To reassure you right off the bat: nobody at Coccodrillo can see you pee. Or, well, they could if they smooshed their face right up against the one-way mirror inexplicably installed in the toilet door. Kind of like how if you want to, you can spot the flaws in Berlin’s most-buzzed-about new restaurant, but it’s a lot more fun to let yourself get distracted by all the shiny things.
That sumptuous red interior, which has already backdropped many a duck-lipped influencer. The neon signs, the fake library and the vintage posters for cult label Fiorucci. The breasty cocktail mugs and kaleidoscopic tableware. The fact that you can not only pay by card, but on your phone.
You might as well get the truffle pasta; you’ll be smelling it all evening as it’s brought out to table after table, anyway.
You’re not in Berlin anymore. Nor are you in Italy, despite the pasta on the menu and your server’s accent. You’ve entered the larger-than-life world of Big Mamma, a French-owned hospitality corp that boasts trattorias in Paris, London, Munich and Madrid – each with a different name, all with the same adult playground vibe. Coccodrillo, recently moved into the 260-seat former home of Nola’s am Weinberg, is the latest jewel in its gaudy crown.
The food? It’s not bad! You might as well get the truffle pasta; you’ll be smelling it all evening as it’s brought out to table after table, anyway. And the crimped ribbons of fresh-made mafaldine deserve their “Famous” descriptor, smothered as they are in molten mascarpone and so much black truffle it’s hard to believe the €19 dish isn’t losing the restaurant money. (They make up for it in drink sales, if the watery “It’s Britney, Spritz” is any indication.)
Preceding it with the equally decadent truffle arancini might feel like overkill, but what are you here for if not that? Pizza-wise, the fried aubergine on the “Nonna Norma” (€13) might taste more of oil than nightshade, but the light, fluffy crust shows someone’s been paying attention to how things are done in this Neapolitan-obsessed city. Mains, which start at €12.50, include pork ribs, steak and grilled sea bream; vegans can make do with salad, a “Veggie Hadid” red sauce pie and an okay-enough zucchini and hummus starter.
There are better trattorias, sure, but you could bring an Italian date here and they wouldn’t complain. And really, that’s all you can ask of a place where the food plays second fiddle to the spectacle, the potential of encountering celebrities (or people who look like them) and the chance to breathlessly tell your tablemates that they absolutely have to visit the bathroom.
The same – right down to the unmissable toilet – could be said of Bellboy, the Berlin satellite of an eponymous restaurant and bar group based in Tel Aviv. Opened at the end of last year, the lavish Gendarmenmarkt speakeasy remains a capital-E Experience, big among birthdayers and brides-to-be for novelty cocktail vessels that make Coccodrillo’s boobs look demure.
The ceramic fists and foamy miniature bathtubs belie some surprisingly sophisticated mixology.
The ceramic fists and foamy miniature bathtubs belie some surprisingly sophisticated mixology, just as bar bites like the duck liver paté, served in a glittering avian mould with pear chutney and chilli jam on the side, taste way better than they need to.
Worth the hefty tab (€14-18 drinks, €6-9.50 snacks) and the terrifying possibility that your server might make you wear a cardboard tiara? As a one-time thing, sure. Just don’t ever come here to break up with someone. It’s hard to say “I’m afraid this isn’t working out” while sipping an amaretto-aquavit concoction out of a pinecone-festooned Viking horn.
Last in this opulent triptych is Frederick’s, the massive restaurant and nightspot that opened in the Sony Center in spring. The UK-based Rhubarb Hospitality Group snagged the remains of the Grand Hotel Esplanade, a Belle Époque luxury residence that was heavily bombed during World War II, and incorporated them into a multilevel feast for the senses that’s equal parts 1920s Berlin and 2020s London.
Its centrepiece is a horseshoe-shaped Art Deco bar with sky-high ceilings where you can order fancifully presented, theatrically mixed cocktails based on your preferred colour palette. Sit at one of the surrounding tables to sample the menu, which is as well-executed as it is predictable (small plates from €14, large from €19; bread €4.50).
Burrata, watermelon-feta salad, hamachi crudo… do we even need to tell you the vegan main is roast cauliflower?
Burrata, watermelon-feta salad, hamachi crudo… do we even need to tell you the vegan main is roast cauliflower? There are a few hints of originality, like the beef cheek goulash served with pancakes and the all-corn dessert that predated the TikTok kid by a good few months. Brunch sees avocado toast, lunch grab-n-go salads. All in all, about as much as we could’ve hoped for on Potsdamer Platz – let’s see how it survives its first Berlinale.
So far, so flashy. What happens when a restaurant group tries to open a lower-key neighbourhood hang? You get November Brasserie, the new spinoff of Latvian-owned izakaya The Catch. The erstwhile Café November, a 1990s-era queer gathering spot beloved for its cake and schnitzel, has been transformed into a Japanese-ish affair that fits seamlessly into Prenzlauer Berg – at least, the bougie, food-obsessed version of it described in the most recent New York Times travel article.
Wabi-sabi decor in 50 shades of ecru? Check. Natural wine? Check. Social media showstopper dish? Order the whole sea bream, a hollowed-out, glassy-eyed carcass filled with delicate curls of its own sashimi, and just try not to pull out your phone.
Order the whole sea bream, a hollowed-out, glassy-eyed carcass filled with delicate curls of its own sashimi, and just try not to pull out your phone.
Like its Riga and Charlottenburg brethren, November has access to some of Europe’s best (if not most sustainable) seafood, imported directly from markets in Spain and expertly prepared by Korean-Ukrainian sushi chef Ruslan Kim. There are no fancy rolls here, though – just a pared-down selection of nigiri and a raw menu (€18-28) that, while fantastic, shares The Catch’s tendency to gild the lily.
The aforementioned sea bream, already complemented by lime salt and ponzu, comes with a little bottle of yuzu-truffle sauce that, if opened, overwhelms the fish’s clean flavour in the name of “luxury”. Caviar performs better as a briny counterpoint to the butteriest tuna belly in town, served as a dashi-gelee-topped carpaccio that doubles as a test of one’s chopstick skills.
In a nod to the original November, you can order a schnitzel. It just happens to have a panko crust, come with kombu butter potatoes and cost €27. We’d instead steer you towards the gochujang-glazed breaded oyster mushrooms (€10), a sweet-spicy treat that outcrisps Korean fried chicken, or the schnitzel-like chicken katsu sando (€13), part of a lunch/ brunch menu that also includes fluffy ricotta pancakes and a Japanese-style omelette.
It’s all served by a kitchen and bar team of Ukrainian refugees and Belorussian exiles (plus the occasional German). A nice gesture from the Russian-speaking restaurateurs, though not as exciting as the Big Mamma group’s promise to grant all its staff shares in the company.
Remember the uproar when McDonald’s opened by Schlesi? These are kinder, gentler interlopers, and Berlin seems to be welcoming them with open arms – for now. When we have to start strapping on heels for every dinner out, we’ll know we have a problem.
- Coccodrillo Veteranenstr. 9, Mitte, Mon-Thu 11:45-14:45, 17:30-24, Fri 11:45-1, Sat-Sun 10:30-1
- Bellboy Berlin Mohrenstr. 30, Mitte, Tue-Thu 18-3, Fri 19-4, Sat 11-17, 19-4, Sun 11-17, 18-2
- Frederick’s Bellevuestr. 1, Tiergarten, Wed-Fri 18-1, Sat 11-1, Sun 12-15, Mon closed
- November Brasserie Husemannstr. 15, Prenzlauer Berg, Tue-Sat 18-24 (Fri-Sat also 10-16), Sun 10-17