Hamburg now has a Michelin three-star restaurant, The Table Kevin Fehling, but I couldn’t see why I should spend €195 per person to sit for three hours at a counter, nibbling on dishes with fashionable ingredients like yuzu and tonka bean, when I could pay far less for a similar experience in, say, Portland. Instead, I sought out restaurants with more of a sense of place. Some local recipes, such as Hamburger Aalsuppe — an unpalatable brew of eel, smoked pork and stone fruits — are best left to the locals. But I’m happy to say I made numerous delicious discoveries over the course of our stay. Today it requires little effort to eat very well in Hamburg.
It’s even easy for vegetarians nowadays. Although Germany has a meaty reputation, almost every restaurant we tried had at least one vegetarian appetizer and main course.
Hamburg-based magazine Der Feinschmecker (“The Gourmet”) calls this bistro “perhaps the most famous secret tip in the city.” Tucked away on a side street in Neustadt (New Town), this quiet restaurant with leather banquettes and candles atop white tablecloths serves elevated renditions of traditional recipes. I quite liked my “Bouillabaisse from the North,” a Mediterranean-German fusion soup of salmon, tuna, cod, tiny local shrimp and vegetables in a dill-saffron broth. But the Labskaus, usually a hash of beef, beets and potatoes, was the star. This “white” veal version came topped with a quail egg and a flurry of black-truffle shavings.
Büschstrasse 2. Tel. (49) 40-343-373.
Some say that this restaurant overlooking the Elbe serves Hamburg’s best seafood; high praise indeed. The space is busy but romantic, illuminated by candles and red-shaded lamps, with views of the (admittedly industrial) harbor. I started with a refreshing and delicate dish of beet carpaccio topped with goat cheese and a truffle vinaigrette, an example of an ostensibly simple dish succeeding through the use of top-quality ingredients. My fillet of North Sea turbot was also thoroughly delicious, served with a rich “crustacean bisque” as well as decadent creamed spinach and silky mashed potatoes. Glasses of dry Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) rosé and spicy Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), both from Baden, paired beautifully.
Grosse Elbstrasse 143. Tel. (49) 40-381-816.
Less than two years old, this “casual fine dining” restaurant on the southern edge of the old quarter stays open until 2 a.m., making it an ideal choice for a post-concert meal. But the food and wine are a draw at any time. We enjoyed complex dishes like smoked salmon with trout caviar, egg yolk confit, Mimolette cheese and flavorful tomatoes from a famous local farmers market. My main course was even better: Poltinger lamb loin, belly and tongue in a red-wine reduction with celery root purée, zucchini ribbons, radishes and onions. To pair, I had a rich and refined Einzigacker Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) by Dreissigacker that was simply extraordinary and a light but tightly focused Friedrich Becker Spätburgunder.
Brandstwiete 46. Tel. (49) 40-3037-2250.
This Michelin-starred seafood-focused restaurant has fine views of the Binnenalster lake from its third-floor perch in the Europa passage. We opted for the five-course “small tasting menu,” rather than the full nine-course option, but I did not leave hungry. The menu had delicate dishes, such as Swedish pike perch with apple gelée and dill ice cream, and heartier courses, like pulled pork with savoy cabbage kimchi and cantaloupe purée. Se7en Oceans is a chic and contemporary foil to the more traditional Fischereihafen.
Ballindamm 40. Tel. (49) 40-3250-7944.
I love the self-aware sense of humor of this large, bright and popular Austrian restaurant in the Levantehaus, the pretty shopping mall topped by the Park Hyatt Hamburg. In one room, an arrangement of 40 cowbells hangs above diners, and in another, the ceiling is decorated with photos of massively enlarged Edelweiss flowers. After some fresh bread and butter spiked with Styrian pumpkin seed oil, I enjoyed a savory appetizer of herb-crusted pork belly and prosciutto-wrapped octopus with cauliflower purée and smoked almonds. I also liked my main course of crispy-skinned trout in a tart, herbed buttermilk broth, but the accompanying ravioli stuffed with celery root and apple were on the undercooked side of al dente. The service was cheerful but sometimes slow.
Mönckebergstrasse 7. Tel. (49) 40-3296-4796.
With an industrial-chic décor that feels very Hamburg, VLET occupies part of a former warehouse in the stylish neighborhood near the Elbphilharmonie. We sat at a window table overlooking the Brooksfleet canal, dining on contemporary versions of Hamburg classics. I started with some refreshing and spicy chilled carrot soup with carrot and fennel sorbets and citrusy sea buckthorn purée. VLET was more traditional in its presentation of Pannfisch: fresh Arctic char in mustard cream sauce with root vegetables and tomatoes. But I preferred my wife’s more creative dish of “Finkenwerder-style” plaice with cucumber salad, crunchy crab cracklings and bacon gravy. Sister restaurant VLET an der Alster has a terrace on the Kleine Alster canal between the Fairmont and the Park Hyatt.
Am Sandtorkai 23-24. Tel. (49) 40-3347-5375-0.