There’s a palpable sense of freedom in Hamburg. Indeed, even the rambling boulevard ‘Grosse Freiheit’ (Great Freedom), is named as such.
Echoes of the city’s maritime history can be felt everywhere – the distant groan of a fog horn, its maze of canals flowing into the Elbe river and a mix of pan-European influences from centuries as Germany’s largest port.
This outward-looking mentality is reflected in Hamburg’s food scene, offering everything from French haute-cuisine to hip Nordic eateries, Portuguese street food and centuries-old German specialities. With its focus on high quality ingredients and fresh seafood, the city has become a magnet for talented regional chefs, boasting 27 Michelin-starred restaurants.
Perhaps the grandest symbol of Hamburg’s freedom is its new concert hall – the exquisite Elphiharmonie. Built atop a historic warehouse, its modern glass roof undulating out to sea, ‘The Elphi’ (as its affectionately called) is emblematic of the port city and its people – subversive, self-assured and with its gaze perennially fixed outwards.
WHERE TO EAT
Flanked by the Baltic and North Sea, seafood unsurprisingly remains a Hamburg staple – and trying the famous fischbrötchen (fish bun) is a quintessential experience. There are hundreds of vendors sprinkled throughout the city, but none as revered as the harbourfront Brücke 10. On weekends, the line snakes out the door and around the corner, but it’s well worth the wait. Try a Bismarck (pickled herring) or Matjes (brined herring) washed down with a local Astra lager.
Further down the Elbe, dine to a soundtrack of hot plates firing up and spoons clanging against saucepans at 100/200. One of Hamburg’s most exciting new concepts, this open-kitchen restaurant has just one stove, one room and one chef. Devour up to 25 courses by celebrated chef Thomas Imbusch, from trout caviar mixed with lilac berries to chicken ragout with chives. Equally special is the setting; a decommissioned railway station with panoramic views over the city.
For the ultimate fine-dining experience, you can’t go past Jacob’s Restaurant, a lavish two-starred eatery complete with stucco ceilings, 19thcentury murals and heavy chandeliers. As chef-de-cuisine since 1997, Thomas Martin is the heart and soul of the operation. Contemporary, light and fresh, Martin reinterprets classic French haute-cuisine with lots of locally produced legumes and seafood.
Right next to the Elbphilharmonie, Martin’s latest restaurant LOUIS offers a more relaxed dining experience, with share plates of regional-inspired cuisine served around a five-metre-long wooden table.
Offering three separate dining rooms filled with curated art and long-stemmed candles, Standard evokes the feeling of an intimate dinner party (perhaps owing to the fact that it is, indeed, a house; co-owner Maurice lives upstairs). A modern take on the Italian aperitivo hour, Standard serves bitter liqueur cocktails paired with ‘stuzzichini’, tasty small plates designed to share.
Waiters sashay around a grand Art Noveau dining hall at Café Paris, a turn-of-the-century French bistro. So grand, in fact, that Karl Lagerfeld hand-picked it for an intimate dinner party after his Chanel’s Métiers d’Art showcase. Book ahead for brunch, which gets packed on weekends. For a local twist, order ‘The Hamburg’, a hearty platter of shrimp salad, white herring, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, served with coffee or beer.
With more than 100 weekly food markets – more than any other European city - Hamburg is a mecca for fresh produce. Rindermarkthalle, the city’s first weekly covered market, is a great spot to sample regional specialities. At bakery Brot & Stulle, grab a ‘Franzbrötchen’ (French bun), a sweet pastry baked with butter and cinnamon, said to have originated when the French troops occupied Hamburg during World War II. Just a few strides away at Metzgers Fleisch & Foodbar, order ‘Labskaus’, a regional dish of salted minced meat, potatoes, pickled beetroot and eggs, which evolved from diet of sailors in the 17th century.
In a handful of streets in the Neustadt district, you’ll see locals embracing with a kiss on both cheeks and a warm ‘Olá!’ This is the Portugiesenviertel (Portuguese neighbourhood), the centre of Hamburg's sizeable Portuguese and southern European communities since the 1960s. At hole-in-the-wall eatery Casa Franco,there is no menu, but instead a warm greeting and a prompt from the waiter: “How hungry are you?”. A non-stop flow of authentic Portugese fare follows; caldo verde soup, shrimp flambé and tender fillets of codfish.
WHERE TO DRINK
For a city one fifth of the size of London, Hamburg is teeming with culture and nightlife, plus a surprising musical legacy. The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix cut their teeth along the infamous Reeperbahn, a pulsing stretch of watering holes where the city comes alive after dark.
Part Mexican cantina, part sophisticated cocktail lounge, Chug Clubis a tequila bar just off theReeperbahn.Recline on the velvet green couches as mixologist Betty Kupsawhips up a ‘Sweet Caroline’, with añejo tequila, hazelnut milk, blackcurrant and sugar.
Press a bell on a nondescript doorway and you’ll enter Clockers, Narnia-like space with a giant illuminated tree, leather chesterfields and shelves full of old books. Be sure to sample the fruits of their in-house distillery, Clockers Gin.
No visit to Hamburg would be complete without sampling the holiest of German beverages: beer. Head to craft brewery ÜberQuell for a wood-fired pizza and pint in their exposed brick beer hall.
Accents of red leather and black velvet add to the seductive ambiance at Bar Privé at the Tortue Hamburg hotel. It’s not always on the menu, but be sure to ask mixologist Juri Reib for a ‘Hamburg Sour’, a local favourite with Helbing Kümmel (a Hamburg spirit), lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white.
Pouring best flat-white in town, Tornqvist is a sleek Nordic café which lives by the philosophy that “coffee is a fruit, with twice as many aromas as wine.” Enjoy your Scandinavian brew with a decadent slice of apple pie.
WHERE TO STAY
FONTENAY – magnificent, modernist hotel boasting a Michelin-starred chef, Germany’s first La Mer spa and a soaring rooftop infinity poolthefontenay.de
TORTUE – housed in an immaculately renovated heritage building, Tortue impresses with its dimly-lit cocktail bars and avant-garde, French-inspired design tortue.de
SIR NIKOLAI – styled by an award-winning Dutch duo, this suave hotel is teeming with art and high-end furnishings, plus a modern Japanese eatery sirhotels.com/nikolai