In this series, Cédric Lizotte visits some of Europe’s best restaurants. He shares his inside knowledge about the best places to sample the delights of some of the best chefs on the planet. Follow his gastronomical journey with the hashtag #CedricInEurope.
BERLIN, Germany – Some say that the work of Paco Perez is closest to what was served at El Bulli. Chef Perez may not be as well-known as his mentors, the Adria brothers and Michel Guérard, but his resume still is staggering: A total of five Michelin stars, several years at El Bulli, six restaurants and a certain aura that creates intensely devoted fans. And for good reason.
The meal at Cinco is a feast of 19 dishes. The wine pairings, too, are clearly over-the-top. The dining room is decorated with an imposing structure of copper pans accented by lighting, designed by Tom Dixon. Cinco is located in the superb hotel Das Stue, located in Berlin’s lush Tiergarten Park.
Cinco Paco Perez: A six-hour meal
At Cinco, eating is an adventure. From beginning to end, from handshakes to our after-dinner drink, this adventure lasted nearly six hours! So make sure you have plenty of time to fully enjoy this experience. With the amount of detail, work, foods, wines, techniques, and ingredients that go in to Chef Perez’ producing such a gastronomical feat of acrobatics, it is impossible to describe each item. Here, then, are my favorite moments.
Cinco Paco Perez: Cocktails, appetizers
For our aperitif, I’m surprised when I’m offered a craft beer from Munich. It is citrusy, and tastes at once tropical and floral. Not bad!
Appetizers are called “cronut”, “bangkok” and “thai consommé”. The thai dish is very salty, a Spanish/Asian fusion with smoky umami. It awakens the senses! The cronut tastes nothing like the eponymous patisserie but rather like pumpkin pie – crisp, light, fatty and super sweet. I must confess, that I have no idea what went into the “bangkok” — it’s green, and tastes like frozen Rice Krispies with cucumber.
The first food grouping is called “the garden”. The first bite combines garlic, ginger, peas, potatoes and piquillo peppers … and I have no idea what to think, other than the words “mashed potatoes, jelly and something earthy”. I’m sorry to say that words fail me… my palate is surprised!
Then, a second dish is called “carrot”. The third dish combines cauliflower and beans. These dishes are served on a brown dish that recalls the furrows of a garden. It is adorned with leaves, edible flowers … and “earth” that tastes like chocolate graham! Impressive; surprising. These small bites are exciting and fun, but I quickly realized that the meal had not even begun yet!
Cinco Paco Perez: The main event
The first wine served for the seafood course is: Eigenart, Max Müller I (Sylvaner). It is extremely subtle, like the majority of the dishes we are served. An early favorite is representative of Chef Perez’ past – three “beans” of liquid – probably created using the spherification technique so popular in molecular gastronomy — served in a rich and sticky bouillon. The dish is delicate, delicious, full of flavor, yet subtle — the seasoning is kept to a minimum here. Superb!
The second wine is Les Truffeaux Montlouis sur Loire, by François Chidaine, 2010 (Chenin Blanc). This wine is exceptional, as if I was drinking flowers. It is light, subtle and delicate. Among the dishes served in this course, the shrimp is original and refined. Two small shrimp served with Thai basil shoots and just enough spice to identify the flavour of a tom yam without the hot peppers!
Then, a third wine. Venta d’Aubert, Bajo Aragón, 2013 (Grenache).
My favorite dish of this sequence is the tuna escabeche. This is an extremely fancy version of a sardine escabeche: sushi-grade tuna with a translucent vinegar aspic. Japan met Spain, live in Berlin! Then, a little later, another superb performance: the “Benedictine egg”. Chef Perez’ version is for fans of soft-boiled eggs. It is served almost raw and is incredibly rich. Fortunately, this decadent combination is not too salty, which allows it to blend remarkably with the wine.
Next, the waiter suggests that I “do my own risotto”. It seems to be simple: take rice, add a poached egg and mix. But, surprise! The egg is actually a liquid sphere and the liquid inside tastes like parmesan. The rice is perfectly al dente. Superb, if a bit hipster.
The fourth wine of the evening is a Günther Steinmetz, Graacher Himmelreich, 2008 (Pinot Noir). Dry and pleasant, if nothing more remarkable. The next dish is a dish of “pigeon,” served to look like a raw breast of pigeon. Surprise, there is no meat in this dish … is it beet?
With desserts, a final wine: Winninger Uhlen Ausele, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, by Reinhard & Beate Knebel, 2005 (riesling). Very sweet, intense and beautiful. Then, dessert is a procession of tiny dishes. My favourite? A white chocolate hot dog. Condiments are jams. A bit gimmicky, sure, but nice all the same.
A very last dessert? In a box with the same chocolate graham “earth” as before, a nose, a mouth… because Cinco refers to the five senses. Awesome!
Cinco Paco Perez: Conclusion
I find it a bit difficult to explain exactly how I feel after the meal. This is obviously a luxury experience — out of the ordinary. But such a meal is not to be taken lightly. To truly appreciate it, it would help to be a bit of a gastronomy geek.