Hamburg trip report [Oct 2023]

My partner had a conference in Hamburg in late October, and I tagged along. I mostly had lunches without her and dinners with her. Her work was at the Congress Centre north of the city centre, and she was put up in the posh Grand Elysée hotel nearby. We both had full transit passes (public transit seems excellent). Neither of us speak German beyond numbers and polite tourist phrases.

We arrived late at night; it was cold and raining. The hotel restaurants seemed overpriced and underwhelming, so we braved the weather to walk into nearby Grindel, where a Vietnamese place called Yumi was still open. This is just south of the university and mostly does lunch business and takeout; there are a few high counters with stools. There was a daily special that I could tell was duck in some sort of coconut milk sauce for 13€, so we each got that, plus an order of spring rolls to share.

This was our introduction to Hamburg portion sizes: half a roast duck, deboned and deep-fried. Even though we had spent the day in transit without eating much, we could easily have shared one of these. It was pretty tasty.

We had another expedient meal in the area later in the week, after a meeting of indeterminate duration from which my partner brought along a colleague. I thought a place called Quan 19 might serve us well, and it did.

They offer a number of Vietnamese “tapas”, and one can order platters for one or two. We were three, but they upsized (there was another, different plate besides this one, and some bowls with various dipping sauces). Pretty solid, reasonably priced, with a nice quiet atmosphere (tables fairly far apart, subdued lighting).

I got to stay in my partner’s room for only an extra 20€/night, but that didn’t include breakfast. I am picky about coffee and would have brought my own equipment, but the room had no kettle! One could be rented for 10€/day. I didn’t think that was legal in Europe. The hotel is in a quiet residential area of Rotherbaum, and there didn’t seem to be any good coffee in the area. But it was close to the Dammtor railway station, and one stop west on the S-Bahn brought me to Sternschanze, where there was much more choice, including the main location of Elbgold coffee roasters.

Excellent coffee, a good selection of quality pastries, and friendly service. Bonus points for the counterman who on a couple of my visits was wearing a hoodie with “Sankt Fucking Pauli” written on it in big letters. I have started ordering their Neunbar roast shipped to me in Lisbon; it is the closest thing I have found so far to what I would roast for myself (all my equipment was 110v and left behind in Canada).

The area around the hotel and congress centre is somewhat of a food desert, though a kilometre or so up Grindelallee there start to be reasonable options (though not when it is raining). Some of my partner’s colleagues took to having lunch in the small mall just beneath the train station, and I once brought her in a schwarma (I had registered so had an access pass).

She had a slightly longer lunch break one day and we walked around Sternschanze, grabbing some tacos from La Casita, housed in a tiny kiosk on the edge of a slightly upscale flea market. I doubt one can do better for Mexican food in Hamburg but it’s probably better to avoid it entirely. The Breton-themed P’Ti Breizh (the “P’” is because it’s a second location further out, where we thought we could do a walk-in for early dinner, as I can’t make reservations in German over the telephone and hate to ask people to speak other languages except in person where I can look suitably ashamed) did better, though not as good as its namesake in Paris. Only one cider, in the bottle, but it was good, and the galettes were respectable, perhaps a bit too crisp-shattery. I don’t think the chef was authentic though. No true Breton would wear that stereotypical red beret and striped shirt.

Our best meals were yet to come, but I’ll continue in the next post.


The pastry pictured above is a Hamburg specialty, a Franzbrötschen (my German sucks, but I think this means “French little bread”), which is basically laminated croissant dough painted with cinnamon sugar and often marzipan, formed into a flattened spiral and baked. We probably all know that traditional almond croissants, made with leftovers and baked a second time, are prone to being soggy, and this is even more the case here. I tried them at a number of providers, including some highly-touted ones, and found a few that were suitably crisp and not too sweet, but there were some disappointments.

I had passed through Hamburg a quarter-century earlier, on the way to Lübeck, but I’d never thought of visiting it. My mistake. First of all, it seems to be the culinary capital of Germany. Who knew? My research also told me that restaurant prices are higher here than in the rest of the country, and it is certainly possible to spend a lot. I don’t have enough experience to say for sure, but it did seem more expensive than Berlin. Other reasons to visit: attractive architecture, seemingly liveable suburbs with good local food options, a working port and many canals, and a generally vibrant atmosphere. We will return for sure.

Our eating runs more along original Chowhound hole-in-the-wall options than Michelin stars and three-digit omakases. For this trip, we chose one tasting menu in Hamburg and one in Berlin. The Hamburg choice was Nil (though I had phillips on my list, just in case). The tasting menu at Nil changes monthly, and is 20% off Su-Th (42€ when we went, it has risen to 45€). I won’t post any photos, because @linguafood has given us many, and the lighting was not good at our table. The meal was solid, well composed and plated, with friendly service. It was not as exciting as what I remember from similar establishments in Paris. There was quite a lengthy gap between our fish and meat courses; I think the kitchen just got slammed. The restaurant is on two levels, and I think the kitchen is in the basement, with dishes coming up by dumbwaiter to the small bar area (and up a single narrow metal staircase to the upper level). It has to be a logistical nightmare.

I don’t think I would return, but I would certainly recommend it to others. Some of the dishes on the tasting menu were available a la carte, and I saw them being delivered to neighbouring tables. They were enormous! Okay, I will post one photo, of our meat course.

There’s a third cube of beef under the onion. This was the right amount of meat for me. If I’d had the a la carte, I don’t think I could have managed any more courses. Even sharing that would have been too much for me.

I can’t visit Germany without eating Turkish food, and I did so at Koz Urfa, which is near the Altona train station to the west (so a quick S-Bahn trip). This yogurtlu kebap was something like 20€, which seems high compared to Berlin (though I didn’t end up having any Turkish food in our weekend there on this trip).

A generous portion, tasty and with bread baked fresh on the premises in the basket. I was there for an early weekday lunch, and most of the other patrons seemed to be ethnic German, many with kids. The restaurant offers mixed platters, and a couple near me ordered one each and had pretty much demolished them by the time I left. One of them would have fed me for several days.

One more post coming.


Franzbroetchen - now I am jealous


Sounds like you ate well, and I’m glad you stopped in at Nil. I’ve known the owner for many years & love visiting for a day trip from Berlin, as I’d mentioned in our other convo. Nothing mindblowing coming out of that kitchen: just solid, well executed food with no frills.

I’d have never thought of HH as the culinary capital of Germany - what made you deem it so? The highest number of Michelin star restos are in BaWü, and I honestly think Berlin has more variety in terms of cuisines & price levels - it’s a much larger city, of course. HH is fancier, for sure, and has the price tag to prove it.

My restaurant list included a number of places in the centre that were lunch-focussed and not open in the evening. Two of these are on the same block, a little north of the old warehouse district (which, by the way, puts any other port warehouse district I have visited in the shade). They’re also laid out similarly, with a single narrow room with two long tables down each wall, and the kitchen at the back. The first one we visited was o-ren ishii, which features Vietnamese-style bowls. Four mains are chalked up, and there’s a short printed menu of starters (rolls, salads) and drinks.

We visited at the height of the lunch rush (timing was not up to me) and I had some alternate addresses as backups, but two seats had just opened up on either side of one of the tables, about two-thirds of the way in. There was no place to put our coats or bags, we were elbow-by-elbow with other diners, and we could barely hear each other speak. The food made up for it.

This was my crispy pork belly. It’s the first item on the chalkboard menu, and you can figure out how you would have chosen under those chaotic circumstances. Both our dishes were terrific, with bold, complex flavourings.

We returned on a subsequent day to try the other place I had listed on that block: Mama Si, which offers a more traditional Thai menu (though not without its innovations, and with a few daily lunch specials). Though we went early, it was also pretty crowded, but since we were seated in the window, I could capture the scene properly.

And now I see there might actually be adjustable four-tops on the right side. I had massaman lamb from the specials posted, and my partner had pad thai.

L’Orient is a local mini-chain with locations west, north, and east of the centre, in more residential neighbourhoods. We chose the one in Ottensen, just west of Altona, for transit convenience. They offer a modern take on Lebanese cuisine. We chose to just share the mezze platter, which actually came in multiple small dishes. My apologies for the lighting, this was hard to capture.

We shared this, and with the accompanying basket of pita, it was plenty. The two women seated beside us shared the same thing, but then had a large main each! Even though we were spending a fraction of what they were, and the server seemed surprised that we were done, we were comped a dessert each, a small square of cake and a scoop of ice cream. The meal was fresh, varied, and satisfying.

We returned to o-ren ishii for an early dinner on our last full day in Hamburg, because the art museum complex was half-price in the evening. They close at six, and in the late afternoon, were almost empty. It was calm and relaxing.

I got to have a full serving (rather than a shared bite) of the duck dish that my partner had had on our previous lunch visit, while she tried a meatball soup.

Overall, I think we ate quite well, and copiously. I might have wished for less rain, but we got out and around when it was sunny, including a long river trip (on a ferry covered by our transit passes).


I would characterize Nil as a “reliable address”, a place to take someone when you want to be assured of a pleasant evening.

Don’t read too much into the “culinary capital” comment; it’s just something that a couple of my sources said (and I don’t think those sites were sponsored by the Hamburg chamber of commerce). Of course it’s a silly designation, as are most “bests” and “winners”. It probably speaks more to my low expectations and the subsequent pleasant surprise. In fact, I think I started my research, when I heard we were going there, with looking into day trips. But besides Berlin, where we were already headed right afterwards, the best option (since it was not summer) was Lübeck, and I had no desire to return. But who knows? Maybe even Saarbrücken, which I had to visit a few times in the '90’s for work, can now provide me with a decent meal.


Reliably solid, and at a very good price. That can be rare.

Your pork belly dish & all the other stuff you had at o-ren ishii looks fabulous! :heart_eyes:

1 Like

You couldn’t find good food in Saarbrücken preciously? I have always had good luck on both sides of the Saar.

It was pre-Web, so I had few sources of information, and my host was more interested in mathematics than food (he mostly ate at the university mensa). I usually headed for Strasbourg or Paris to recharge.

1 Like