When Exberliner proclaimed 2011 “the year of the veg” some food light-years ago, I was among those few ‘freaks’ who had phased meat out of their daily diet. Those were times when we vegetarians didn’t mind the occasional egg for breakfast, a nice butter Brezel, or a dash of cream in our carrot soup. Eight years down the road, there are legions of us, and when we say “animal-free”, we really mean it.
Happily, the city’s food suppliers are finally catering to us – literally, in the case of new TU cafeteria Veggie 2.0. With some 1000 customers a day reported after its April opening, the meatless Mensa was as big of a hit among Berlin students as it was in the press. But the year’s real media darling was Germany’s first vegan zero-waste restaurant Frea (Torstr. 180, Mitte). Opened in the boring end of Torstraße in March, the trendily decorated space has been praised by everyone from Vogue Germany to Forbes for its ethics and seasonal, plant-based cuisine. Enthusiastic owners David and Jasmin make everything in-house including their sourdough bread and pickled vegetables. Here you’ll dine on a bowl of roasted garlic potatoes for starters, followed by perfectly al dente veggie-filled agnolotti or an impressive kohlrabi linguine. Don’t skip the coffee with homemade roasted hazelnut milk! Any leftovers are dealt with by “Gersi”, the coffin-like composter you meet on your way to the toilet. Service is brilliant, wines are excellent and prices fair: a three-course dinner costs just €32.
You’ll find me there when I’m not at vegan/ vegetarian pizzeria Sotto (Neue Hochstr. 25, Wedding), ordering my go-to Porkkala Vegane pie with cured smoky carrot slices, spinach, pesto and almond cream cheese sauce (€9). The restaurant, co-owned by a former Exberliner colleague Bettina Hajanti, has been a Kiez fixture since it opened last year, beloved for its pizzas (served all week) and chef Elena’s menu of Italian dishes and homemade pasta (available Wed-Sun).
Another newcomer to the elevated veggie dining scene, and a much-needed addition to vegan-unfriendly Schöneberg, is chic “cocktail bistro” Bonvivant (Goltzstr. 32). You’ll have to ask which of the seasonal small plates are vegan as opposed to vegetarian, but you’ll be rewarded with expertly cooked local vegetables like organic aubergines from Brandenburg. Waste is reduced through plastic-free deliveries straight from farms and manufacturers, and the head chef makes use of all edible leaves and stalks. Cocktails – like the stunning turquoise Blue 81, a mix of gin, cava, grapefruit and spirulina – are served in dainty glasses at €10-12 each, limiting how many you’ll be willing to try.
The sushi revolution
As Berlin reached peak Vietnamese vegan saturation, its restaurateurs turned to fish-free sushi. Leading the charge was the Cat Tuong group (1990 Vegan Living on Boxhagener Platz, Feel Seoul Good on Kollwitzplatz) and its fusion restaurant Secret Garden (Warschauer Str. 33, Friedrichshain). The key to enjoying this place? Don’t expect authenticity, and don’t order the gelatinous fake fish. The Angry Samurai inside-out roll with pulled soy, mango and coleslaw (€8) is a good place to start. So is the Daruma maki with avocado, scallions and pulled soy (€4.80). Order half of your rolls with house black rice, half with white sushi rice and treat yourself to a Sake Highball with both ginger juice and ginger beer. The much smaller and more traditional sushi restaurant Tiger Club Vegan Sushi (Knesebeckstr. 99, Charlottenburg) opened this summer. The decor is plain but the menu makes you perk up: how about a maki roll with paprika and vegan cheese (€3.30) or an inside-out roll with jackfruit, chilli mayonnaise, cucumber and basil (€5.50-10)?
What’s for dessert?
Oatly’s Barista oat drink changed the vegan coffee game once and for all this year, but the café scene has been shy about offering sweets to match. One big exception is influencer fave Brammibal’s Donuts, which just opened its fourth location in Berlin: a kiosk at KaDeWe.
In Neukölln, a sweet contender to Brammibal’s and veteran vegan cake shop Café Vux (Wipperstr. 14, Neukölln) is Café Babette in the Kindl Centre for Contemporary Art (Am Sudhaus 3, Neukölln), which opened last year after Bar Babette lost the rental contract to its famed Karl-Marx-Allee location. The enormous copper-vat-filled space is probably the coolest location in Berlin for a piece of layered, creamy hazelnut cake (€3.90).
For something more elaborate, Prenzlauer Berg patisserie Be Sweet (Kollwitzstr. 37) is definitely worth a try. Inés Arau Mussons’ handcrafted vegan creations, like the extravagant Schwarzwälder Kirschkugel or the gluten-free zesty Lemon Prince, are a joy to the palate and eye, making them well worth the €4.95-6.50 pricetag.
Burgers, burgers, burgers!
Above all else, 2019 has been the year of the vegan burger – the Beyond Meat Burger in particular. At the East Side Mall, Hamburg’s Vincent Vegan (Tamara-Danz-Str. 11, Friedrichshain) was the first to offer the famous patties between their perfectly soft vegan brioche buns. It’s one of many chains dominating the vegan burger scene. Sustainable, plastic-free Austrian franchise Swing Kitchen opened two shops in Mitte, serving burgers with a soy patty or a soy schnitzel for €4.90-6.20, and locals Vedang opened in Mall of Berlin and Alexa with seitan and Beyond burgers (€5.80-9.40). Even McDonald’s brought their plant-based burger to Germany – a dry thing with Nestlé’s “Incredible Burger” patty.
What about the little guys? In P’Berg, hyped pop-up Smoky Greens of “Beyond patty, Sironi bun and perfect fries” fame went brick and mortar in September (Oderberger Str. 41), challenging the longtime rule of Lia’s Kitchen (Kollwitzstr. 47). Around the same time, fellow pop-upper Veg’d (Boxhagener Str. 21, Friedrichshain) joined the already-crowded Boxhagener Platz vegan fast food scene with their burgers, bowls and wraps. Go for the instagrammable black-bunned Burghain (a nod to the founder, who’s a DJ) with the homemade black bean patty (€7.90), or Beyond Meat for a €3.90 surcharge. But for myself, I keep coming back to Neue Republik Reger (Bouchéstr. 79A, Treptow) with its locally produced patties, a firm mix of seitan, black beans, soy and oat. Try the Cheezy Burger (€7.80), with crunchy tortilla chips and cheesy sauce atop a bun by Beumer & Lutum. Ingredients are regional and mostly organic, and the fries are some of the best in town – made even better with a side of vegan gravy!