Frankfurt Feast

1 Feb 2006 by business traveller
German cuisine has never compared favourably to its European neighbours. While France and Italy are famed for their gastronomic endeavours, Germany is better respected for its beers. But it's not all frankfurters and sauerkraut in Germany's burgeoning financial capital; Frankfurt's restaurant scene throws up a few surprises, as well as some more patriotic offerings that are worth a visit.

Holbein's Café Restaurant

Holbeinstrasse 1, tel +49 69 6605 6666, meyer-frankfurt.de Holbein's is a Frankfurt hotspot, whether you're dining, perching at the bar drinking cocktails or posing on the terrace with a cappuccino. The restaurant has stylishly been built into a courtyard of the Städel Art Institute and Municipal Gallery, with pale stone walls on three sides and a glass wall opening onto the terrace. Inside there's a dramatic winged sculpture made of lead, and behind it some tables discreetly positioned under stone arches, while the majority of diners jostle for space in the main room. The white linen tablecloths are a striking contrast to the dark wood floor, and the centrepiece is an open-air kitchen with a metallic chimney that pierces through the roof. The room buzzes in the evening when a pianist plays soulfully at the grand piano and the smartly dressed staff, who are well versed on the complexities of the menu, pass deftly between the tables. The lunch menu has light choices like spicy lentil soup (€7.50), salad with red mullet (€15.50) and linguine with roasted prawns (€17.50). Dinner is a more elaborate affair with starters such as sashimi of yellowfin tuna and scallops (€11.50) and creamy soup of asparagus with baked lobster (€8), followed by half a lobster and a beef medallion (€25) or halibut with a saffron and orange crust (€21.50). The puddings are divine and include baked plums marinated in port syrup with waffles and ice cream (€9.50) or blackcurrant sorbet with champagne (€8). There is a choice of aperitif cocktails, six different Champagnes and an encyclopaedic wine list. It's advisable to book ahead. Opening hours Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-midnight (food served until 11.30pm).

Gasthof Steinernes Haus

Braubachstrasse 35, tel +49 69 28 34 91, steinernes-haus.de This inn has been serving food for over 100 years and was one of the first non-wooden houses constructed in the old city centre of Frankfurt (Steinernes Haus literally translates as "stone house"). Subsequent renovation, including a complete rebuild after the Second World War, means there are no original features, but the interior design stayed loyal to the original plans. The result is a rather dull, but traditional interior with wood panelling and a wall of stained glass windows. Sepia photographs and examples of traditional German dress adorn the walls. But the food is the real star here. Sharing the communal wooden tables and benches with the mostly male locals, are tourists, business people and local politicians who come for the renowned home cooking and convivial atmosphere, which picks up in the evening when the apfelwein (€1.50 per glass), a potent flat cider local to Frankfurt, starts flowing. Light dishes include asparagus and hollandaise (€15) and goulash soup (€4), then there's brisket of ox with a herby cream sauce (€11.50), schnitzel with all manner of sauces (€11.50), or you can grill your own steak on a hot stone at your table (from €20). The Frankfurt Plate consists of local specialties – liver dumpling, sausages, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes – for €14.50. Drinks are limited to local beers and wine. Needless to say, this isn't a restaurant for vegetarians. Opening hours 11am-1am (food until 11pm).

Main Tower Restaurant & Bar

Floor 53, Helaba Gebäude, Neue Mainzer Strasse 52-58, tel +49 69 3650 4777, maintower-restaurant.de Local business people bring clients here to wow them with the food and panoramic views from the 53rd storey of this skyscraper. The lift that serves the restaurant from street level has a speedometer, which tops an ear-popping 18km/hour en route, but first you pass through a security search and metal scanner, introduced after September 11. Before entering the restaurant it's worth going up to the roof for a blast of fresh air and 360-degree views. In spite of its formal diners, who are either business people or Frankfurt's well-heeled, the restaurant has a fun atmosphere owing to its lively cocktail bar, and is located in the heart of the business district. Light streams through the floor-to-ceiling glass onto the pale wooden floor and café-style furniture, giving the restaurant an airy feel during the day, which turns starry and sometimes star-studded when celebrities pop in at night. There are two menus, Traditional and Evolution, which change regularly. The former offers three courses for €62, four for €72 and five for €85, with choices such as roasted saddle of rabbit and scallops or warm octopus salad. Evolution costs €98 for six courses, €85 for five or €72 for four courses, and offers dishes such as crayfish with sweetbreads, skate with apple couscous and elderberry froth, and warm rhubarb crumble with buttermilk ice cream. There are more than 90 cocktails on the menu and an extensive wine list. It can be necessary to book up to two weeks in advance. Opening hours Tuesday-Saturday 5.30pm-1am (until 2am Friday and Saturday).

Emma Metzler

Schaumainkai 17, tel +49 69 61 99 59 06, emma-metzler.com This restaurant is about 10 minutes' walk from Holbein's and is also located in the museum district, an attractive riverside strip which is popular for business lunches and is packed over the weekend with tourists and locals. Emma Metzler is less flashy than Holbein's and is tucked away behind the Museum of Applied Arts, with minimalist white walls, dark wood tables, candle lighting and a glass-shelved long bar. However, the food is no less exceptional. It's best to visit with a German speaker if you can, as menus are not available in English. Having said that, some of the ingredients were so unusual my translator had not heard of them. The menu changes monthly and serves food from southwest Germany with some French and American influences. Dishes include sautéed mushrooms with calves' liver and salad (€15) or fish carpaccio with wild leaves (€16) to start, then steamed goose liver with apple tortellini (€17) or trout with pine kernel butter, saffron tagliatelle and puréed peas. To finish there is caramelised lemon tart with frozen caipirinha cocktail and anise foam (€8) or rhubarb soup with vanilla yoghurt cream and crostini (€8). For lunch there are more simple dishes such as panini (€5-E6) and rib-eye steak with fries and barbecue sauce (€19). If it's a sunny day you can sit outside, and the best seats for dinner are the comfortable white leather banquettes at the back of the restaurant. Opening hours 12-2.30pm for lunch, 2.30pm-6pm coffee and snacks, 6-9.30pm dinner.

Sushi am Main

Neue Kräme 2, 60311; tel +49 69 297 99 11, sushiammain.de From the outside Sushi am Main looks like any other conveyor-belt sushi bar, but it has two exceptional traits – a great location and excellent food. Sushi makes a healthy light lunch after a plane journey or quick meal before a meeting, making this a good stop-off for business travellers in town. It's located in Römer, Frankfurt's old town square, which is affectionately known as "the living room" by locals. It hosts the Christmas market and is where Frankfurters celebrate their greatest football wins, with the star players waving from the City Hall on one side of the square. From the first floor of the restaurant, which has seven tables for two and two tables for four people, there's a good view of St Paul's Church, an attractive circular stone building that was devastated during the Second World War and has been carefully restored. Sushi fans will recognise the choice of nigiri sushi (fish on a block of rice) and maki sushi (rolled in seaweed), which can be bought separately. The best option though is the platters, which are beautifully presented on wooden trays and serve one to four people (E11.50-E52.90). The fish is fresh and the rice perfectly cooked, plus you can add hot dishes such as chicken teriyaki and tempura, both freshly prepared. The choice of teas, which include jasmine or hibiscus and rose, complement the food and there's a limited selection of beer and wine. Sushi am Main has a second outlet at Westendplatz (Feuerbachstrabe 1, tel +49 69 728 495). Opening hours Mon-Sun 12pm-10pm.

Apfelwein Wagner

Schweizer Straße 71, tel +49 69 61 25 65, apfelwein-wagner.com A lively pub atmosphere, grumpy waiters and tables sticky with apfelwein sums up what to expect from this restaurant. It's a Frankfurt institution and, despite the souvenir t-shirts, is popular with locals. The bustling ambience means it's a great place to unwind with colleagues over some traditional German fare. Wood panelling surrounds the main rooms, with low lighting, coat hooks along every wall and elbow-to-elbow diners slugging the local tipple from the characteristic diamond-etched apfelwein glass, priced at the standard local rate of €1.50 each. The tavern opened in 1931 and it is unlikely the menu has changed since – pork knuckle with fried potatoes is popular (€9), as is cabbage rolls with smoked pork, gravy and mashed potato (€6.90). In fact, think German food and it's all there – schnitzel, frankfurter, blood and liver sausages and sauerkraut, and so are the bulging German bellies that clearly frequent this establishment. Apple strudel is the preferred dessert, and if you can't stomach the apfelwein, which gets a little sickly after a few glasses, there's a small selection of beers and wine. Again this is not a good choice for vegetarians. The restaurant is a 15-minute walk south from Main River, and there's no need to book, as you just need to find space on the end of a communal table. There are plenty of tables in the courtyard for sunny days. Opening hours 11am-midnight.
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