This month two of Berlin’s most hospitable and long established restaurateurs will give dinners to mark significant landmarks in their respective history.
On 31 May Rainer Schulz will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Kurpfalz-Weinstuben in the west of the city. Over in the north east, Roy Metzdorf will host a party for the 70th birthday of his father Dieter, who inspired him to open his restaurant, Weinstein, in 1993 and then magnanimously underwrote its losses for the first decade.
The personal connections between these two hosts are strong, too. Metzdorf describes Schulz not only as his mentor but also as the man who predicted all the mistakes he would go on to make while running his own restaurant after he had abandoned his initial career as an electrical engineer.
Schulz is also an excellent physical advertisement for his profession. Now 71, he has been in charge of his restaurant for the past 35 years but he still, even late at night, manages to combine great physical stamina with equal amounts of charm as he strides between the kitchen, the front door and his customers, wearing a blue apron and a broad smile. Grey haired, with a twinkle in his eye, he enjoys a passion for well-prepared German food and good wine that is complemented by hands so broad that any butcher would be proud of them but which are particularly useful when pouring magnums or the many even larger bottles from his cool, well-stocked cellar.
A factor in Schulz’s apparent youthfulness may be simply that he has absorbed the calming aura of the building he has inhabited for so long. Built in 1898, it is basically a series of dark, panelled intimate chambers – although there is an outdoor terrace in the warmer months – with simple wooden furniture, pegs for coats and historic memorabilia in every corner. It is the kind of setting that inspires comfort and good conversation. And that is even before the menu and two wine lists have arrived.
A Berliner described Schulz’s food as ‘the kind of food every German child grows up with, but it’s rarely as well cooked as this’. As the menu hardly strays from this model, other than to incorporate Stilton cheese and port because of Schulz’s former years working with a British club in Hamburg, it is a magnet for Germans, lured by the ham he imports from south Tyrol; venison brawn and sausage; and his excellent rendition of saumagen, ie pork mixed with herbs and wrapped in a sow’s stomach lining (rather like haggis). The casing can easily be left but not the home-made sauerkraut.
The wine lists will attract any enthusiast. One simple card, about half a metre in length, lists the large range of wines by the glass, while the more formal wine list sets out the best from around the world and numerous, mature German wines from the most highly rated producers.
While Roy Metzdorf openly acknowledges the professional debt he owes from watching Schulz at work, he also fully appreciates the influence of his father in instigating the love of food and wine that led him and his partner Max Krull to open Weinstein in a former butcher’s shop.
Both Metzdorf and Krull grew up in East Berlin, where wine was a rarity before 1989. But his father’s management position in a specialised factory took him to southern Europe once a year and on each trip back the boot of his car bore the weight of several bottles of French, Spanish or Italian wine that kindled a passion in his son.
Weinstein (German for the harmless crystals of tartaric acid precipitated in some wine bottles and a name suggested by Roy’s mother) now reflects this passion to such an extent that he continually refers to the restaurant as ‘my living room’. And most conveniently it is one of the few places in Berlin open every night of the week.
This professional living room exhibits wine at every turn, from open and unopened bottles on the shelves to harvest baskets hanging on the wall, interspersed with barrels, glasses and jars.
Weinstein is also distinguished by four touches Metzdorf has introduced from his years as a restaurateur. The first is a menu that offers unlimited, free mineral water and coffee to anyone ordering at least three courses. The second is a dish of ‘midnight ribs’, smoked calf’s ribs with their own home-made barbecue sauce, available from 11 pm to 1 am. The third is particularly fair prices, while perhaps the most distinctive is the clearest signs to the lavatories I have ever seen in any restaurant. Nailed to the ladies is a pair of blue high-heeled shoes, while the mens’ sports a pair of shoelace-less brogues.
His chef travels widely in search of the best ingredients. The hams come from Spain, Germany and Austria, the cheese from France. The freshwater pike, zander and perch that formed the base of an invigorating fish consommé with crisply fried zander roe had been caught on Lake Zechlin in Brandenburg. And over the coming weeks they do not even have to look that far afield for their dish of young goat served with dandelion leaves and wild garlic and the plates of thick, white asparagus that excite so many Germans at this time of year.
Finally, close to the city centre and under the roof of Die Quadriga restaurant (pictured above) in the much more formal and luxurious setting of the tranquil Brandenburger Hof Hotel, is another exciting food and wine association led by Finnish chef Sauli Kemppainen, and its 60-page, award-winning, all-German wine list.
Kemppainen is currently the only high-profile exponent of modern Scandinavian cooking in Germany, and his mussel and prawn consommé and a reindeer fillet with a fir jelly were exciting in their precision, composition and particularly intense flavour.
So too is the wine list, which includes many great Mosel wines whose future is at risk from the proposed bridge over some of the world’s greatest vineyards. Quadriga’s dining room incorporates a set of sliding doors into the kitchens, from which the waiting staff bearing trays emerge spot-lit, as though they were contestants in a television talent show. Altogether stimulation for the eye, brain and stomach.
Wilmersdorfer Strasse 93, 10629 Berlin, 0049 30 8836664
Open from 18.00 except Monday.
Weinstein, www.weinstein.eu, 0049 30 4411842. Open 7 nights.
Brandenburger Hof, www.brandenburger-hof.com