We decided, apart from testing the cafes of Berlin, to have one first rate restaurant experience. That’s a difficult choice, there are a host of classy establishments offering affordable, interesting dining.
Like high end dining the world over, in Berlin it is dominated by male chefs. Sonja Frühsammer is the only female to have a Michelin star. Causing a lot of excitement lately has been Dottir, headed by Victoria Eliasdóttir, a young Icelandic chef. You get an idea of her style, which really fits into the cafe decor of Berlin, as it would Melbourne, on the restaurant’s facebook page. Initially we made a booking here, but unfortunately she’s such a star right now that she has two seatings and it didn’t seem to us we could fit in either for an evening meal.
Instead we chose Facil for lunch. One of the things that attracted me to this place is that unlike that sense one has of cafes and restaurants in Melbourne these days – businesses where the chefs scarcely cook a thing anymore, instead providing a name, doing publicity, more likely to be on a book tour than in the kitchen – Facil is a close-knit group that’s been together for ever. The chef, Michael Kempf, has been there since 2003, the sous chef since 2006, the patissier since 2006, the sommelier since 2001 and the manager since 2001. That says a happy team that is dedicated to its restaurant.
We decided to have lunch there, where an excellent value menu is provided:
VINEYARD PEACH – GOAT CREAM CHEESE, CHICOREE AND SORREL
BEEF TONGUE – RADISH AND YOGURT
CEVICHE OF YELLOW FIN MACKEREL – CORIANDER AND RADISH
GREEN GASPACHO – TARTAR OF CHAROLAIS-BEEF AND DOUGLAS FIR
CHAR – LEEK, CIDRE AND GRAIN
ROCK OCTOPUS – BEAN, ARTICHOKE AND TOMATO
SUGO OF POLTING-LAMB – POINTED CABBAGE AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE
SHOULDER OF LINUM-VEAL – CAPERBERRIES AND TASMANIAN PEPPER
FARMER BEUTHE’S WOOLY PIG – RYE BREAD CREAM AND ROSCOFF-ONION
RAW MILK CHEESE
BLACKBERRY, CARROT, HAZELNUT AND SHISO
RASPBERRY, CURRANT AND VIOLETS
COCONUT, EDAMAME AND YUZU
19 EURO ONE COURSE
34 EURO TWO COURSES
45 EURO THREE COURSES
15 EURO EACH FOLLOWING COURSE
Coming from Geneva, where one is relieved to have received one edible main course for 45CHF, this offer is a bargain. The food is pretty much as advertised on the restaurant’s site:
…elegantly light fare accented by purist luxury and modern avant-garde ….the perfect place for unconventional gourmets seeking a culinary experience….style of cooking is modern and creative….fresh and mostly local products…dishes are subtle and straightforward. The flavours are fine and distinctive.
I had recently read an explanation of how Michelin-ratings work. The reviewers are anonymous, anybody might be a reviewer. It is a democratic concept, what is relevant is that you love food, not how you dress. One way or another I tested that out during our meal.
Firstly by making a complete mess of the previously crisp white tablecloth with a errant spoonful of soup. Surprising just how much mess it made. I discussed it with a waitress who said not to worry, there was another tablecloth under the top layer. Well, I already knew that, having surreptitiously established that it had gone through to the next layer and even the layer below that, which was the table protector. My, this was a bottomless spoon of soup. She went off and returned with a small cloth which neatly fitted over the green stain of yes, you’ve guessed it, the green gaspacho, which I might add was a really lovely combination of ingredients. It was the first gaspacho I’ve wholeheartedly liked.
Secondly, by bringing out my knitting. Eating at Facil was both a refined and relaxed experience. I felt no less comfortable click-clacking away than I would have at a cafe knitting meet. I hadn’t realised how cozy a fine Michelin restaurant could be.
It made me wonder, though, how this meal stacked up to something similar in Australia. We have hats, not stars and my favourite restaurant in Australia is Ezard, despite the fact that Ezard is precisely one of those chefs I was earlier criticising for being a businessman ahead of a cook. It has two hats. Earlier this year we tried the express lunch:
EXPRESS LUNCH MENU
THREE COURSES AND A GLASS OF WINE $55
cured swordfish, pickled cucumber, wasabi, soy and sesame,
native finger lime steamed spanner crab dumplings, yarra valley salmon roe, chervil, coconut tom kha
twice cooked pork belly, mustard glaze, black pudding, apple, celeriac and fennel pollen
I would say, despite the glass of wine, that this lunch was more expensive than Facil’s because the dishes are teensy. Nonetheless, I was in love with Ezard’s, but admiring of Facil’s. Being born and bred in Adelaide, I had the privilege growing up in the seventies of experiencing Cheong Liew’s food at Neddy’s. There he was the first in the world to do the East meets West cooking which became a world-wide phenomenon. Indeed when Food and Wine called him one of the hottest chefs alive, it stated:
Liew has earned a reputation as the father of East meets West
So for me this style of food is personal, I grew up with it. Facil’s food is discreet, Ezard’s is exciting. I dream Ezard food. He is Cheong’s heir and I wonder if any chef in the world has taken that mantle as successfully. I’m glad to see that two hats is at least as high a standard as two stars.
Yeah, well. Back to Facil. The staff were all one would expect of such a place, attentive without being intrusive. The setting was serene, the size of the dining room no doubt contributed to that, maybe 14 tables or so inside. The bread selection was excellent and when offering more bread with our main course, the waitress suggested the right one – clever and thoughtful. Other small things adding to the meal were an amuse-bouche and a small selection of sweet endings with our tea/coffee.
I don’t know if I will return to Facil, but that is a reflection on the array of eating available in Berlin; for anybody in town and looking for the European style of fine dining as maintained by Michelin restaurants, may I thoroughly recommend it.