2018 wasn’t just a good wine year (thanks, climate change!) – it was a great year for Berlin winebar-restaurant hybrids combining expertly chosen tipples with equally remarkable dishes from all over the continent. Here are three standouts.
PALSTA : NATURALLY NORDIC
Neukölln has more natural wine bars per capita than any other Bezirk, and that’s even after the closure of flagbearer Wild Things. So what does Tempelhof upstart Palsta bring to the table? A combination of words you almost never hear in Berlin: good seafood. Finnish owner Viivi Haussila-Seppo has compiled a respectable selection of cloudy Austrian furmints and “animal-like” Cotes du Rhône, but they play second fiddle to the Nordic creations of chef Filip Søndergaard, a Danish rising star last seen at Dottir. Using pristine Icelandic shellfish and seasonal veggies from his own Schrebergarten in Wedding, he turns out small plates bursting with flavour. There’s always at least one Instagram showstopper on the regularly changing menu – first it was fried anchovies, then shrimp tartare; when we went it was grilled scallops surrounding a creamy blend of cubed kohlrabi, green onions and trout roe (€10), with buckwheat for crunch and kale for a complementary bitter note. Cured salmon with horseradish cream, lemon zest and fried capers may seem rote by comparison, but sweet-sour pickled tomatoes give the dish a welcome jolt. There are vegetarian options like pumpkin croquettes (served with an addictive pumpkin-seed aioli, €5) and heavier beef or pork mains (from €16), but the appsized seafood dishes are where Palsta’s heart lies – and the reason why the wine list is so thoroughly dominated by whites.
DOCG: HAIL IRPINIA
The name refers to the “designation of origin” seal given to high-quality regional Italian wines, and those are exactly what you’ll drink at this barebones but cosy Kornerkiez newcomer. The vino here hails not just from Italy, and not just from the southern province of Campania, but from the owners’ homeland of Irpinia, a mountainous sub-region known for its preponderance of family wineries. And it’s the perfect antidote for drinkers sick of musty cabernets and mouth-puckering Loire chenins – every wine in the small but well-curated selection is palate-pleasing rather than challenging, the perfect complement to DocG’s excellently prepared trattoria fare. You’d be a fool not to get the homemade tagliatelle, sauced with ragú, aubergine pesto or an unctuous blend of butter, Parmesan and black truffle shavings. The latter is almost indecently decadent, especially when washed down with a generous Schluck of Viná Campania Aglianico, the smooth yet piquant natural red on offer (€3.50/0.2L). Those with smaller appetites can go for the Irpinia Rosato, a deceptively delicate rosé with a strong backbone (€4.50/0.2L), and an artistically arranged cheese or charcuterie plate (€9-10). With bargain prices (seriously, you’ll never find a better truffle pasta for €14) and DJ nights every Saturday, it’s already a magnet for Neukölln starving-artist types who’ve drained their trust fund allowance for the month. In other words, make a reservation on weekends.
SCHWEIN: GERMAN AND BEYOND
With its stellar Germany-focused wine list and borderline-experimental small plates, Christopher Kümper’s resto-bar got serious buzz when it opened in Mitte in 2016 – until a sudden, landlord-imposed closure derailed its Michelin aspirations. Now reborn in Charlottenburg, Schwein may no longer be the new cool kid on the block, but Kümper’s rotating menu of “modern German” cuisine, which fuses local ingredients with techniques learned in the hallowed kitchens of André Chiang and Daniel Boulud, is as hype-worthy as ever. While the mains, like pan-fried halibut in a bouillabaisse broth (€28) or truffled orzo risotto with melted Belper Knolle cheese (€23), might play it a little too safe, the starters and desserts are more than worth the price of admission. We were almost afraid to take a fork to our kimchi-burrata dish (€13.50), a creamy, spicy umami bomb in which the trendy cheese is surrounded by a moat of cold dashi broth, covered with a single crispy dehydrated pickled cabbage leaf and topped with caviar-like spherefied algae. Another starter, soft-cooked egg in smoked potato puree with potato gelée and a crescent of leek “crumble” on top (€13), makes up for in pure, satisfying flavour what it lacks in sexy looks. If they still have it, end your meal with the miso-infused white chocolate mousse topped with raw pumpkin slices and salted dried plums (€14) – it’s one of the most WTF dessert combos this side of Coda, and we enjoyed every bite. To drink, take your chances with the open wines (which change every day, and run €7-12 a glass) or put yourself in the hands of sommelier Simone Bartolini, who’ll steer you to gems like a crisp Weiß/Grauburgunder mix from the Nahe region, or a light red cuvée from Weingut Klumpp in Baden-Württemberg. Or just post up at the bar and make your way through the five-page (!) gin and tonic menu.