Dóttir translates into daughter in Icelandic and being a son or a daughter means a lot to people from Iceland as these words are forever embedded into your last name by birth. Dóttir is also the name of a Berlin restaurant project by Boris Radcun and Stefan Landwehr, the owners of Grill Royal and Pauly Saal. The news of a Nordic restaurant by this crew in early 2015 left me with a lot of questions. But the story of Dóttir has captured me piece by piece and and it’s a fascinating story that needs to be told.
At the heart of the story you’ll find Victoria Eliasdóttir, the Head Chef of Dóttir who grew up on Iceland with an Icelandic father (a chef) and a Swedish mother. Victoria never really planned on following her father’s footsteps in becoming a chef, but her obsession with everything food eventually led her into the business and restaurant school at the age of 20. After a stagière at Alice Water’s iconic Berkley restaurant Chez Panisse and running a simple eatery in Reykjavik, she accepted an offer from her brother, the artist Olafur Eliasson, to come and restructure the kitchen in the workshop kitchen that feeds his 90+ employees. During this time she ran into Stefan Landwehr who quickly recognized her potential and eventually convinced her to open Dóttir with manager Moritz and Danish Sous Chef Filip Søndergaard.
The result is one of the cooler restaurant venues in Berlin where the warm lights of the restaurant shine like a beacon the Berlin night and light up the grey building
Dóttir is located in a stunning venue and the building adds another layer of fascination to the story of the restaurant. The house on Mittelstraße is an old Jewish merchant house from the 1880’s and also an abandoned Stasi surveillance centre. The whole building is actually scheduled to be refurbished in 2016 but Dóttir has found a temporary home here. The two rooms of the street side venue were renovated carefully, applying a very tasteful mix of old and new furniture while still preserving the soul and walls of this extraordinary venue. The result is one of the cooler restaurant venues in Berlin where the warm lights of the restaurant shine like a beacon the Berlin night and light up the grey building.
A lot of the dishes are in fact inspired by Victoria and Filip’s childhood memories from Scandinavian cooking and this means simple and very straightforward food that’s refreshingly unrefined.
In the Dóttir kitchen you’ll find Danish Sous Chef Filip by Victoria’s side. The two of them run the kitchen as a joint venture without hierarchy, both when it comes to cooking on the line and coming up with new dishes. The resulting food is centred around fish and excels in simplicity with every plate only containing a couple of elements. While Victoria explicitly wants to avoid being branded as “New Nordic Cuisine”, associations to the contemporary food style that’s been sweeping through cities like Copenhagen, Stockholm and Reykjavik are impossible to avoid. The food is simple, has it’s roots in Scandinavian cooking traditions with lots of seafood and focuses on prime produce primarily from the region (not at all limited to that though). But then there is also nothing fancy and pretentious about the food at Dóttir, a lot of the dishes are in fact inspired by Victoria and Filip’s childhood memories from Scandinavian cooking and this means simple and very straightforward food that’s refreshingly unrefined and that will leave Scandinavians like myself with a massive smile.
The first thing you’ll eat at Dóttir is a lovely basket of freshly baked bread with a bowl of liquid, browned butter and this crazy delicious combination sets the tone for the rest of the meal. You will for sure encounter the browned butter with the distinct tones of caramel at some point throughout the meal. There is no a la carte ordering at Dóttir, your only choice is a 4-course menu with the additional options of an extra plate of selected raw milk cheeses and a wine pairing. This translates into a lighter starter followed by two larger plates where one always is a fish dish, all rounded off with a dessert.
A simply and devastatingly tasty plate of fish that easily qualified as the best seafood dish I had in Berlin for years
In a carrot dish the orange root vegetables have been slow cooked in butter for hours, ending up on your plate looking slightly wrinkly and awkward, but making up for it with their divinely sweet and creamy texture and redefining your perception of a carrot with the paired fresh cheese and browned kale. Same goes for a monkfish dish that’s served with red beets and a emulsion made from the browned butter. And hell, who doesn’t love browned butter? The best dish I ever had at Dóttir was thick flakes of North Sea cod with an absolutely amazing Jerusalem Artichoke cake, creamy sauce and trout roe. A simply and devastatingly tasty plate of fish that easily qualified as the best seafood dish I had in Berlin for years. The brilliantly comforting fish plates are always the moment I look forward to most at Dóttir. Because what really defines this restaurant’s brilliance for me is the privilege to eat food I would expect from a modern seafood restaurant in Copenhagen and Stockholm while I’m for the flicker of a second am transported to the childhood memories of my mother’s cooking.
The secret behind this kind of food does of course reside in the quality of the produce. The restaurant group behind Dóttir privately import their own seafood from the North Sea twice a week, directly form the fishing boats. The negative part of this equation are the costs, in the beginning the menu was 40€ and that was a true bargain. Now the menu is 58€ and as this is the only choice available to the customer, the Dóttir experience ends up right beneath the finer dining category. Especially if you consider the fact that eateries like Nobelhart & Schmutzig serve 9 courses and a Michelin star for 99€. I’m always the first one willing to pay money for truly great produce and food, but the pricing and lack of an a la carte menu at Dóttir does in the end mean that the playfulness and casual nature of the food doesn’t fully translate to the whole experience. Fact remains though that Dóttir is booked to the last seat two weeks in advance though with a clientele that couldn’t really care less about these 58€ as they’re used to spending 100€ a head at Grill Royal for worse food.
The end of the story is simple. Regardless for price or concept, Dóttir is a great restaurant with two extraordinarily talented and passionate chefs in the kitchen. It’s in fact in my opinion one of the best openings of 2015 and quite possibly the best seafood restaurant in Berlin. And as the first eatery serving modern, Nordic cuisine Dóttir is a project that will influence tastemakers far beyond its physical existence. An existence which in any way is finite as the restaurant will close in its current location some time during the summer of 2016 when the building is refurbished. The next step? Unclear. But hopefully the project lives on in some way.