier juxtaposes classic haute cuisine with an avant-garde new German style. Dishes such as cheek of ox with beluga lentils and filled calamares bring out the best of a mature kitchen. The beautiful room occupies the entire top floor of the Hotel InterContinental.
Hotel InterContinental, Budapester Strasse 2.
A trip to Berlin isn’t complete without sampling the city’s most popular fast food – the doner kebab. As legend has it, in 1971 one Kadir Nurman decided to adapt the traditional Iskender-style kebab from north-western Turkey to more local tastes by putting it in a toasted flatbread with some fresh salad and sauce. Cheap, portable and filling, the doner caught on massively and the industry is today worth some €2.5 billion (Dhs10.3 billion) a year. Naturally some of the best places can be found in the Turkish areas of Berlin, of which Imren Grill is in the lead. Their outlet on Boppstrasse, close to Kottbusser Damm has a big bare-bones dining room, popular with families; there are plenty of lunch specials including baked fish with stew and rice, but first thing’s first: order the classic döner im brot (kebab in toasted bread), with its stuffing of lamb grilled in neck fat, fresh salad, sesame sauce and chilli flakes. Goods in hand, you might want to join the suited elderly gentlemen at the park in front, who congregate to put the world to rights over cups of sweet black tea.
Boppstrasse 4, Kreuzberg.
French chef Pierre Gagnaire has enough Michelin stars to his name to have a small constellation named after him, and Les Solistes is his latest effort at the new Waldorf-Astoria in Charlottenburg. An anodyne luxury hotel interior is quickly forgotten once the splendid tasting menu begins: four courses at €115 (Dhs476) or seven at €150 (Dhs621). Changing seasonally, French classics are reinterpreted with panache by head chef Roel Lintermans, such as roasted pigeon in a blackcurrant and cherry compote, its leg served atop a heavenly dome of offal jelly, or a foie gras custard with sautéed squid. The chef’s signature showstopper – the ‘grand’ dessert course – is a steady stream of jellied liquids, sorbets, caramels and reductions involving everything from coconut milk laced with tapioca pearls to luxuriant slabs of passion fruit fudge.
Waldorf Astoria, Hardenbergstrasse 28.
Monsieur Vuong, with its chic interiors, central Mitte location and flawless pho stock, is a guidebook darling and has set a template for plenty of passable copycats. There are no reservations but the experienced staff keep the place turning over at a head-spinning rate so there’s usually not too long a wait for a table. It offers up two daily specials usually something saucy with rice or noodles, plus a short, regular menu of phos and noodle salads: a large bowl of the glass noodle dish in broth is topped with chicken or beef and crunchy beansprouts, chopped coriander and a squirt of lime. Their pho is balanced, its stock deeply savoury (none of the telltale over-saltiness of MSG) and freshened up with a generous amount of coriander.
Alte Schönhauser Strasse 46, Mitte.
Head to The Bird up in Prenzlauer Berg (now opening a second branch in Kreuzberg) for a dip into that emotional, American relationship with beef. A dip, in the literal sense, as the menu hectors diners to ditch the ‘uptight’ knife and fork (rolls of kitchen towel are supplied on each table for those wishing to get elbow-deep). Get stuck at one of the large chunky tables for a long-haul meaty experience. Staff stick to the hard-bitten New Yorker stereotype and the restaurant gets rowdy: ‘angry hour’ runs from 6-8pm every day, with a two-for-one offer on hops and 25 cent (Dhs1) spicy chicken wings. The Bird’s burgers starting at €9.50 (Dhs39) are mighty: 250g of freshly minced meat is smothered in molten cheese and caramelised onions, with a toasted English muffin perched jauntily atop the sloppy pile. Alongside this glistening beauty lies an enormous pile of hand-cut fries, one of the restaurant’s highlights. Options for burger variants include blue cheese, guacamole and so on, but any addition here seems like overkill. Don’t plan on doing much after tackling one of these gut-busters; you should roll out virtually prostrate.
Am Falkplatz 5, Prenzlauer Berg.
Local Kreuzberg lad done extremely well, Tim Raue has been extremely busy of late: his flagship picked up a second Michelin star, he curated the Thai concept restaurant at the Adlon Kempinski hotel and opened La Soupe Populaire, an upmarket spin on rustic German classics. For a real splurge, head to his main restaurant near Checkpoint Charlie where the menu best showcases his fusion style: Far East meets West on the former borderland of Berlin. The sleek restaurant, decorated with delicate Chinese pottery and dark wood furniture sits just 30 and while many of Berlin’s fine dining establishments follow the traditional French service dictum, here they pride themselves on informality; the front-of-house staff sport jeans and trainers (the kitchen even has a TV mounted in the corner for football fans in the kitchen). None of this detracts from the exacting dishes. The six-course ‘Unique’ tasting menu at €148 (Dhs613) is preceded by amuse-bouche, such as spicy cashews and prawn sashimi, moving on to main courses featuring Wagyu beef, lobster, Australian winter truffle and tofu, all flaunting Japanese technique and served with blobs, smears or foams of contrasting flavours and colour.
Need to know
Etihad Airways flies direct to Berlin from Abu Dhabi. Passengers from Dubai can take the free shuttle bus to Abu Dhabi airport, departing from Dubai Marina Mall. Flights are from Dhs2,681 return.