The times are a-changin’ at upscale-yet-über-cool Mitte restaurant Cookies Cream. For the first time since the meatless dining destination opened in 2007, a new chef is at the helm in the form of Stuttgarter-turned-Berliner Nicholas Hahn. Hahn took over from Stephan Hentschel, who departed last summer to pursue his own projects after 15 years of cooking up veggie concoctions at the eatery.
Hahn brings wide-ranging experience, from a stint at the now-closed Michelin-starred restaurant First Floor in Charlottenburg’s Hotel Palace to the trattoria-style Italian fare he served in the wine region of Palatine. His wildly creative new menu items at Cookies Cream are hard to characterise, with an avant-garde style that doesn’t adhere strictly to a singular inspiration.
“I’m influenced by a lot of cuisines, a lot of kitchens all over the world,” Hahn says. “My philosophy is that I want to cook reduced, very tasteful, good-looking dishes.” When Hahn says “good-looking”, he’s being incredibly humble. Owner Heinz “Cookie” Gindullis finds more effusive words to describe Hahn’s menu marvels: “Nicholas is bringing paintings to the plates. They look amazing – crazy amazing!”
But the new menu isn’t just about a flashy appearance for food – the culinary techniques and flavours are kooky and unconventional in the best possible way. Take the potato ceviche dish: with a clever combination of blanching and a pseudo-pickling in rice wine vinegar, Hahn gives the starchy staple an otherworldly allure. The technique gives the potato a crisp, raw texture while the vinegar helps bring out the potato’s essence, making the dish sing. Factor in a Peruvian-style leche de tigre, a tangy, slightly spicy sauce, and you’ve never seen or tasted a humble spud like this before. “You have more of the feeling of eating a radish or something than eating a potato,” the chef says of his creation.
The crown jewel of the menu, Hahn’s signature dish, is a love letter to red peppers. He roasts them to create a meaty, tartare-like base, to which he adds a roasted pepper ice cream, a pepper chip, and a powder from the roasted pepper skin, topping everything off with a wee splash of jalapeño sauce. What might seem like a whole lot of pepper makes for a lush bonanza of tastes and textures – and a futuristic all-red treat for the eyes before you dig in. While the kitchen isn’t dogmatic about sourcing the most local produce possible (“If we can get it locally and very close to Berlin it’s perfect”), Hahn and his team are swapping dishes in and out seasonally. But whether you opt for the vegetarian or the vegan menu, for five, six or seven courses, you can be confident in getting an original selection.
While the restaurant has brought in a new head chef, its philosophy remains firmly opposed to lazy vegetarian dishes. That means that under Hahn, like before, there will be no pasta, rice, or tofu to be seen anywhere on this menu.
Other parts of the Cookies Cream experience also remain funky and fresh as ever. The restaurant’s industrial Berlin-club-but-with-tablecloths vibe is a delight, as is the service, which is some of the warmest in town. Then there’s the unique option of combining a wine and non-alcoholic drink pairing, allowing you to sample outlandish house-made drinks like an apple-miso-cashew cider-wine-juice hybrid.
Among all that’s new, one thing stands out above all else: Cookies Cream may be a vegetarian establishment, but it’s certainly not strictly for vegetarians – now more than ever. “We think about doing dishes where nobody’s missing something,” says Hahn. “So, a meat eater or fish eater is not missing something, a vegetarian and vegan eater is not missing anything. We want to do dishes for everybody.”