Known for her fusion of traditional Bavarian culture and history, Munich (München in German) has always attracted visitors with a taste for high culture, history, and the good life – and those who like to have everything close at hand. While she has a large number of high-end dining establishments given that she attracts a lot of the affluent, her reputation as a culinary destination is somewhat diminished.
The Vaccinated Travel Lane between Singapore and Germany prompted me to investigate the city, which I had never considered as a travel destination before. Even though I’d heard good things about its art and culture scene, I wanted to know if there was good food for everyone.
My extensive online research yielded scattered results, most relating to Michelin dining and Oktoberfest. So when I arrived in October via Lufthansa, I tried out the locals’ recommendations and compiled a list of bites recommended by Munich city slickers, from upmarket to food market.
TO DINE AT
If you’re visiting the southeast of Germany, a Bavarian meal is a must and the best place to get it is the Palais Keller, which just reopened at the legendary Hotel Bayerischer Hof. In 1443, the basement room where the restaurant was located was a salt room. It was repurposed as a restaurant in 1972.
It now resembles a cavern with a vaulted ceiling, polished stone nooks and rough-hewn furniture. Using regional seasonal products, chef Tobias Heinze creates a modern take on Bavarian classics. For instance, pork is substituted for veal in a typical schnitzel dish served with fried scalloped potatoes.
Appearing on more Munich menus these days is essentially lighter Bavarian fare made with local produce. A standout restaurant to sample this neo-Bavarian cuisine is Michelin-starred Schwarzreiter at Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munchen.
Chef Maike Menzel (who made history as the youngest Michelin-starred chef in Germany) is on maternity leave, so Hannes Reckziegel, who is helming the kitchen, cooked a juicy lamb belly for me. He served it with an Amarillo sauce, the perfect counterpoint to the gamey meat with its floral flavour.
For Bavarian with French inflexions, book a table at the two Michelin-starred EssZimmer by Kafer at BMW Welt. With sleek interiors of gold and brown tones and white-glove service from experienced staff, it promises an unforgettable evening with classic dishes such as the rabbit pot au feu I enjoyed. After an evening with beautifully paired wines, take a slow walk through the winning BMW display after public visiting hours.
While the 300-year-old brand Dallmayr may be better known among out- of-towners and tourists for its delicatessen, cafe-bar and Michelin-starred restaurant in one building, Cafe Luitpold is the go-to for Munich insiders. Not short on history either, it’s the cafe I would recommend friends for its generally warmer service.
The Bavarian equivalent of Paris’ Cafe de Flore, it was the meeting place for the creative set in the early 20th century. After various renovations – the last was in 2010 – it is still in its original building in the Brennier Quartier, and now has a full dining menu alongside cakes, pastries and chocolates. The Luitpold Cake, six heavenly layers of airy chiffon cake tucked between thin layers of French white wine, cognac, marzipan and dark Belgian chocolate, comes highly recommended.
As Germany is also the sixth-best country in the world for vegans, it’s worth forgoing some weisswurst for a fully vegetarian meal at TIAN, a one-starred vegetarian restaurant founded and owned by Paul Ivic of the Michelin-starred TIAN in Vienna.
For this meat lover, the litmus test for a satisfying vegetarian meal is whether meat is missed. Head chef Viktor Gerhardinger keeps longings for a juicy beef burger at bay with creative courses that cleverly juxtapose tastes and textures, using a wide medley of vegetables supplied locally. A dish of sweetcorn tartare served with polenta and sunchoke leaves gets a tart kick with marinated radish and an umami lift with seaweed. Freshly harvested Bavarian ginger adds a fresh fragrance. It was so good that I had to resist the urge to lick the last remnants from the bowl.
As the third-largest city in Germany, Munich also has a few cuisines you’d least expect. One is Peruvian-Japanese at Matsuhisa Munich at the Mandarin Oriental Munich. Opened by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of Nobu, the fare revolves around fresh flavours and clean presentations, a familiar sight to well-travelled Asians. Loris du Santo and Koichiro Kawakami lead the kitchen team, deftly dishing out winners like yellowfin sashimi dipped in minced garlic and topped with a yuzu ponzu sauce and given a punch with jalapenos, and the moreish miso black cod.
(Related: What the future of fine dining looks like)
Gourmet market Viktualienmarkt has been in its present location in Munich city centre since 1807 when it started as a farmers’ market. It has 140 stalls, many specialising in just one product or key ingredient.
Caspar Plautz, opened by three lads and famous for its many types of potatoes, is similar to a casual fine dining establishment in the way they are prepared and plated. Spend the afternoon learning about the different ingredients in the market by hopping from stall to stall with a friend as you try different dishes.
In terms of institutions, one should visit Munich’s most famous beer hall that’s three storeys high. Hofbrauhaus is more than 400 years old and can seat over 3,500 people (without social distancing). Despite not being a beer drinker, I enjoyed mingling with regulars (active groups of beer drinkers return to their own tables with the longest-held table at 70 years). Hofbrauhaus, which dates back to 1589 as the city’s first brewery, serves beer with breakfast, too. Try Bavarian dishes like the original Hofbrauhaus brotzeit.
If a bespoke cocktail is your preferred poison, Ory Bar is one of the best watering holes in the city. Its sumptuous furniture beckons you to linger and explore a menu that just scratches the surface of what its mixologists can do.
WHERE TO STAY
For her 160th birthday in 2018, the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munich had all her F&B areas redesigned and refurbished with new lighting. Its third presidential suite, the Maximilian Suite, was also unveiled. The biggest winning feature for privileged guests is the views over some of the most historical parts of the city.
Mandarin Oriental Munich is tucked away on a quiet street behind Hofbrauhaus. The hotel won an award for a revamp completed in October 2020 (in time for its 20th anniversary). Rooms and suites were given a complete overhaul, with a soothing neutral-toned colour palette with pops of teal.
Munich’s grande dame of hotels, Bayerischer Hof was built in 1841. Currently managed by the fourth generation of the family who started the hotel, it has undergone numerous renovations, with the most recent one commissioned just before the pandemic. Belgian interiors wunderkind Axel Vervoordt gave some parts an eclectic minimalist makeover, pleasantly surprising guests with the sharp contrast to its traditional image. Celebrity chef Jan Hartwig may have left the city’s only three Michelin-starred Atelier in the hotel, but his successor Anton Gschwendtner is well poised to step into his shoes.