Berlin's culinary scene boasts diversity, unique venues and reasonable prices. Eat at all hours in the city by following my advice
Berlin isn’t renowned for its culinary prowess in the same way that, say, Paris, Madrid or Rome are. But in recent years the City-on-the-Spree has come on leaps and bounds and what it lacks in fine dining it more than makes up for in diversity, unique venues and reasonable prices.
Breakfast and brunch
Cheap rents and an independent attitude have spawned a thriving independent café scene in Berlin, and breakfast and brunch are especially popular in the city, particularly at weekends. One of the most beloved spots is Barcomi’s (Sophienstrasse 21; 030 2859 8363; www.barcomis.de), brainchild of Cynthia Barcomi, a former professional dancer who moved to Berlin from the States in the 80s and baked her way to a mini food empire that incorporates cookbooks, TV shows and two excellent cafés.
The Barcomi's in Kreuzberg (Bergmannstr. 21; 030 6948138; www.barcomis.de) roasts its own coffee beans on the premises and offers a fairly down-to-earth, local ambience. Slightly more popular with visitors however, is the newer outlet in Mitte. Hidden away in a scenic ivy-covered courtyard close to Hackescher Markt, it has a fantastic deli out back and American-style diner booths from which you can order everything from hand-made bagels (5-7 euros) to expansive breakfasts (7-9 euros) and - the house speciality – divine NY cheesecake.
Berlin being something of a notorious party town, afternoon brunch is even more popular than breakfast – again, especially at the weekend. On Sundays a lot of spots offer buffet-style brunches; one of the best can be found at Pappa e Ciccia (Schwedter Str. 18; 030 6162-0801; www.pappaeciccia.de), a smart but unpretentious Italian-style restaurant/deli with long picnic tables inside and out. The buffet includes delicious pasta and inventive salads, grilled salmon, eggs to order and fresh lasagne right out of the oven – all for 9.50 euros per person. Before you leave, be sure to take a peek in the deli next door, which sells sweet treats and specially imported Italian wines.
Coffee and cake
Germany’s kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) tradition is taken seriously in Berlin too: think of English afternoon tea but with cake and strong coffee instead of Darjeeling and delicate sandwiches. Many of Berlin’s cafés sell decent cake products for this purpose, but one of the most famous (and best) is Anna Blume (Kollwitzstraße 83; 030 4404-8641; www.cafe-anna-blume.de) a florist and café named after a 1919 Kurt Schwitters poem.
Lines from Schwitters' poem can be found amidst the distinctive Art Deco interior and all manner of gorgeous sweet treats wink and wave from behind the glass counter - including some that use next door’s plants and flowers as ingredients. Choose an elegant table or booth inside, or – if it’s warm – grab a seat on the generous terrace. Look out for the ‘tree library’ - a free community book hub located inside a nearby tree trunk.
There are plenty of wonderful evening dinner options in Berlin. For something sophisticated, try Borchardt (Franzoesische Straﬂe 47; 0308 1886230). This Berlin classic, located on the Gendarmenmarkt, boasts a capacious interior with splendid art-nouveau mosaics (discovered during a refurbishment) and stately marble columns.
It’s popular with distinguished locals (politicians, celebrities) as well as tourists. The French-German menu is generally excellent, though most plump for the schnitzel, which is notoriously bigger than the plate it arrives on. Staff can be patronising and the prices are high (Around 70 euros for two, including wine), but the spacious garden patio is a splendid place to enjoy a glass of chilled Riesling in the summer.
At the other end of the scale is the decidedly democratic (and deliberately kitsch) White Trash Fast Food (Schönhauser Allee 6/7; 30 5034 8668; www.whitetrashfastfood.com) another Berlin institution that’s as famed for its regular DJ and bands as it is for the irreverent but tasty menu that includes juicy burgers, Mom’s apple pie and “porno-nachos”.
White Trash can feed you anytime before midnight – but after that it’s all about the burger joints, pizza spots and Turkish kiosks. There are many of these places scattered around the city, so whatever time you stumble out of a club or bar it’s unlikely you’ll go hungry.
Of course there’s good and bad choices to make, even at that hour. For a slightly superior burger experience served from a unique location (a former public toilet beneath the Schlesiches Tor U-Bahn) try Burger Meister (Oberbaumstrasse 8; 03022436493; www.burger-meister.de). Their home-made burgers are reliably tasty and well priced (between 3-4 euros) and although it gets busy in the small hours, service tends to be pretty quick.
Of course, a trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without currywurst. Kreuzberg’s Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36, 030 2517368, www.curry36.de) is something of a sausage Mecca, serving up yummy hot dogs smothered in curry ketchup for just €1.70 a go – perfect fuel for that final trek home.
Where to stay
The Circus Hotel is the more upscale sister establishment of backpacker favourite, the Circus Hostel. Located just across the road in central Berlin, it offers comfort and hipness for reasonable prices - and it's family friendly too.