Even the wurst-case scenario tastes delicious

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Cologne is best known for perfume, but this German city has a culinary heritage too, a thriving pub and restaurant culture – and chocolate. Andy Lynes investigates

Chocolate. It's not the first association you might make with Cologne, home of the famous "eau de".

Yet my first stop on a culinary trail of this little-known gourmet treasure takes me to a Chocolate Museum. And it's not some small affair tucked down a side street either. In 1993, the late Dr Hans Imhoff, a director of the Cologne-based Stollwerck chocolate company, spent the equivalent of €£32m opening a massive three-storey steel and glass edifice on the banks of the Rhine.

My guide explained that at its peak, before the Second World War, Stollwerck was the biggest chocolate producer in the world, employing upwards of 12,000 people, making the southern side of the city the German equivalent of Bournville, or Hershey, Pennsylvania. Yet now, the only chocolate made here is in the small show-factory on the second floor of the museum where you can see the mixing, rolling, conching (stirring over heat) and packing processes up close.

The museum is full of little delights, from the mini-rainforest where they're attempting to cultivate their own cocoa beans (no luck so far) to the collection of beautiful art-nouveau chocolate-vending machines. But best of all is the delicious hot chocolate and chocolate gateaux on sale at the riverside café, made with the museum's own chocolate.

Ninety per cent of Cologne was destroyed or damaged during the Second World War. Apart from a few notable architectural exceptions, such as the Kölner Dom, one of the largest and most impressive High Gothic-style cathedrals in the world, and the beautifully austere Kolumba museum of art, there's a functional look to much of the rebuilt city. Which makes a tour around the hugely atmospheric and characterful brauhaus (brew house) bars such a treat.

Many are huddled around the picturesque Old Town, but you'll need to head to the bar and nightclub-packed Friesenstrasse on the north-eastern edge of the city centre to find the last Cologne brauhaus with its own on-site brewery. Established in 1883, Päffgen produces 6,000 hectolitres (132,000 gallons) a year of Kölsch, Cologne's signature pale, hoppy beer.

There's no bar lined with flashy logoed beer pumps here. Instead, the Kölsch is drawn directly from mini wooden barrels stacked on a drum stand in the entrance to the handsome wood-panelled dining room.

Served at cellar temperature, Kölsch is smooth, refreshing and dangerously easy to drink. As soon as I'd emptied one of the slender, rod-like stange glasses, it was instantly replaced – by an aproned waiter (known as a Köbes), who carried a dozen or so beers on a circular metal tray called a Kranz, and marked off each drink with a pen on the back of a beer mat. Fortunately, a simple but delicious lunch of bratwurst sausage with sweet mustard and a rye bread roll was hearty enough to soak up at least some of the alcohol.

At La Vision restaurant in the Hotel im Wasserturm, they've elevated many of the same ingredients you'd find in a rustic brauhaus dish to new heights, and not just because the Michelin-starred dining room is on the 11th floor of a converted water tower. The marinated herring with boiled potatoes I'd seen on the menu at Peters Brauhaus in the Old Town, became herring in aspic topped with caviar, served with coins of fried potato and a cucumber and dill sorbet.

With more than 3,000 restaurants and bars, there's real depth and diversity to the city's culinary scene. But Cologne is also a short train and taxi ride away from no less than two three-Michelin-starred restaurants; Dieter Müller and Vendôme in nearby Bergisch Gladbach. Both are part of the Althoff hotel group, which has been known to chauffeur its more fervent foodie guests between the two restaurants for lunch and dinner on the same day. I was a little more circumspect, making two separate trips and leaving six months rather than six hours between extravagant, blow-out meals.

Although both were luxurious, multi-course affairs, they couldn't have been more different in style. Eating Müller's signature salad of freshwater crayfish, calf's head, cauliflower and herbs in the Schlosshotel Lerbach's conservatory dining room overlooking the converted manor house's acres of private parkland, I could almost have been dining in an English country-house hotel. At the ultra-modern Vendôme in the grounds of Schloss Bensberg (a jaw-droppingly impressive baroque castle), dishes such as mottled ravioli of mascarpone with Périgord truffles and aged balsamic vinegar are as elegant and cutting edge as anything you'd find in London, Paris or New York.

But there's only so much exquisite fare one man can take, so it was time to seek out the darker side to Cologne's culinary identity. Literally translated, currywurst means "worst curry in the world", or at least it should. How else to describe a sliced bratwurst sausage drowned in a thick Vesta-like curry sauce, dusted with curry and chilli powder and served with chips and lashings of tomato sauce and mayonnaise on the side? But there's a reason why the Currywurst Sepp stand on Ehrenstrasse attracts a crowd, even in the middle of the afternoon. That gloopy crime against gastronomy is, whisper it, totally delicious.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Germanwings (0906 294 1918; germanwings.com) flies daily from London Stansted to Cologne, from £13.99 each way. Hotel im Wasserturm (00 49 221 20080; hotel-im-wasserturm.de) charges from €225 (£197) per night for double room and breakfast.

Further information

German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908; germany- tourism.co.uk).

Suggested Topics
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum