Cologne. The home of beer in tiny glasses, Bratwurst, sauerkraut and the Lindt Chocolate factory (who knew?). And it turns out, the home of some of the best red wine and fine dining to have ever passed these, albeit eager-to-eat, lips.
Our intention wasn’t to visit Cologne in pursuit of tasty grub, though that’s often high on the agenda. Our intention was more along the lines of going ‘somewhere, anywhere’ over the pricey bank holiday weekend for not too much money and not too long a flight. Enter Cologne. We booked flights with RyanAir less than a month in advance and chose an Airbnb apartment in the city centre about 3 days before we travelled, all for £250 per member of our awesome four person group from (very) early Saturday till (very) late Monday night. Not bad.
The sights, the people, the transport, the shops – everything was beautiful. I really can’t recommend Cologne‘s exciting, friendly, buzzy offering enough. But we’re hear to talk food, so I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself.
We are at some great places, and I will share those in another post soon, but I wanted to start with the fine dining establishment we visited on our first night. That’s when you feel your fanciest, isn’t it? On the first night, a wad of foreign cash in hand, full of excitement at being somewhere new, different, unknown. It was the most planned part of our trip, with our friend and fellow traveller having been recommended this place as ‘somewhere that looked good but that I couldn’t afford’ by someone he worked with. Naturally, we thought it worth looking at the menu and while it was a bit dearer than your average restaurant, it was doable. And it sounded amazing. We booked a table an hour before arriving and managed to commandeer a taxi across town to it. A little out of the city centre, NADA is contemporary and cool but inviting and friendly. It’d really suit London. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails at the bar first, since the place was empty and 6pm was a bit early for us to chow down. I had a Gin Basil Smash, which tasted exactly as it sounds – mourish and light. And a little toooooo drinkable. There were Old Fashioneds and berry-infused Proseccos doing the rounds too, alongside nutty and Pretzel-y snacks. A good start, indeed.
When we took our seats the restaurant was still very quiet but that was our early ness rather than a reflection on the place, which really started hotting up as we got to the second course. Yep, plural! First up was bread and wine. We asked the waitress to recommend and she suggested we go German, since, well, ‘when in Germany’. I was a bit apprehensive as I’ve never enjoyed a German wine but I needn’t have been. It is no exaggeration, and a sentiment shared with my fellow diners, that Black Print from Germany is the best red we’d ever sipped. After tasting we worried that we’d been given the most expensive bottle on the menu but it was actually a cheaper one, about £30.
Before we’d stopped fussing the vino, our lovely lovely waitress brought us an amuse bouche of steak tartar with soured cream and green bits. Yeah. Now you get the idea.. We then all chose a first dish from either the Starters section or the something else from the ‘In between’ bit, which offered starter-y type things but slightly larger and less fishy, which worked out well for me and my distaste for all things sea-dwelling. I chose ricotta ravioli with beetroot and it was delicious. Really soft and melty and with just the right amount of cheese. Normally I’d turn my nose up at cheese ‘foam’ but the varying textures really worked, with the hard yet juicy beetroot really tarting things up. Alex, my boyfriend, had scallops, fried with coconut cauliflower purée while our friends went for grilled octopus with warm Goat’s cheese, pear and turnip, and calf’s head (quite light and not very strong in taste, in case you’re wondering) and langoustine with black lentils and caviar. It looked a lot less faffy than it sounds (but still beautifully Instagram-worthy!) and the servings were generous (always a worry in schmancy eateries!).
Suitably impressed we moved on to the main course. I had rib of beef with (more) beetroot, roasted onion and mushrooms. Please pore over the picture I took because, despite being a wordsmith by trade, I don’t think mere words can capture just how wonderful it was. I tend to avoid steak in new places; they never get it right and it rarely stands up against the Gaucho and Hawksmoor standard I’ve dubbed my favourite – I never pretended I was a cheap date! But I’m so glad I did. Succulent and cooked to perfection – lightly browned and with vinegary edges and then richly red on the inside – I’ve never tasted anything like it. The mushrooms would have warranted more of a mention because they were great too, but next to the beef, I hardly noticed. I loved how it was served too, in chunks across a long plate, intercepted with its veggie bedfellows. Anyway. It was damn good. Alex went for fillet steak, which was similarly cooked beautifully, with a dark pink inside (which he was incredibly relieved about, since he’s a rare-meets-blue kind of a man and forgot to tell the waitress this, meaning chef chose well for him). As you can see from the picture it was a pregnant pillow of meat showcased with a simple smattering of accompaniments. Someone else went for Atlantic plaice with olive stock and parsley emulsion while our other chum went for braised lamb (but she must have inhaled it before I could get a snap!). I must admit I was a bit distracted to really take in anyone else’s choice.
And to finish.. We actually stopped there. Well, save the third bottle of Black Print. Because yes, ladies and gentlemen, we were stuffed. We settled up, checked out the swish bathrooms, nabbed a flannel or two (jokes) and went on our merry way back to the city centre to talk about how we might be able to locate Black Print in England and how the next night’s dinner had a lot to live up to. Which it did, but that’s a story for another post.