Billy Wagner

Billy Wagner likes playing the field. Fruit brandies. Herbal schnapps. Liqueurs. Beer. Just some of the beverages this former German Sommelier of the Year enjoys sipping as well as serving to guests at Berlin funhouse, Nobelhart & Schmutzig (wine, naturally, usually makes an appearance, too). When the discussion turns to where to eat and drink in Berlin, his recommendations for The Local Tongue are equally diverse.
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Not Your Typical Breakfast

What I really love about Frühstück 3000 is that it’s not your typical German breakfast. A German breakfast is very classic, like bread with marmalade and sausages, but here it’s really diverse. The menu has a very internationalist approach which is really cool. You could have something like an Asian-style beef tartar or fried pea dumplings,  their “Chicken 3000” or French toast based on the season; it’s nice to have so many tastes in the morning. They also do really good coffee. Try the Espresso Martini! What I really love to do is to go there on Sundays and have breakfast all day with some beer or bubbles. That’s a really nice way to start your Sunday.

Regional Chinese With a Great Cellar

I’m a big fan of going to Hot Spot, a Chinese restaurant where they do Sichuan and Shanghai cuisine, and what I really like about this place is that they have a huge wine list. They don’t display everything on the list, so you always have to talk to Mr. Wu (the owner) to get some of the really cool bottles from his cellar. He’s a big Riesling nerd, he’s a big Bordeaux nerd; you’re not going to be drinking really funky wines, but more classic European styles. With this style of food, it’s really nice to have something off-dry or sweet, like something old from Mosel, or a bone-dry, crisp, very acidic, sharp Riesling with low alcohol and no sweetness; that’s a really beautiful match. It’s also really interesting to pair spicy dishes with an old Bordeaux; something from the 80s, 90s or even 70s. It actually makes a lot of sense because the wines are so matured that they get really tender and mellow, and this works amazing well with the chilli and Sichuan flavours. It can be difficult to find nice lunch restaurants, but here you can have something interesting to eat and drink something really nice as well.

Chongqing Noodles

Chef Ash Lee specialises in Chongqing’s signature noodle dish, the eponymous Chong Qing Xiao Mian. The cuisine of the southwest Chinese city of Chongqing is characterised by the use of plenty of chilli and the local Szechuan pepper, as is the case with the Chong Qing Xiao Mian – a traditional breakfast dish that is served with differently combined ingredients. The classic with minced pork can be found on Ash Lee’s menu at ChungKing Noodles, alongside a variant with braised beef calf or a vegan option with tofu and shiitake. She features a lot of producers from Berlin like Motel Brewery and The Sausage Man Never Sleeps. No reservation here, and it’s only open in the evening until 10pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

A True Farm-to-Plate Restaurant

Forsthaus Strelitz is a restaurant and farmhouse about an hour’s drive from Berlin. It’s a beautiful space to go outside the city and relax. The owner has a farm where he grows, breeds and even self-butchers everything to be used in the restaurant. It’s a very simple approach to the food chain of doing everything yourself, from farm to plate. You don’t see that very often. It’s a very simple cuisine, and they have a nice, small wine list – you can also bring your own bottles for a small corkage fee. They have huge apartments to stay the night. They’re very simple and not luxurious at all, which I think this is a rather nicer approach to staying in a normal hotel. It’s all about your value system. It’s a place where you go when you don’t want to be disturbed by too many things. You take your wine, you can walk around the forest. It’s a place to be calm. I really love it there, my wife does as well.

An Inexpensive Neighbourhood Italian Place

Just around the corner from where I live is Osteria Sippi, a neighbourhood Italian place with a nice wine list, good beer and very good pasta. They always have something new on the menu, so I always eat at least two, maybe three pastas and a dessert. It’s not expensive, and it’s a really nice and cosy little place. Somehow, but not in a very stylish way, it looks like your home – if you had just randomly selected furniture because you didn’t have any money to style and make it 100 per cent nice (but in a charming way). It has a really cool atmosphere; it has a very friendly vibe. You know, you might turn up and they’ll still be eating their staff meal and they’ll invite you to have a beer with them; it’s very relaxed.

A Late-Night Wine Bar

Johannes Schellhorn, our former sommelier, opened a really nice wine bar called Bar Freundschaft. It has a very good wine list with classic wines, old wines and young wines – a lot of it available by the glass. They serve a really beautiful Sülze terrine, and simple, but very good snacks like ham and bread with horseradish. They’re open late, which is also great.

A World-Famous Bar Serving Innovative Cocktails

Oliver Ebert and Cristina Neves opened Bar Becketts Kopf in Prenzlauer Berg, and it’s one of the most well-known bars in the world. They started with very classic cocktails, which they are still doing today, but now their style is extremely unique and very innovative.  They don’t have a huge backboard of different bottles and spirits – they’re very, very selective and careful about what they’re using, with most of their bottles coming from German and Austrian distilleries. They also grow their own ingredients and herbs to make syrups and infuse certain things. They do it in a really beautiful way.

Local Inspiration and Cocktails

Ruben Neideck is the chef-bartender at Velvet Bar. What we do with ingredients at Nobelhart & Schmutzig, they do with drinks. Velvet liquifies the flavours of Berlin’s surrounding nature in accordance with the time of the year. The seasonal cocktail bar situated in Neukölln – a vastly energetic and diverse neighbourhood – serves drinks from a weekly changing menu. The bar team’s concoctions always focus on the plant’s flavour rather than the spirit. Sakura blossoms, fig leaves or sea buckthorn are either sourced through local farms or foraged in the wild to then be turned liquid in Velvet’s gadgety cocktail lab. Paired with a personal yet discreet service style, this approach of straying from the typical, available-365-days-a-year cocktail has earned them esteemed awards as Germany’s Bar of the Year, and established a clear vision in the German bar community of what seasonality in a bar can mean. As is common in Neukölln, smoking is allowed in this 55-seater bar which opens seven nights a week.

A Chocolatier Dabbles in the World of Dining

Pars chocolatier opened a beautiful neighbourhood restaurant Pars. The design of the place is clean and minimal but you get a really warm feeling when you walk in. It has a very local identity and high-quality chocolate. It’s located in a neighbourhood that normally does things very differently (more classic, more steak, more pinot grigio), but here there’s a focus on natural wine, it’s practically an all-women team and they use local ingredients and amazing, well-sourced chocolate which they use in all the stages of cooking. During the day, they offer small bites and very good coffee.

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