I don’t speak a word of German. I can muster up a bit of French, and have probably still got some passable Finnish, but German – not a word. So as the daughter planned a week staying with a friend in Dusseldorf, we decided we’d grab the chance of a city break somewhere we’d neither of us been before. Dusseldorf is not the most obvious choice for a short break, I grant you, but if you like museums, art, food, old towns, modern architecture, designer shopping and large rivers, this may be the city for you.
Thankfully most Germans have passable to excellent English, and as Dusseldorf is not your typical tourist town, this is really rather useful. We stayed at the Orangery, a modern “boutique” hotel in an old house in a quiet cobbled courtyard, metres from the Rhine and minutes from the heart of the old town, with its alleys of restaurants and bars, and a few minutes more from the fabulous designer shopping streets and malls. A pretty perfect location in fact. Lovely clean room and a proper, efficient shower (got to love the Germans). In fact, everything was efficient, from the flights to the taxi to the hotel (despite not much English spoken here – so quite a lot of smiling and gesticulating took place, all successfully, I might add) to the fact that no one, absolutely no one crosses the roads before a green man is showing. Makes life so much less stressful.
So, German food. Obviously, there are lots of different cuisines available, as there in most modern European cities, but it was noticeable that a lot of the locals regularly ate the traditional stuff – we tried quite a lot of it and it can perhaps be best summed up as – potatoes, pig, cabbage and beer, in various guises. I can’t say I was won over to be honest, but it is nice to see that Germans do love German food, and there is a clear food “culture” here, why they are not all clinically obese is beyond me, mind you, as this is not exactly low fat, low calorie fare…and the chips, so many people eat chips (with mayo of course – I can’t cope with that). But they are generally not overweight, so I assume they are all up at 6am at the gym before they start the wheels of Europe’s must successful economy whirring, so I guess if they want to eat pig and chips everyday, that’s up to them.
This menu kind of sums it up, check out especially numbers 8 and 9.
We coped with most of the local fare, much of it is served by the traditional breweries in the town (which only sell one kind of beer usually – a strong dark wheat beer so that at least makes ordering easy).
From the Brewerie Schlussel, I went with the suckling pig Bratwurst with wine sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, bacon and onions. I’m not big on sauerkraut and to be honest the sausages were pretty hard going. The potato was lovely, but the portion gargantuan. I managed about half.
The husband took it upon himself to try the full works with a “Butcher’s Platter”, with baked black pudding, pork belly, bratwurst with sauerkraut and mashed potato. This food is not pretty. I am also sure the pork was boiled, so pale and wan was it, but the black pudding… it was raw. Yep, raw blood pudding. If it was indeed baked, it was baked for 5 minutes max, when the Husband cut into it the gelatinous blood oozed all over the plate. Sorry, but it was hideous.
There are loads and loads of small cafe/kiosks selling various sausages, chips and pork meat patties (frikadeller). Lots of people eat this stuff at lunchtime (even those in suits), standing up at tables outside the kiosks (lots and lots of places provide only stand-up eating, not very relaxing, but probably very efficient) and there are queues outside many of them. Not for me, I’m afraid, but the Husband, who loves a sausage, was enamoured.
By now I was overdosing on pig and potato, and at a lovely food market a stone’s throw from our hotel we discovered Laura’s Urban Deli. Bliss. Bowl of watermelon and feta with coriander and mint.
Think we had kind of got German food now, so we ventured to the highly recommended Libanon restaurant in the old town. Beautifully decorated with imported Lebanese furniture and ornaments, and with its own express service and patisserie, this is quite famous locally.
We chose a mezze of 5 dishes, pork stuffed flatbreads, falafels, tabbaloueh, Lebonese salad and lambs livers with pomegranate. Despite our best efforts not to over order, we failed, as these mezze dishes were the size of a main course each. I find this really quite irritating if I’m honest. I want lots of little dishes with different things to try, I don’t want 5 main meals that I can’t finish. The food was nice, but to be honest, I think the setting was better than the food. I really wanted to like this place and there was nothing wrong with the food, but actually I think the pictures sum it up. It was nice.
Next up, Hungarian. A tiny doorway and couple of outside seats belie the size of Restaurant Blatt, which like so many of the old town places go back through what would have been a large house, tall and long inside. This place has a stage and piano at the back, not in action on a Thursday, but a lovely ambience. Lots of delicious sounding specialities here, but as we were just popping in for lunch we went with the tomato soup with mozzarella and some absolutely fabulous spicy Goulash soup washed down with Hungarian beer and a couple of schnapps (bit like petrol, can’t remember the name, but enjoyed it nonetheless).
Rather randomly I chose a vegetable Strudel for my main (I think I had just run out of pig-space). A rather odd meal, and I suddenly thought, as this is the city where in most case the vegetarian/vegan option is “salad” – perhaps this was just on there for the poor vegetarians. Either way, it was a sort of mix of Birds Eye type frozen vegetables encased in pastry. I left it.
Germans love a good wine Festival if the Dusseldorf Summer Wine Fest is anything to go by. Set up in the old market place this was event was heaving. With live music and every kind of German wine known to man it was a popular event and sooo well organised. One food stall with roast ham (naturally) and pretzels and one selling “nibbles” – yep a whole stall selling accompaniments for you to nibble while you taste the wines, cheese cubes, olives, tomatoes, grapes, choose your nibbles enjoy your wine. On a lovely sunny evening, what could be better?
Finally, after a week of meat and beer, it really was time for fish. Fischhaus is the fish restaurant in Dusseldorf, selling a huge range of fish dishes and amazing platters of seafood. There is also wet fish counter where you can pick your fish and your choice of how it is cooked.
For a light summer evening, I went with cream of fish soup and grilled sardines with a tomato salad. Both really delicious but probably not enough to judge the restaurant on. I ummed and aahed about the oysters, but with a flight ahead of us the following morning, I decided not to risk it, I’ll grab some from the Vicky market when I get home.
So, Dusseldorf for a city break? Yep. What a lovely city.