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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game