BERLIN, Germany – The bar could not be set much higher. Fashionable clientele. Michelin stars. Top-50 San Pellegrino. Not to mention the buzz: Gault Millau. Four-Magazine. Süddeutsche Zeitung. That kind of pressure tempts one to be inclined to strong opinions, either positive or negative, even before one walks through the door.
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.
Tim Raue Berlin, of the chef of the same name, is considered the second best restaurant in all of Germany, the best restaurant in Berlin. It has a coveted spot on the “World’s 50 Best 2015” list. It also has not one but two Michelin stars as of 2015.
What is it like, dining in such a place? How does one prepare for such an experience?
Tim Raue Berlin: A challenge
The first thing you should know is that Tim Raue restaurant is a fine dining restaurant. Next, you shoul d know that in the fashionable (and often frowned-upon) world of “fusion” cuisine, chef Raue, whose restaurant’s theme is “Pan-Asian”, is a bit of an outlier.
Chef Raue has been a culinary darling for years. He earned his first Michelin star at age 33 at his Swissôtel Berlin 44. In 2007, he was crowned Chef of the Year Gault Millau. Since 2012, Tim Raue the restaurant has earned not one, but two Michelin stars.
This Asian-themed restaurant features European wines. The culinary experience lasts many hours – and earns the diner’s attention.
To start, an abundance of appetizers, accompanied by a glass of champagne — an Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition (pinot noir, chardonnay). The appetizers, in recommended order:
– Sichuan pork belly
– “Thai curry cauliflower”
– Pickled radish
– Hamachi ceviche
– Veal cheek
– Roasted cashew nuts with a Thai curry flavour
– Mantis Shrimp
The first dish was excellent, creamy, intense and frank. The Sichuan pepper numbs the taste buds in a most pleasant way, but with the unfortunate effect of dampening the experience of the champagne, which deserved better treatment, and the dishes to follow.
The cauliflower and radish tasted almost entirely of vinegar, and continued to be infected by the effect of the Sichuan pepper. It was exactly at this time that I began to understand that eating the world’s 52nd best restaurant (or so they say) would be an intellectual experience.
Did I eat too fast? Should I wait for the effect of the Sichuan pepper to fade? Was it normal for the server to prompt us to eat the most aggressive dishes – pickled, bold, strong – first, or was that an error, and whose? The server’s? The chef’s? Or was this all part of the experience? Should I rinse my palate with a piece of radish? And how was I supposed enjoy a champagne of such quality with pickles? What is the intention, the design?
In the midst of these swirling questions, I taste, almost without realizing it, the next appetizer.
The ceviche hamachi was a delicate, pleasant, served with a pea sorbet which was a more fitting companion to the champagne.
The veal cheek melted in my mouth, also a fine pair with the champagne. The roasted cashews with Thai curry were very good. And the lily flowers were frankly surprising. A delight.
The mantis shrimp, tiny, completely shelled, presented a hyper-fresh, perfect bite.
After such a marathon of appetizers, where could we possibly be heading?
Tim Raue Berlin: Starter, main course, dessert? Never!
Since it is the asparagus season, I am presented with a dish that is nothing short of sublime: Three perfectly cooked asparagus stalks augmented by a few drops yellow, green, purple dots of sauce, vinegar beads and flower petals, elegantly arranged on a single plate. The wine paring, perfect: Sancerre, Grande Côte, Chavignol, Pascal Cotat, 2011 (sauvignon blanc). A truly sublime wine.
The delicacy of the asparagus combined perfectly with the small quantities of colorful sauces, a feast for the eyes and the palate, alike. Unfortunately the vinegar balls melted too slowly, and so their aggressive taste shone too much. Except for that flaw, this would be a perfect dish.
So, at the risk of playing amateur philosopher: what pushes food critics to repeatedly crown this place? Is it extraordinary? Is it simply a shocking gimmic? Or is it that chef Raue is well connected? And do those connections blur the judgment of the people at Michelin, San Pellegrino, or other culinary lists, even maybe of our local lists, like the Guide Restos Voir? Are these venerable institutions able to discern good from bad, despite cronyism?
Tim Raue Berlin: 1-2-3-Go!
Just because a restaurant has many services, doesn’t mean it must take forever. From the first moment, the dishes arrive briskly.
First, a pike perch fillet served tableside from a pot from which liquid nitrogen fumes escape. Once plated, a 10-year-old fermented soy sauce from Japan is poured in the dish, and a glass of Ximenez-Spinola Exceptional Harvest sherry from 2013 is served. A sherry in the middle of the meal? A challenge, that Tim Raue!
Then my favorite wine of this meal is served: Soleil de Chine, Domaine Saint-Nicolas, Thierry Michon, 2011 (chenin). Fat, full, with overtones of bread and guava. It’s accompanied by a dish of pigeon with peanuts and figs, beautifully presented. The tastes and textures are intoxicating.
With the same wine, a Chinese-style dumpling, with duck, leek and ginger.
Next, a “lobster and schnapps of rose” – salty, but well presented!
Raue’s signature dish is Peking duck, presented on three different plates: a duck broth, served with intestine and cinnamon; a tiny dish of foie gras, cucumber gelée and shiso purée; and a nice piece of roast duck breast.
It is served with two wines (why?):
– Pintia Cosecha 2006 (tempranillo);
– Kanzemer Alternberg, von Othegraven, Auslese, Mosel 1975 (riesling).
No, that’s not a joke. It’s really a white wine from 1975.
The pairing has me absolutely lost, confused, beside myself, storming and ready to revolt. In a word, I am stunned.
On the table, there are chopsticks, a spoon and knife. What am I supposed to do? The piece of meat is too big for taking in one bite with the chopsticks, but too small to be properly cut with a butter knife. That said, the duck is perfectly cooked, flavored with five-spice, as it should be. The tiny piece of foie gras mousse is barely discernible on the tongue. The flavor of the broth explodes in my mouth.
As for the wine, the red is rather neutral, sweet, astringent. The white (1975 !!!) is sweet, soft, and subtle but resinous.
But these tastes do not mix. First it is impossible to mix everything in the mouth — two wines, three-courses in the same spoon? Then there is the problem that some tastes dominate others. The red is wrong with the foie gras; the white is wrong with the meat.
Individually, each should be delicious, delicate, wonderful, and indescribable. But the combination leaves nothing but question marks in the mouth.
Then, finally, the dessert arrives. Long thin slices of yellow mango — skin included — are elegantly laid between sorbet and ice cream quenelles, accompanied by a sweet-sour coulis. It is an entirely pleasant experience, and an utter surprise.
And to cleanse the palate, the last dish is a lychee (or is it a ramboutan?) stuffed with sorbet.
Where am I?