Munich’s gourmet restaurants are as colourful as the city’s districts. We meet Munich's top chefs in places where they like to have lunch themselves. This time, our author accompanies Florian Berger from Gabelspiel to a kebab lunch in Giesing district.
Florian Berger and his wife Sabrina met almost ten years ago in the Tantris – he worked in the kitchen, she in service. In their mid-twenties, they took the big step together: their own restaurant. Gabelspiel in Giesing opened in 2016 and only one and a half years later Guide Michelin was on the phone. No wonder, because everything about this small and charming star restaurant is simply special: the history, the property, the people, the location, the neighbourhood and of course the food.
Florian Berger will tell me all this in more detail today, but first I meet him for lunch in front of the Türkitch. This snack bar is a real Giesing original – there are now five branches all over the city, but it all started here in Humboldtstrasse: On the walls of the small shop hang black-and-white photos of Turkish guest workers who arrived at Munich's main railway station in the 1960s, just like the father of owner Hayri Onbasi. Onbasi himself lived in Berlin for a long time and eventually fell in love with the Untergiesing district.
With his snack bar, which opened in 2014, he has blown a breath of fresh air into Munich: A quite different kebab taste – with a squeeze of lemon juice and mint, homemade special sauce or truffle sauce and feta or hummus on the side. And the Veggie offer made with falafel, halloumi and vegetables was surprisingly large right from the start. Chef Berger sums it up: “Türkitch manages the balancing act between the old familiar kebab and a really good sandwich.“ He himself usually orders the classic kebab, as he did today at lunchtime. The bread is nice and fluffy, the meat well-seasoned.
"Türkitch manages the balancing act between the old familiar kebab and a really good sandwich."
When Florian Berger comes from Munich's Grossmarkthalle (wholesale market hall) in the morning, he likes to stop off at the Türkitch on his way to work. At the wholesale market, he buys the basics – fruit, vegetables and herbs - for the restaurant in Obergiesing. Then he orders exotic varieties from the respective traders, for example Johannes Schwarz's organic nursery or court gardener Peter Kunze. Seasonal and regional produce is a matter of course at Gabelspiel and Florian Berger does not want to make a big fuss of it.
The chef and restaurant owner is otherwise a very reserved type. Not one to push himself to the fore with his star or his cooking style. The most important thing for him is that his guests are satisfied. That is something he himself rarely manages - to be satisfied with his work: “I am nowhere near where I want to be. There are many things I would like to do, but often I don't have the time. At the moment I probably work around 60 hours a week, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I've never counted the hours either.“
At the age of 15, Berger started his apprenticeship quite unspectacularly in the canteen of a health resort near his hometown Grieskirchen in Austria. Then he had to make a decision: Stay there and live a relaxed life with regular working hours or go out into the world? He opted for the second: “I read about star chefs in gastronomy magazines; after that I was quickly convinced that I wanted to cook with the best.“
Besides, he says, he has always been interested in art, he liked to draw and paint on canvas. People often forget how creative you have to be as a chef, especially in Michelin-starred gastronomy. Coming up with new dishes, thinking about which ingredients to combine and how to arrange them – this process can take several weeks. At Gabelspiel, all staff members can participate in this process, which is then concluded with a tasting at the joint staff dinner. “A new dish creation always involves a lot of discussion in the kitchen. For example, acid goes well with trout – either vinegar or fruit. Then we need something crunchy, like puffed cereal,“ Berger explains the process.
After his apprenticeship, Florian Berger worked at the Waldschänke in Grieskirchen – the change from a canteen to a fine-dining restaurant was a challenge and involved a lot of work, new impressions and also completely different working hours. “I really enjoyed discovering so many new tastes and learning something new every day,“ he says. Then followed Berger's most important station: Ikarus restaurant in Hangar 7 in Salzburg. Every month, a different international star chef is a guest there – from Spain, Hong Kong, Italy. So it happens that one day you cook Asian food and the next you cook Italian.
"I read about star chefs in gastronomy magazines; after that I was quickly convinced that I wanted to cook with the best."
As if that wasn't challenge enough, Florian Berger went to Hans Haas' Tantris in 2013 – this time not only to a new city, but also to a new country. Berger experienced his first culture shock when he tried to order an Almdudler (carbonated Austrian soft drink) at dinner with colleagues and the waitress just looked at him puzzled. At the Tantris, he not only learned a lot about upscale star cuisine, but also got to know his wife Sabrina, who was studying gastronomy management at the time.
Having his own restaurant was Berger's big dream. After further stints at the French restaurant No 15 and the Tian in Munich, as well as an internship with former three-star chef Michel Bras in the southern French municipality of Laguiole, his dream finally came true. Sabrina and Florian Berger were living in Obergiesing at the time. During their walks along Tegernseer Landstrasse, they kept passing the former farmhouse from 1870, which at that time still housed a French bistro.
“We always thought the house with its old mullion and transom windows was quite cute. And when they said the bistro was closing, we came here with my parents in law. I can still remember clearly, we sat at table eight and agreed: for a start, the little place was perfect!“ The two got the location, took out a loan and started, initially just the two of them. Sabrina in service and responsible for the wine, Florian in the kitchen. Over time, they not only added a handful of staff, but also a Michelin star.
"At the first moment I cried like a little boy because such a big dream has come true for me and it's particularly special if you achieve it alone."
It was on a Saturday, Berger was slicing sardines in the kitchen when the phone rang. His wife answered and was told: “Congratulations, you can travel to the award ceremony in Berlin!“. Florian still remembers that day in winter 2018 clearly: “At the first moment I cried like a little boy because such a big dream has come true for me and it's particularly special if you achieve it alone. We have no investor, no parents who put money into it. Everything that is here today, we have achieved ourselves.“
There is currently a very exciting dish on the menu - Berger's favourite dish and probably soon the signature dish of the Gabelspiel: “faux fras“, vegetarian duck liver made with nuts, mushrooms and beetroot. Berger is not a vegetarian himself - note the kebab and his all-time favourite, the Wiener Schnitzel (escalope), as you would expect from a true Austrian. But Gabelspiel always likes to try out new things: On Sundays and Mondays, when Florian Berger and his wife have time off, they either try out unfamiliar recipes or go out to eat in Munich and the surrounding area.
Their favourite places are all a bit out of town – August und Maria in Aying or Miyabi in Grünwald. In the meantime, the two no longer live in Obergiesing, but a little further out in Haar. Florian Berger likes it there: “I'm a country bumpkin, I like the village life. We have a dog and from there the forest is only a stone's throw away or we can go hiking at the weekend. Being close to the mountains has always been important to me, because all my childhood memories are connected to the mountains.“
In this respect, the Gabelspiel is spot on: “We are grounded, and so is Giesing. For me, the district is still one of the most down-to-earth in Munich, completely without frills. That's probably also due to the Sechzger, who pass through here every weekend on their way to the games .“ And they also leave a souvenir or two, like the blue and white graffiti on the façade. In other places this would be a nuisance – where else is there a spray-painted farmhouse that houses a star restaurant? Well, only in Giesing.