We spent a long weekend in Berlin recently, home to one of the fastest growing street food, coffee and bar cultures currently. My colleagues are all crazy about Berlin, because it resembles Budapest in a kind of alternative, shabby chic kind of way. The similarities are strong in Kreuzberg to our Budapest seventh district and then of course there is the Spree river and embankment, and also the communist heritage that can be felt throughout in architecture and some areas. Berlin has a strong vibe.

Foodwise, I think it has a pretty well developing scene, especially on the Middle Eastern and Oriental front, namely Syrian, Turkish, and Vietnamese. I never had so many great Vietnamese dishes in any town recently. And the Turkish döner is to die for in places like Imren. However, the fine dining scene and casual high end has also grown considerably so I ventured into couple of these places. Berlin is truly full of indigenous cooking, flavours from “food refugees” opening shop here in this welcoming city.

First up was Cordobar, a funky and cutting edge wine bar run by Austrians and named after the (in)famous Austrian-German match that took place in Cordoba in 1978 when the Austrians managed to beat the West Germans (and both exited the competition). Cordobar features a great winelist and some wonderful and playful cooking.

The bar features small plates for sharing, kind of like tapas or mezze style, but with very innovative creations such as this one. White stalks of asparagus swimming in a rhubarb and verbena jelly of sorts with hazelnut. I never had any pairing of asparagus similar to this before besides the usual butter, hollandaise versions. But the sweet and tart asparagus went well with the sauce that brought a similar taste profile.

Then there was this escabeche of mackerel inside a roast red pepper with creamy lentils, fennel and mint. Not sure where this came from, but it was an amazing combination. The smoky fish with the lentils and fennel in a creamy paste and the sweet grilled red pepper. Bravo.

Then there was the pork crackling with some sour cream and sweet marmalade type of dip, then if I remember clearly little sheets of kohlrabi rolled up like cigars filled with bacon then little fried falafel style balls with UV green dipping sauce. Cordobar was an intense explosion of flavours from start to finish and very enjoyable. No wonder - word has it - that it is an after-hours haunt of top chefs in the city, I can see that this food is easy to love and the menu changes frequenty enough to stay enjoyable.

Up next in a small leafy street in a not so leafy, but definitely hip and happening Kreuzberg district was a small bistro called Lode&Stijn that along with einsunternull and Nobelhart und Schmutzig tend to be the forerunners of the bistronomy scene in Berlin. Organic wines, a fix seasonal menu and pretty plates and mostly locally sourced ingredients.

Lode&Stijn are two young, Dutch chefs who opened up their restaurant last year. Highlights of an otherwise not such special meal were the Bitterballen, which are Dutch meatballs with a fresh mayo sauce which were really great packed with flavor and also a superb steak tartare which was placed on a sourdough bread slice compliments to one of the chefs baking skills. 

The tartare carried such a depth of flavor and the bread was so good and soaked in meat juices and other rich flavours that it clearly meant the detour to this restaurant was worthwhile and probably worth the 60 euros for the menu.

My notes are sketchy after this, but less innovative was the clunky white asparagus with chicken liver parfait (?) if I remember well and the main course which featured two types of meat out of which one was nice and pink and the other a sinewy and old overcooked specimen. It seemed very strange to pair the two together on the plate.

Overall I believe the ingenuity and the innovativeness of the dishes fell behind others in the city, for me it was oversimplified to an extent that could be called boring in some cases. In some of the dishes the technique failed also, but maybe that should be true for a restaurant that tries to reinvent itself week after week. Plus I had a serious issue with the organic wines, just don’t get that at all.

Last, but not least, I read on the berlinfoodstories page about a restaurant called Bandol sur Mer, which was just down our street in Mitte on Torstrasse. It was a weird French sounding restaurant and based on name alone I wouldn’t have chosen it, especially in Berlin. It sounded like a posh and dusty French Brasserie. But how wrong I was and how right the much-abused Michelin guide were to award it a star. It was our best meal there by far.

The restaurant is very small and the two chefs working their asses off in the kitchen plus the two servers who were extremely professional and well trained did a marvellous job. Both lady and gentlemen were knowledgeable on the produce, the food, the ingredients, the wines, everything. Truly skilled restaurateurs. And the two chefs were also amazing at how they managed to produce such wonders for all these tables. Out of the two options of fish and meat menus we went for both to savour what they had come up with. The food is far more elevated than at Lode for example and could be termed as a highly creative fine dining menu with mostly French influences and ingredients. Some of the ingredient pairings also strike you as being very adventurous in some cases.

First the bread was simply world class. Every guest received their own little loaf cut up into segments with churned butter. Next up some snacks with tomato and cheese on a little pastry – sort of like a 
mini pizza, and also some mini tortilla like snacks.

The saibling with kopfsalat, lemon, miso, grated bayleaf and radish was a visually stunning dish with all the greens and the contrasting pink flowers. Not only was it beautiful, but also a pleasure to devour in a couple of minutes.

Another stunner was the veal sweetbread cooked to perfect consistency and “soft crunch” with the rich egg yolk and caviar sauce to dip it in. The egg was a runny 65 degrees - according to the menu- , but no matter because the whole course was so umami rich. The pea and the cress sauce complimented / cut through nicely.

Like a work of art, the red mullet appeared with the smoky pork and chitterling andouilette sausage wrapped in bacon, mussels broth and the nicely pickled artichoke on top. Again the contrasting rich, smoky, pickled flavours complemented the perfectly flaky fish well.

Ran out of notes here was well but we also had an exquisite duck with morels and a rich jus and a really nice pan fried and crispy skin piece of perch. All very well done and can be considered a bargain again for the quality of cooking that Bandol represents. Anything like this would be well over 100 E/ person elsewhere.

After that of course we couldn’t miss the spinach pide and the döner kebab plate at Imren, one of the best Turkish places in the city. A great meal for under 10 euros for two.

Berlin is a true cultural melting pot – loads of interesting places and loads of energy. It was a bit hit and miss with some of the places, but I think they are all very young and talented and there is loads of time to craft and perfect their skills.

Cordobar – Overall 7,5/10
Lode & Stijn – overall 6,5/10

Bandol Sur Mer – overall 8,5/10