If you’re heading to one of Europe’s traditional Christmas markets this year, take the opportunity to sample the local food and wine while you’re there. Fiona Sims offers a guide to five of the best cities for foodies
The market: There are many Christmas markets located all over Germany’s sprawling capital city – more than 70, in fact. The largest is in the old town of Spandau, lit by 1,000 fairy lights and complete with glassblowers; 25 November to 22 December.
Stay: Sir Savigny hotel, Charlottenburg, offers a sense of place with a sense of humour – press the ‘Butcher Bell’ in your room and you get straight through to the kitchen.
Long seen as the world capital of the underground, and still somewhere to which artists, musicians and writers flock, Berlin now has another face, one of tech start-ups and electronic music, stylish designer hotels and cutting-edge restaurants, with cuisines that span the world. But you do need to know where to go. ‘While there are lots of great restaurants in Berlin, there are many more terrible ones,’ warns Per Meurling, a Swedish former chef and now influential food and restaurant blogger based in the city. Meurling will point you in the right direction if you visit his website.
If you want to experience a little of that Berlin underground feel, albeit with classy wines and a stylish interior, then head to the Berlin-Mitte district to a wine bar called Freundschaft after 6pm, Tuesday to Saturday, where Johannes Schellhorn and Willi Schlögl will show you a good time. There’s great bar food, such as beef salad with Styrian pumpkin seed oil, creative cocktails and an impressive 500-bin list, 10% of which costs less than €50, with up to 20 wines always open on the bar.
Ring the doorbell at the nondescript frontage of Nobelhart & Schmutzig and an astonishing dining experience awaits. Executive chef Micha Schäfer serves up Berlin’s Cordo brutal lokal (‘brutally local’) cuisine in a 10-course menu prepared using products from the capital and its surroundings, while award- winning sommelier Billy Wagner recommends wines from a thrilling list, split into sections such as ‘fruit-driven’ and ‘terroir-driven’.
For more of contemporary Berlin, with Asian flavours, head to Mrs Robinson’s. Here Israel-born chef Ben Zviel turns out an exciting array of small plates to share, such as North Sea crab and tempura quail eggs, and grilled seabass and cabbage with a kimchi broth, paired with an equally interesting line-up of wines selected by co-owner Samina Raza.
At the southern tip of the Kreuzberg district you’ll find St Bartholomew, a gastropub run by Aussie chef Lee Thompson. Sit in the flickering candlelight and enjoy dishes such as burnt Jerusalem artichokes with aioli and Thompson’s signature buttermilk-fried chicken, washed down with wines from a reasonably priced, well-chosen list, particularly those sourced from Eastern Europe.
At Cordo you can pop in for a snack and a glass of wine, or the full eight courses of reasonably priced, imaginative cooking, with dishes such as hamburger red fruit jelly and corn-fed chicken ‘Cesar’. The wine list is packed full of great names from this part of the world, from Jurtschitsch and Pfifferling, to Pittnauer.