WINNERS OF THE YEAR
Gorging oneself on steak is so passé – but no one said anything about cheese. Burrata has been particularly inescapable in 2021, whether it’s garnishing a fried batura at Sri Lankan fusion spot Sathutu, drizzled with coffee husk syrup at the contentious new Café Frieda, or exploding all over any number of Neapolitan-style pizzas around town. Closer to home, Urstrom Käse assumed the role of Berlin’s locavore scene darling. From Barra to Jaja to Eszra, no buzzy Neukölln wine bar could live without the rich, creamy product, crafted from the milk of some 400 Jersey cows in Brandenburg.
Move over, Mustafa’s: there’s a new fast food queue in town, brought to us in June by the owners of noodle and dumpling franchise Han West. While tourists line up on Meh- ringdamm for what they think is authentic Berlin street food, Berliners themselves are on Schönhauser Allee, patiently waiting for a bowl of hand-pulled, lasciviously thick, chilli-oil-coated Xi’an-style noodles. Could you make your own version of the dish in the amount of time it takes you to lay your hands on Wen Cheng’s? Probably. Will it be better? Possibly. But it won’t look as good on Instagram, and you won’t be able to boast that you conquered the noodle equivalent of Berghain afterwards.
HomeMeal (and home chefs)
The local startup formerly known as HomeMealDeal didn’t have quite the banner year its founders were hoping for, as a maze of bureaucratic red tape continues to slow its home cooking app’s planned expansion past Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, Tempelhof and Mitte. But thanks to its work as a middle-person between ordinary citizens and the city’s draconian public health authorities, it’s opened a path for anyone with cooking chops and space for a second fridge to start selling their own culinary creations. And if the Kerala grilled fish, Singaporean pork floss buns and Colombian empanadas we tried at the app’s first-ever home chef competition in November are any indication, Berlin’s kitchens have been harbouring some serious – and seriously underrepresented – talent.
LOSERS OF THE YEAR
The Berlin-born grocery delivery company in the room may have won wealth beyond its founders’ wildest dreams this year, but it lost the hearts and minds of Berliners. When riders rebelled en masse against their conditions and poor management, the top brass responded with union-busting tactics that were, in a word, cringe. From attempting to lure workers away from a general assembly meeting with free beer to infiltrating picket lines dressed as employees who “just wanted to ride” and, flat-out firing people for striking, it wasn’t a good look. That fat new $2.1 billion valuation probably cushioned the blow of the backlash, though.
Fine dining takeaways
Of all the ways restaurants adapted to winter/spring lockdown – from street food pop-ups to selling pickles online to just staying closed – this was our least favourite. Recreating Michelin-quality meals on your lonesome seems like a good idea until you’re surrounded by a sea of dirty pots and plastic vacuum bags, painstakingly trying to balance a pile of radish sprouts atop a single sous-vided shrimp that you can’t even savour because you’ve got to plate the next course immediately afterwards.
Between supply chain issues, ever-rising commercial rents and a post-pandemic workforce of chefs and servers who suddenly have the nerve to demand being paid what they’re actually worth, Berlin’s reputation as a mecca for cheapskate diners has come under serious fire. Which, let’s face it, is for the best: deep down, you always felt a little dirty paying under €5 for one of those big noodle soups at Hamy (they’re now, gasp, €6).