One of the best and worst things about Berlin is the fact that some of its most excellent restaurants are so damned hard to find, even when you’ve put the address in Google maps, even when someone has explained that the door is hidden under a dark railway bridge or told you that you’ll find the entrance down a deserted alleyway, next to the bins.
This secrecy is deliberate, of course. It means that when you find the entrance at last, after ages wandering around some of the city’s less savoury areas, you feel like you’ve been let into some secret fine-dining club. Also, when you stumble through the front door, relieved not to have been relieved of your belongings in the street, the often lavish, eclectic interiors are in such stark contrast to the edgy exterior, that they seem all the more exquisite.
Take Tausend, for example, whose entrance is almost hidden from view under a railway bridge. When you knock on the door, a panel slides back, and you feel you’re being sized up, then it opens to let you into a stunning long bar area, where, on the night we visited, a live jazz band was playing. Some people might not like the fact that smoking is allowed here, but to me ( a life-long non-smoker) it made it feel all the more edgy. On the other side of the bar is a small restaurant with a slightly industrial feel, which seemed to be lit only by coloured neon stripes all over the walls.
The service in Tausend was friendly, the atmosphere relaxed, the food delicious. The pork belly with cauliflower, garlic and shitake mushrooms, was exactly as it should be, melt in your mouth, fatty and full of flavour. Starters included ceviche of cod with sweet potato, quince and mint; sashimi with yellowfin, beets, pear and green curry; quinoa with avocado, mango and passion fruit and Tataki beef with cucumber and red pepper. For mains, the choice was simple, steak, trout or a veggie option. All were exquisite, and our shared chocolate desert an art form.
Berlin is nothing if not anarchic, and only this could explain why you’ll find one of its finest vegetarian restaurants, Cookies Cream, housed in an old warehouse, down an alleyway round the back of the Westin Hotel, next to the rubbish bins. You’d never know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. The only clue you’re heading in the right direction is a giant elaborate chandelier hanging above the delivery area. Once again, you have to ring a bell and wait to be let in. Once you step inside, a curtain is swept aside to reveal a dark, cosy bar. Upstairs opens into a large dining room with rough painted brick walls, exposed wooden beams and an exposed concrete ceiling. At one end there’s a large window with not much of a view, and at the other an open kitchen. You can’t fail to notice a large sign on the wall that says ‘Ficken’, which is German for F***. That sort of set the tone for the evening.
The service was prompt, but the attitude of the waiters was a little bit like “think yourself lucky to be here”. I couldn’t fault the food, which was all exceptional, and there was a good choice of excellent wines to go with it., and eventually the waiter warmed to us and even joined us for a drink at the end of the meal. However, we left with a sour taste in our mouths after going back down to the bar for some after dinner drinks and being told by the staff that they’d just stopped serving, then watched as they continued to serve a bunch of young Germans. Our waiter appeared and insisted the bar was still open and made the staff bring us drinks, but it was clear we weren’t welcome. We quickly came to realise that when in Berlin, if you’re face doesn’t fit, go somewhere else.
I found the service at Solar much friendlier than at Cookies Cream, and the food is refreshingly experimental, the menu intriguing and the wine list excellent. However, the restaurant is also so hard to find you’d think it didn’t want anyone to discover it. We found it tucked away in a nondescript shopping precinct, which we spent a while wandering around saying “it can’t be here, we’re in the middle of nowhere”, although in fact it’s not far from Potsdamer Platz or the Brandenburg Gate. When you enter on the ground floor a glass lift whisks you up the outside to the 17thfloor, past elaborate gold jelly-fish lights that dangle from the high ceiling. The restaurant is plush, with a sophisticated, dressy feel. As I said, the service was friendly, our waitress was attentive and helpfully explained the dishes, and she joined us for shots at the end of the meal before we headed upstairs to the lounge, from where you can sip cocktails sitting on swing, admiring the panoramic view of Berlin while listening to a DJ.
Of course, Berlin has loads more excellent restaurants and cafes that are easier to find and offer more casual dining; here you can find everything from fragrant Vietnamese noodles to more traditional German currywurst. However, wherever you end up eating in Berlin, remember this: it’s considered uncool to take selfies or photos of your food, so no uploading pictures of your meal to Instagram, or you might find the waiters giving you the cold shoulder.