Berlin
National Geographic Traveller (UK)|January/February 2022
Sustainability and culinary creativity are at the heart of the German capital’s most exciting restaurant experiences, from a contemporary Thai feast to herbs grown with cutting-edge technology.
By Christie Dietz

With the end of my knife, I poke the plump, creamy orb of burrata idling before me in a red ring of fermented tomatoes and note, not unhappily, that I’m going to need some of Café Frieda’s freshly baked bread.

As I sponge up the last of my luxurious late lunch with a thick slice of sourdough while gazing out the window at a drizzly square in Prenzlauer Berg, owner Samina Raza whirls in through the door. Cheerfully sliding into a chair beside me, she offers coffee and a crumbly shortbread sandwich biscuit made with homemade chestnut miso and Franconian fig jam. Samina moved from London to Berlin to join her now-husband, Israeli chef Ben Zviel, whom she met in the queue for the toilets at the German capital’s infamous nightclub, Berghain. Together, they opened lively neighborhood restaurant Mrs Robinson’s; its vibrant little sister, Frieda, followed in the summer of 2021.

Frieda’s simple dishes showcase ingredients of the very highest quality, and Samina is uncompromising when it comes to their provenance: “‘I’m scrupulous when it comes to sourcing suppliers, and I expect them to have the same degree of integrity,” she says. “What we have in common is craft, skill, and respect for what we do.” All the processing and preserving of ingredients — pickling, fermenting, baking — is done on site. The restaurant isn’t quite zero waste, but Samina tells me they use up what they can. “Our kouign-amann [a buttery, Breton pastry] is made using the offcuts from our croissants,” she explains. “With meat, we work with the whole animal. Our bread ends go back to the farms we work with to feed the pigs.”

The atmosphere at Frieda is fun and relaxed, and I ask Samina if there are other restaurants in Berlin with a similar vibe, while still focusing on high-quality, sustainably sourced ingredients. She reels off a handful of places, including Michelin-starred Kin Dee in Schöneberg.

My journey to the Thai restaurant — partly via crowded U-Bahn train and partly by splashing through torrential rain — is richly rewarded with chef Dalad Kambhu’s contemporary tasting menu. Served ‘familystyle’ (all at the same time), every dish is beautiful to look at and lovingly made with, as far as possible, regional produce. A pair of peppery nasturtium leaves rest gently on soft patties of venison tartare made with a fiery, homemade chilli paste; shiitake mushrooms and a curl of red onion bathe in a deeply umami bowl of smoked eel broth, garnished with borage flowers grown at a permaculture garden north of Berlin. For dessert, slices of poached pear come with softmeringue and a fish sauce caramel, paired with a pale-yellow Riesling from Germany’s Mosel region. ‘Kin dee’, I learn, is Thai for ‘eat well’ — something that’s not hard to do here.

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