Brenner Grill Pasta Bar, Munich

No singalongs, no sauerkraut - in this Bavarian rhapsody of a restaurant, the food is stylish Italian. 'Willkommen Brenner', as they say in Munich
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Italianisation of Europe continues apace. What Mussolini left undone, pasta and prosciutto are fast completing. The finest restaurant in Prague (Allegro) is Italian; as are the best in Lisbon (Ristorante Hotel Cipriani) and Copenhagen (Era Ora). The most charming little café in Helsinki (Tony's Deli) is proudly Italian; while in Vienna, younger palates are leaving schnitzel and Sachertorte behind in favour of the antipasto platter at Novelli.

Even the good people of Munich (er, Munchkins?) are faced with the temptations of a swag of fashionable Italianate restaurants, led by the Michelin-starred Aquarello.

The prime movers among this new Italian push are Rudi Kull and Albert Weinzierl, who already own the deliciously hip Italian café, Bar Central, the pizza-pumping Riva and the pasta-laden Buffet Kull, as well as Munich's swish boutique hotel, Cortiina.

Brenner, the duo's newest offering, opened late last year and is by far the hottest ticket in town, creating problems of Wolseley-like proportions when it comes to securing a table.

Located in a black, Darth Vader-modernised building in a courtyard just off Maximilianstrasse - Munich's famous shopping mile - this 300-seater is a vast, airy, strikingly beautiful space divided into three distinct areas. At the front is a moody bar for breakfast, coffee (especially the local favourite, latte machiato) and cocktails. Walk through into a pasta café, with its open kitchen piled high with steaming pasta pots alongside gleaming pans of Tuscan ragus and aromatic tomato sauces. Keep going, and you will emerge into the restaurant, with its walls piled high with logs, and at its heart, a hearth.

Brenner is German for "burner", and here it is - a totally open, central grill attended by a bevy of white-jacketed chefs busily manhandling fish and steaks. It reminds me of a good old Aussie barbecue, only indoors, with fewer blowflies.

Brenner is big, with vaulted ceilings and imposing columns reminiscent of that timeless tourist favourite, the Ratskeller (see "Second helpings"). But there the oom-pah-pah comparisons end. For this is a sauerkraut-free zone. The only sausage in the place is an Italian salsiccie, and instead of honest burghers clutching steins of weiss bier (white beer), there is a brightly mannered boho mix of gorgeous young things and snow-tanned junior industrialists, sans the camel-hair coats of their fathers and forefathers.

In a city where you can have meatballs for breakfast, pig's offal for lunch and potato salad any time, this is tantamount to lean cuisine. Tuna carpaccio (8.50, £6) sees the thin slices of fresh, bright and lightly fatty tuna set off with an off-centre circle of balsamic and a splodge of apple and ginger compote. It's fresh, light, and there isn't a potato in sight.

Fusilli salsiccia (7.50, £5), on the other hand, has a distinctly Bavarian feel to it, the curly pasta cuddled in a homely cabbagey broth studded with slices of Italian pork and fennel sausage. Its rustic appeal is happily at odds with the designer space and catwalk crowd.

The wine list is a pan-European affair, with plenty of good German whites, and a more international array of reds, from which I choose a terrific 2000 Austrian Pinot Noir from J Lentsch (35, £24). It is red enough to tackle grilled entrecote and light enough to understudy the grilled seabass, from the seven fish and seven meat options.

How nice it is to order a whole fish and get a whole fish, nothing more, nothing less. A whole, plate-sized sea bass (13.50, £9) is delivered express from the grill, its skin crisp and bubbled, its flesh moist and fresh, accompanied by nothing apart from a wedge of lemon and a sprig of parsley.

Similarly minimalist, the generous, plate-sized entrecote (13, £8.75) is a damned good piece of meat, long-flavoured and juice-laden. Not tender by New York or Kobe standards, but with a fair chew that tells you you're eating steak and not pre-masticated mush.

Chloropyll-green spinach is the perfect side order, but rosemary potatoes are tired and oily - you're better off saving yourself for a potato salad elsewhere.

Puds are a bit nowheresville, with a telling dependence on berries and compotes. A big glass of firm vanilla pannacotta comes with a berry sauce (4, £2.50), and a slice of jammy crostata tart comes with cherry compote (3.50, £2.35).

The courageous design, the size, the commitment to grills, the young, hard-working staff and the all-day flexibility signify an important step in the diversification of Munich's restaurant scene, much as Quaglino's marked a new era for London 10 years ago.

Brenner will feed you reasonably well, but the food is not the biggest attraction. It's the whole package: the value, the crowd, the room, the scene, and the brasserie buzz that is in striking contrast to the communal tables, platters of pork, steins of beer and singalongs of the traditional beerhall. In Munich, Bavarian restaurants aren't allowed to be hip, but Italian ones are. And if you miss the schweinebraten and the weisswurst, there's always breakfast.

14 Brenner Grill Pasta Bar Maximilianstrasse 15, Munich, tel: 00 49 89 452 2880. Open Mon-Sat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Around €110 (£75) for two with service and wine

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: Traditional Bavarian restaurants in Munich

Zum Franziskaner Persuastrasse 5, tel: 00 49 89 231 8120 Located opposite the Opera House, Franziskaner is every inch your archetypal Bavarian beerhouse. Inside, you sit in folksy wooden splendour; while outside, on the terrace on a sunny day, you can tuck into Franziskaner's famous wheat beer, weisswurst from its own butchery and the best leberkase (meatloaf) in town.

Andechser Am Dom Weinstrasse 7, tel 00 49 89 298 481 A small, cosy and frantically busy restaurant and beer bar just behind the Frauenkirche, Andescher serves the sweetest, freshest beer in Munich, brewed by the monks at the nearby monastery in Andechs. The wooden communal tables are laden with roast duck with red cabbage, roast pork with dark beer sauce, and sausages - lots and lots of sausages.

Ratskeller Marienplatz 8, tel 00 49 89 219 9890 Buried in the cavernous stone vaults of the Town Hall, this popular city centre restaurant is a mass of nooks and crannies, intimate booths and dining halls. It's always busy and always fun as the crowd pours in for the Franconian wine cellar, the schnitzels, the wurst platter, and the divine apple fritters.

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