Paul Sullivan returns for more innovative cuisine at Berlin’s longest running vegetarian restaurant Cookies Cream…
The first challenge for any visit to Berlin’s hippest vegetarian restaurant Cookies Cream is finding it. Run by Cookies, veteran party promoter and founder of the popular club that was until 2014 located below it, the restaurant adheres to the ‘underground/anonymous’ ethic that chimes with Berlin’s house and techno scene.
The restaurant has a completely separate entrance, hidden away in a delivery yard around the back of the Westin Grand hotel. Dimly lit, eerily silent and festooned with wooden palettes and rubbish bins, it feels more like the kind of place you’d come to inject hard drugs than feast on fresh produce.
The incongruous chandelier dangling from concrete struts is a sign that the game of hide and seek is nearing an end. The plain door picked out by a square of designer light bulbs is the final giveaway: ring the buzzer, announce your reservation and ascend the stairway to an interior every bit as cool as the club.
With exposed brick walls, soft lighting and low concrete ceilings, Cookies Cream has a decidedly loft-like vibe. A hanging canvass provocatively riffs on a famous credit card symbol, chilled club sounds emanate from the speakers and simple white table clothes contrast with dark red chairs and banquettes.
The wait staff are casual and trendy but efficient and attentive, and the crowd is surprisingly diverse – not just clubbers but middle-aged folk, a smattering suits, romantic couples.
Perhaps this is no surprise given Cookies Cream is still one of the only real restaurants committed to high-end vegetarian food in Berlin. It was certainly the first, having opened ten years ago to satisfy the culinary and entrepreneurial needs of Cookie, a twenty-five-year long vegetarian tired of the city’s lack of meat-free dining options.
The head chef then, somewhat impressively, is the same as now—Stephan Hentschel. ‘My passion for food comes from my childhood,” he says. “My grandparents had a garden and I was fascinated to see veggies grow as a kid. During my education in Ladbergen we had our own garden and the hunters brought the deer straight after hunting, so I was involved in food production and preparation from ground zero.”
After moving to Berlin, Stephan worked in various restaurants, from Gasthaus Majakowski and Noi Quattro to the more seasonal kitchens of Renger Patsch and Facil, where he trained for a short time under Michelin-starred Michael Kempf.
The menu at Cookies Cream is fairly limited but around eighty percent seasonal. In the summer, most of the ingredients are sourced from regional farmers and farmers collectives such as MAFZ Erlebnispark Paaren, who plant certain products just for Stephan—like the wonderful purple urkarotte, which has a high content of vitamin B, C and carotene and high levels of antioxidants. In winter the restaurant uses around half German and half Mediterranean products.
Some of Stephan’s signature dishes include parmesan dumplings, country fried egg yolk with beluga lentils and wild herb salad, but the menu is always changing. Not only is the food health conscious and imaginative, it’s extremely tasty and attractively presented.
It’s worth noting that there is no pasta, tofu or rice on the menu, an aspect that Stephan claims helped him develop his own style of cooking. Everything is made fresh in an open kitchen on the other side of the restaurant and vegans can request dairy-free versions of the recipes.
The food doesn’t come cheap but it’s far from outrageously priced. Starters are twelve euros, mains around 25 and desserts (also delicious, lots of fresh fruits and sorbets) also twelve. A three-course menu is 44 euros, four courses 55. There’s a very good selection of wines and mixers, and afterwards you can drop into Crackers, the newer restaurant that took over Cookies a couple of years ago; its slick bar serves killer cocktails and there are DJs at weekends.
“In the beginning other chefs and restaurant managers smiled at us,” says Stephan. ‘But that changed over time and for a while they’ve had to give us respect for what we do. The young creative scene in Berlin is open for vegetarian food and because they are the trend setters of tomorrow I have a good feeling for the vegetarian kitchen here in the future.”
For more info see the restaurant’s website.