I recently visited the largest fruit and vegetable fair in Europe – as a culinary journalist you have to keep a little bit of information. I actually discovered something new: the lulo, a tomato-like fruit from the Andes with a tropical citrus flavour. Nice, but you understand: that fair was of course a weak excuse to wallow in gastronomic Berlin, where everything can be nice and rough and unconventional.

Berlin has also been at the forefront of the vegetarian and vegan restaurant scene for years. One of those progressive vegetable kitchens received a Michelin star last year. Fully vegetarian restaurants with a star, there are not that many. So I thought it would be nice to review Cookies Cream for you while I was there.

Round the corner, down the alley. Steel shutters, containers. All very industrial. Suddenly a huge chandelier is flashing – that must be the entrance. Then we step into a white concrete shoebox with disco balls and high speaker columns. The controls seem to have stepped straight out of the Ace & Tate folder. The music is loud. As if in our naive enthusiasm we went to the techno club two hours early. So nice Berlin.

We start with a brilliant chicory dish where the chef has explored the extremes of what an almond can be: the creamy, moist, cool of almond milk to the sultry, salty, crunchy of smoked almonds; topped off with a refreshingly large dot of dill – dill is never really subtle, so if you do it anyway… Then it goes downhill fast. Two more, at most, nice starters follow and the rest of the menu seeps after them like a wet fart.

As a main course we have to make do with a soggy maize porridge with pieces of raw bell pepper and spring onions, and a deep plate with three very heavy cheesy matzo balls in a slightly sour sauce and white truffle. truffle and parmesan, safe bet. But, jesus, that’s how you get the vega full. What a joke. The desserts with vegetables then, you eat them three times better at Choux, just in Amsterdam. In short: Cookies Cream is not really worth it.

Golden tip

The next day I ate sensationally at Nobelhart & Schmutzig. Basically I don’t write about restaurants where I eat by invitation (I usually come unannounced and always pay – to avoid preferential treatment). However, I want to make one exception. I was not personally invited, I was taken in tow – those people don’t know who I am at all – and we got exactly the same as the neighbors (except for two of the nine courses, also completely vegetarian, with a star). Then I think: what good is a story about a tent all the way in Berlin, where you don’t have to go? While I can also give you a golden tip.

What happens at Nobelhart & Schmutzig, stays at Nobelhart & Schmutzig, according to the menu. Photography is not appreciated. It’s about the experience, here and now. Experience is a dirty word (let alone ‘total experience’ – I always have to throw up a little in my mouth). But I can’t ignore it, it fits so well here: an ideal interplay of the place, the food and the theater of the flamboyant host.

The decor: Nobelhart has a bell with a name tag, that’s all. Inside it is actually one long bar at the kitchen and one large regular table in a dark room, theatrically lit with a few dozen bare, yellow pears. Berlin’s secret hip, in a sympathetic speak-easy way.

It’s not about the spectacle pieces on the plate, but about how they are part of the evening

The art: Micha Schäfer’s cuisine is straightforward, there are rarely more than three ingredients on the plate. Topinambour, baked three times – inside a roasted Jerusalem artichoke caramel, the skin as if it has been tanned. With stored ghee (clarified and lightly browned butter) and caraway seeds. Intense flavours, lightly brought. The same goes for the chicory with pickled rose petals (which for once do not dominate). The pork neck in itself could have been a dish, because of the natural perfume in the fat (divine). With a single carrot, harder than you expect and rubbed with coriander oil. It seems so casual, is composed so subtly.

Celeriac with blackcurrant wood oil and heavy cream. Brussels sprouts with walnuts and purée of baked apples. Schäfer’s kitchen is light, vegetable-oriented, timid but well thought-out. No frills, nothing demands too much attention. It’s not about the spectacle pieces on the plate, but about how they are part of the evening.

The play: the seating arrangement is delicately devised by Billy Wagner, the flamboyant, tousled ruddy, mustachioed maître, who here encourages subtle contact between guests who have not entered together, there teases by sitting on your chair when you go to the toilet go, strike up a conversation with your date and don’t get up when you get back. Meanwhile, he conducts hospitality at the highest level. One minute he’s the center of attention, the next he’s been refilling your glass unnoticed. Always small bits, exactly adapted to your pace. The service is real tailormade.

I suspect that no evening at Nobelhart & Schmutzig is the same. It is a gesamtkunstwerk. You don’t have to take pictures of that. You have to experience that. Total.