Exposed brick walls, original wood floors, a mishmash of flea market-sourced tables and chairs, a handful of plants and stickered bathroom stalls — the defining aesthetic traits of Berlin’s restaurants and bars. I sound disdainful but I quickly came to love this look when I first moved to the city. They reflect Berlin’s come as you are ethos and are a welcome counter to the polished establishments I’d grown bored of in London.
But variety is the spice of life, so they say. And, unassuming as it is, Berlin has a lot to offer that’s easily missed during fleeting visits or even by those living in the city. The food scene has come a long way in recent years and great new restaurants are opening so quickly it’s hard to keep up.
We want to honour Berlin’s best designed restaurants that have crafted not just incredible dishes but beautiful settings in which to enjoy them. Eating experiences are about more than just taste. The best chefs and restaurateurs recognise they have all the senses to play with. And the means to do so include not just what’s presented on the plate but everything else around it.
You don’t have to be studied or a fanatic to enjoy good design. Like any art, appreciating it often comes down to feeling. Appreciating interior design can be as simple as asking, “what do I feel when I’m inside this place?” Dining in the restaurants below, the answer is guaranteed to extend beyond “hungry.”
From the outside, Ryōtei 893 resembles an abandoned store, now a canvas for graffiti artists and vandals. And was, in fact, a drugstore before the retail company went bankrupt in 2012. Fortunately, no signs of its past life exist within. Instead, guests are greeted by an energetic open kitchen, atmospheric lighting and elegant marble countertops. It shares Kantstraße and the surrounding area with some of Berlin’s best Asian cuisine but the sense of surprise upon entry, the joy of watching its chefs in action and, of course, the food mean Ryōtei 893 is undeniably one of the best. If you’re still not convinced, its mastermind creator Duc Ngo is also the chef behind Cocolo Ramen, Kuchi, Funky Fisch, Ngo Kim Pak and The Golden Phoenix.
Dae Mon’s plush interior is overlooked by a pair of Gatsby-esque eyes that survey the restaurant from above the kitchen. Incandescent lighting makes everything from the artwork on the walls to the furnishings all the more alluring. Defined as “open-minded cuisine,” the menu is a fusion of European-, Japanese- and Korean-inspired dishes. However, in the spirit of open-mindedness, chef Raphael Schünemann sources inspiration from around the globe. Dae Mon has also been recommended in the coveted Michelin Guide which awarded it a Michelin Teller — not quite a star but still a noteworthy endorsement.
Locally sourced farm-to-table food has been on the menu at restaurants across Berlin and the world for a while now but newcomer La Côte has applied the same philosophy to its interior design too. The terrazzo tabletops supplied by Kentholz, a Berlin-based business handmaking premium and sustainable furniture, are the first thing you’ll notice as well as the lush green tiles from Berliner Fliesenmarkt. La Côte also works with local wine stores to pair vino with its fresh and uncomplicated menus.
Most cities offer hit-and-miss Italian food, even in Italy, and Berlin is no different. But when someone’s paid careful attention to designing not just a restaurant’s dining area but the bathrooms too, you’re possibly onto a winner. MINE is considered by many to be one of (if not the best) Italian restaurants in Berlin and I wouldn’t argue. On the menu, you’ll find traditionally-made dishes alongside rousing modern portrayals of classics. And you’ll enjoy them in a setting like no other in the city. A bar cart by mid-century Italian furniture designer Aldo Tura is just the cherry on the cake.
A Berlin staple, but a beautiful one nonetheless. Pauly Saal occupies what was once the gymnasium of a former Jewish girls’ school. Its original features, lofty ceilings, luscious green seating, large windows and a six-meter replica rocket set the scene for a Wes Anderson film. But it’s also the ideal setting for chef Dirk Gieselmann’s classic French menu with the option for three to six courses. As for service, few restaurants in the city offer anything quite like it.
Unless you’re a traveller committed to keeping off the beaten path, Richard isn’t a restaurant you’re likely to stumble upon. Yet, Richard is housed within a 19th-century building that’s been home to restaurants for almost a decade. The latest is the work of Hans Richard, a Swiss chef and artist whose combination of talents lend themselves to both a changing four-course menu and carefully curated contemporary works of art throughout the space. While you might come for the food, you’ll stay to stroll from corner to corner as if visiting a gallery and peer up at the elegantly carved ceiling above.
Words: Aaron Howes