First Floor, which is situated on guess which floor of the Palace Hotel Berlin, opened in 1993 and seats 40 diners; it gained a Michelin star in 1997. Chef Matthias Diether had chef de partie positions at three star restaurants Schwarzwaldstrube and Schlosshotel Lerbach (formerly Restaurant Dieter Muller) before gaining a sous-chef position at the three star Aqua in Wolfsburg before working abroad, mainly in Dubai. On his return to Germany he was head chef at Seehotel Topferhaus, gaining a Michelin star. He took over as head chef at the First Floor in April 2010.
The dining room is carpeted, which makes the noise levels pleasantly subdued compared to the wooden floors so common these days. The room is light, with large windows and elegant wood panelling. There is a mineral water menu with over 40 choices, and at 17 euros for a bottle of Chateldon (and 12 euros for a humble bottle of Hildon) this takes profit margins to new depths, if you will excuse the pun. For lunch menus are available at 28 euros for two courses, 42 euros for three courses and 56 euros for four courses, while there were some entertainingly priced additional dishes featuring white truffles. From the a la carte menu starters were around the 36 euro mark, with main courses hovering about the 44 euros level, with desserts weighing in at 19 euros. Interestingly, the menu had all dishes also shown in Russian, reflecting the large number of Russian visitors that the hotel gets.
The wine cellar here is vast with 12,000 bottles stored, and the lengthy list reflects this, with highly variable mark-ups, which were harsh at the lower end and kinder in percentage terms as you move up the list. Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay was an outrageous €60 for a wine you can buy for €9 in the shops, but Egon Muller Kabinett 2008 was €95 compared to a UK retail price of around €24, while Opus One 1997 was €390 for a wine that will cost you €239 in a UK shop. A selection of breads are made from scratch in the kitchen here, the best being a brown bread with a nice crust (16/20).
Nibbles comprised panna cotta of goose liver (fridge cold so losing some of the effect of the liver) shrimp cocktail using North Sea shrimps in a little pastry case (very nice, with a carefully seasoned cocktail sauce) and a pleasant warm vegetable cake (15/20 overall, which would have been 16/20 without the temperature problem). Amuse-bouche was goose liver in two forms, a gâteau and also roasted goose liver with drops of mandarin jelly with Southern Comfort, served with brioche. The gâteau was excellent, with smooth texture and lovely rich liver taste, while the mandarin jelly cut through the richness of the liver nicely, decorated with little cubes of yellow and red beetroot jelly (17/20).
This was followed by an essence of potato with tartare of char. The consommé was pleasant and nicely seasoned, though the flavour of the char was rather lost in the soup (15/20). Eel was smoked here in the kitchen was served with boiled crayfish, with crayfish foam, with cucumber slices, mayonnaise, capers and cubes of egg white, and a miniature deep-fried potato with caviar at its centre. This was a pretty dish, but the eel and the crayfish flavours were rather muted given that they were notionally the focal points of the dish, though the potato with caviar lifted things on the flavour front (16/20).
John Dory was roasted with a crust of herbs and cheese and served with green beans, sweet corn and two types of tomato salsa, with a cheese sauce and delicate tortilla chips made from scratch. This was a very successful dish, John Dory a good choice of fish as its distinct flavour is perfectly capable of standing up for itself, the salsa providing a little spicy bite and the cheese flavour not too dominating; the fish was extremely well cooked (17/20).
A pre-dessert was a cake of cranberries, with a confit of wild fig and sorbet of goat cheese cream, decorated with spun sugar. This was very good indeed, the cake having lovely texture and the sorbet working nicely with the fruit (17/20). For dessert I had marinated plums with panna cotta, caramelised hazelnuts and nougat, with a lightly salted caramel ice cream. This was a classy dish, the plums ripe and having lovely flavour, the hazelnuts lightly toasted and giving a crunchy texture contrast, while the salted caramel balanced the fruit nicely (17/20).
Petit fours were extensive, with peach lavender chocolate, raspberry and basil chocolate, dark chocolate with cranberries, cake with raspberry, Linz cake, raspberry and pistachio cake, a muesli cookie, a full sized cake of orange marmalade and white chocolate, and also a dark chocolate cake with cream, and creme brûlée of apple, coconut and coriander. The cake of orange marmalade and chocolate was particularly good, continuing the high standard of pastry here (/17/20). Coffee was good (17/20).
The bill for lunch for one, with three glasses of wine, came to 103 euros. Service was excellent throughout, attentive and professional. Just four tables were taken for lunch on my visit, which I think is a reflection of the area, which is not an area particularly full of businesses. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, where the kitchen showed strong presentation skills, good balance of flavours and excellent pastry. For me this was between 16/20 and 17/20 standard, and there are plenty of countries where this would have two Michelin stars rather than one, given Michelin's inconsistency in scoring across borders.