German food gets a bad reputation – but it's not all stodgy slabs of meat and sausage. Berlin's culinary scene has so much more to offer if you know where to look
Everyday German food is surprisingly healthy, contrary to popular opinion – you're almost certain to find a bowl of salad at the table of every German family. Lentil soups are also fairly popular, as are potato salads and asparagus (spargel) dishes in the south.
Average German restaurants will indeed slap down a platter of meat before you until you're ready to burst – but for quality over quantity, you just have to know where to go...
Röntgenstrasse 7, 10587 Berlin
The Schnitzelei is the place to go for up-market schnitzel in Berlin, and has it in all its forms. Typical Wiener Art schnitzel is essentially a slice of pork fried with breadcrumbs, a German speciality; juicy and chewy, with a twist of lemon. It's a good place to start for the uninitiated. Upon arrival at the riverside restaurant, you'll be prepped with a half pint of Pilsener with which to peruse the wide variety of choices; the restaurant has a great atmosphere for adults and families, and the portions are generous. Their aim is to show that, despite the traditional, common nature of the schnitzel, “a schnitzel can still always be a surprise” – a new face to traditional German cooking.
Pick of the plates: The original Wiener Schnitzel is always a good option, and is top of the list if you're a newcomer, but there are several types for the initiated, including cheese schnitzel for vegetarians – goat's cheese in breadcrumbs served on a spinach salad with a strawberry dressing.
www.cafeamneuensee.de (in German)
Lichtenstein Allee 2, 10787 Berlin
It's not the easiest place to find, hidden among leafy trees and bushes, but after a long day's walk through the massive expanse that is Tiergarten, Cafe am Neuen See is a welcome respite. Whether the sun is shining and you're sat out on the benches overlooking the lake, or snuggled up inside in the warm cafe next to the log fire with a hot drink after trudging through the snowy depths of the forest, it's a wonderful place to while away an hour or two.
Pick of the plates: In winter, the hot chocolate is devilishly luxurious, but the German speciality to try here is the flammkuchen. A German-style pizza, flammkuchen is made thinly with bread dough, making it softer than a typical thin-crust pizza, and is spread with Crème fraîche and sprinkled with fresh marjoram, bacon and onions.
www.spandauer-zollhaus.de (in German)
Möllentordamm 1, 13597 Berlin
Most tourists don't make it all the way out to the district of Spandau in the North-West, which makes the Zollhaus all the better. You won't find many tourists, and it certainly won't be packed to the brim like the more central restaurants, only locals who realise the value of this charming little restaurant in one of the oldest parts of the city. The Zollhaus serves much lighter versions of the typical German fare; you won't leave feeling stuffed to breaking point like you can with many German dishes (although there is the option...), the whole restaurant feels more like someone's living room. Here the focus is on serving traditional, good-quality food from the Berlin-Brandenburg area as it would be served at home. One of the most pleasant hidden gems of Berlin.
Pick of the plates: The Spandauer kolk-taschen; similar to maultaschen, Germany's equivalent to ravioli, and a speciality in Baden-Württemberg. Kolk-taschen are small pasta packages filled with ground turkey and served with a dill-cream sauce, a light and fresh dish.
Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 13, 10178 Berlin
Traditional, unfussy German fare just off Alexanderplatz, Brauhaus Mitte is the place to go for plain and simple German specialities. Their restaurant even has its own in-house brewery and does fantastic pilsener, some of the best in Berlin. It has a strange feel to it, the restaurant occupies the top balcony of an indoor, typically East-Berlin shopping centre. What you see is what you get, and if you're after good, hearty, traditional German food, then take a seat!
Pick of the plates: The käsespätzle, a wonderfully cheesy dish similar to a pasta bake with chopped vegetables and bacon served in the hot pan it was cooked in. Anything with bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) is good, while the Rote Grütze is a typical German dessert option, a red berry pudding served with custard. Opt for the kartoffelpuffer, fluffy potato pancakes served with apple sauce, for a lighter, sweeter meal.
www.zumschusterjungen.com (in German)
Danziger Strasse 9, 10435 Berlin
A smaller, quieter alternative to the raucous beer halls, Zum Schusterjungen serves traditional German food in a warmly-lit restaurant within easy reach of Eberswalder Strasse; lanterns hang from the ceiling and vine tendrils adorn the walls, the pub has a much more intimate feel to it than many alt-Berliner restaurants. The portions are far more manageable, but still hearty, the rich meat gravies thick and delicious, and the dumplings soft and filling. It's one of the last once-popular 'corner pubs' in Berlin and promotes good, German home-style cooking in a calm, ambient, rustic atmosphere.
Pick of the plates: The thick beef goulash with red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Tucholskystrasse 37, 10117 Berlin Mitte
German dinners may be hearty affairs, but for lunch a delicate kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) is favoured. The name 'Princess Cheesecake' may conjure up images of little girls' tea parties, tiaras and pink, however, the cafe itself is in fact a far more sophisticated affair, and not a hint of pink in sight. German cheesecakes are not as sweet as in some countries, and they are often made with the thick, yoghurty Quark rather than rich cream cheese, of which there are plenty in Princess Cheesecake. The cafe prides itself on making all its cakes with natural ingredients, flavourings and colourings from the Berlin-Brandenburg area. It's the best cake in Berlin hands-down.
Pick of the plates: The typical German cheesecake 'Von Oma nur für mich' (From Grandma, just for me), or the lemon citrus cheesecake 'Mondanité'
Germany is known for its Christmas markets for a reason, and part of that experience is the wonderful food that is on offer this time of year; iced gingerbread hearts (lebkuchen), ginger Spekulatius biscuits, baumkuchen – a light, fluffy vanilla cake that is made by slowly cooking the cake batter in layers and then covering it in a light layer of chocolate, it gets its name 'tree-cake' because of the rings the technique produces. Rich, handmade, icing sugar-covered stollen stalls can be found all over the city, and cocoa powder-dusted balls of marzipan are also quite popular around the Christmas period. The ultimate in sweet treats is the germknödel – a large, steamed doughnut filled with plum jam and covered in custard and hot cherries.
Pick of the plates: Go to Potsdamer Platz Christmas market for germknödel. Gendarmenmarkt, however, has the best choice of local, handmade produce and freshly made in front of you Christmas food.