The buckwheat galette, that savoury, gluten-free crêpe cousin, is a staple of the French diet – and not only in Brittany, where it’s laced with as much butter as a Breton’s liver can take (which is an awful lot!). But Berlin’s options are few and far between, perhaps because the pancakes require French buckwheat flour and not the paler German version. Of course, at Galeries Lafayette (see box, left), you can buy a pack of sarasin flour to make your own at home or sit down for a complète at Breton bistro La Madeleine. But if you like your crêperies cosier, go here:
Romantic cellar La Bigoudène (Zionskirchstr. 28, Prenzlauer Berg) wins for creativity, with toppings you won’t see anywhere else (think blood sausage, or pumpkin with blue cheese and walnuts) and a number of cheese-free, egg-free versions for vegans.
Suzette (Pappelallee 15, Prenzlauer Berg) disappointed on our last visit, but usually serves reliably good classics (with lots of cheese and a clear weakness for onions) for bargain lunch offers: €8.50 for a galette, a salad and a drink, with a sweet crepe on top for another €3. You’ll have to pay more for the namesake orange liqueur-soaked flambéed version, though.
The young, friendly staff at the charmingly chaotic Melt serve up the crispiest galettes in town with Gallic joie de vivre. Their range is more limited and usually on the cheesy side, though vegans can go for the balsamic creme-topped “La Manon”. It’s packed on weekends, so reserve if you can.
BEST FRENCH BRUNCH
The French don’t only eat croissants for breakfast! When in Prenzlauer Berg, for example, they’ll gladly head to Le Belfort to feast on œuf cocottes, an oven-baked egg specialty prepared with one’s choice of Bayonne ham, raw-milk cheese, spinach and/ or mushrooms with parsley. Whether the generous brunch platters, the simple petits déjeuners (great baguette with salted butter and confiture) or the daily selection of quiches and cakes, it’s all homemade, delicious and surprisingly good value for money.
If you can get over the fact it’s housed in the gentrification eyesore Kollbelle just off Kollwitzstraße, you’ll be charmed by the café’s friendliness and lack of pretension. And if you can’t, well, some strong organic coffee – or, a little later in the day, wine – might help. Also seamlessly morphing from brunchery to wine bar is the brand-new Triiio in Moabit, where a croque madame with heart-of-palm salad may be chased with a biodynamic Beaujolais.
Kollwitzstr. 28, Tue-Sun 9-18, Sat-Sun 9-17
BEST SECRET CROISSANT
It ain’t easy to make a croissant – it’s a laborious process that most Berlin cafés don’t risk, instead opting to heat up frozen versions that can be good or bad. Of course there are exceptions. Le Brot, Brodstätte and Sofi (p.40) all roll their own flaky crescents, as do the majority of French patisseries in town. But our favourite comes from an unlikely place with a confusing name: Ní Cho, a coffee shop on Bötzowviertel whose married Irish owners, Aoife Ní Chonaill and Dominic McAtamney, specialised in artisanal chocolates only (and Chonaill’s killer brownies) until McAtamney decided to give croissants a whirl. “My wife’s granddad was a baker, and her dad ran a bakery for 30 years, so he gave us a lot of advice,” he says. But apart from that, it was mostly learning by trying. “There are so many variables. Any day, something could go wrong in the process!”
Said process takes four days and includes a series of exacting stages: making the dough, folding in plenty of top-quality Irish butter (German dairy just doesn’t cut it, McAtamney avows) and finally rolling and baking, with overnight sittings in between. Although he says it’s still a work in progress, the result (€2.50) has won plenty of locals over. It’s beautifully golden brown, not too sweet, crisp on the outside with that unmistakable puffy layered texture inside. Flakiness isn’t something you want in your life, unless it’s croissants – and never has flaky tasted better than with that great Irish butter, mind the purists!
Hufelandstr. 4, Prenzlauer Berg, Mon- Sat 8-18, Sun 10-18
Enter Le Brot on Fuldastraße, and inhale: there it is, the unmistakable sweet smell of hot baguette. At the end of 2017, German francophile entrepreneur Jan Schmieder-Balladur and imported Normand baker Rémy Guilbeau transformed a Neukölln Späti into the proper boulangerie this city had been missing, a wonderland of crisp crusts and springy-chewy innards formed from organic French flour, water and the right yeast-sourdough mix. Baguettes comes in three variations: “Tradition” (€2.30), “Campagne” (with 10 percent rye, €2.50) and “Fünfkorn” (what it sounds like, €2.70), each also available as loaves or individual Brötchen. Strangely enough, our other two favourite baguettes in town are both made by Danes: the exquisite artisanal sourdough rods at Mitte’s Sofi and Brodstätte in Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg.
Fuldastr. 54, Neukölln, Mon-Fri 8-18, Sat 8-16, Sun 8-14
BEST ALSATIAN LIBATIONS
At first glance, the new Friedrichshain branch of Tastavin couldn’t be more different from its Moabit mothership. While the latter is a genteel tasting booth and bottle shop catering to after-work Arminius Markthalle visitors, the former only comes to life after 8pm, as a laid-back dive and occasional cult film screening room/stand- up comedy venue. The common thread? Great French wine (and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell), served sans snobbery.
Black-clad, tatted-up somms rove around the awkwardly large space vacated by Santa Cantina, asking punters about their preferences and offering expert recommendations. Chances are you’ll end up with something from Alsace – co-owner Max Weber is from Strasbourg – for which the only appropriate accompaniment is a tarte flambée. The menu lists a whopping 16 varieties, huge crisp beauties with toppings ranging from the traditional bacon and onions to a sweet-salty honey, thyme and goat cheese combo to the sliced duck breast and Comté gracing the €18.90 “Comtesse”.
Simon-Dach-Str. 22, Friedrichshain, Mon 12-2 Tue-Fri 18-2 Sat 18-00
BEST MOULES FRITES
Si tu sais, tu sais. Give or take a couple of lockdowns, the French-owned spot at Warthestraße 9 has been dishing out mussels and fries every Tuesday since 2017: first as laissez-faire hangout Lipoppete, now as the more upscale W.n.9 oyster Bar. €15 gets you a kilo of plump molluscs (from Italy, Spain or the Netherlands, depending on the season) steamed with white wine, crème fraîche and aromatics; a basket of pommes with ketchup and saffron mayo; and lots of bread for sopping up that precious broth. What more could you ask for – besides a raw oyster or two, a cold glass of chablis, and a candlelit vibe that hearkens back to the restaurant’s Wohnzimmerbar past?
Warthestr. 9, Neukölln, Tue-Sun 18-22
“BEST” FRENCH TACOS
Given how notoriously protective the French are of their own culinary tradition – death to those who call Sekt “champagne” or pour ketchup on their steak frites – the extent to which they’ve bastardised Mexican cuisine is either amusingly hypocritical or downright offensive. Invented by an unknown snack stand operator near Lyon in the early 2000s, the “French tacos” (yes, plural) is a Frankensteinian creation in which any number of fast-food items (including but not limited to chicken nuggets, cordon bleu cutlets, falafel and/or döner meat) are bound with sauce, cheese and, crucially, French fries in a grilled flour tortilla.
It spread across France and then the world via O’tacos, a halal franchise that recently added a quintet of Berlin ghost kitchens to its 300-strong portfolio. Currently, Wolt lets you order two heaving, grease-filled parcels for the price of one, enough to feed a small family for under €10. They taste better than they look, especially the Classic version with its lightly spicy “Algerian sauce” slathered over fries, nuggets and gooey cheddar. Sadly, most locations stop delivering after 6pm, a fatal flaw for a product that’s clearly not designed with daytime dining in mind. Bookmark it for your next hangover.
Friedrichshain, Steglitz, Mitte, Wedding, Charlottenburg; order on Wolt/Lieferando
BEST SEAFOOD PLATTER
The plateau de fruits de mer – that platter of chilled raw and cooked shellfish invented on French coasts and popularised by expense-account diners worldwide – is such a pure, simple dish that the quality of the products involved is evident at first bite. In the case of Volk, the pint-sized seafood restaurant run by hostess Margeaux Arabian (daughter of Parisian star chef Ghislaine), that quality happens to be excellent. Oysters, shrimp, langoustines, crab, lobster, whelks… if it has a shell and hails from the French Atlantic, you can eat it here with lemon, mignonette, homemade mayonnaise, bread and salted butter. Prices start at €79, and that’s before you even get to mains like roasted scallops with endive or duck confit.
Brunnenstr. 182, Mitte, Wed-Sun 17-23:30
BEST HIDDEN GEM
Most people, even most Friedrichshainers, know Melt only for its galettes (p.38). But two doors down, mid-corona crisis, owner Catherine Le Corre sneakily opened an itty-bitty bistro serving full-bodied, feel-good cuisine. These are plates that, at first bite, transport you to a marketplace in Provence or on the Loire: boeuf bourguignon stewed for so long that it barely requires teeth, let alone a knife; crispy fried sea bream in an intense mussel broth. Three courses cost a fair €35, a pleasing and surprising wine accompaniment can be had for an extra €10. The biggest problem we can see is that Le Corre, a warm, colourful hostess, isn’t able to split herself in two – but then, it’s only 20 metres from bourguignon to crepes suzette.
Grünberger Str. 40, Friedrichshain, Wed- Sun 18-22 (also open for lunch Fri-Sun)