Breaking the rules in Berlin
The city’s most talked-about restaurant takes minimalism to the max.
Words by Ute Junker
There are no neatly laid-out ranks of cutlery at Nobelhart & Schmutzig. Once you are shown to your seat at the horseshoe-shaped counter overlooking the open kitchen, you are given a basket of forks and spoons to which you help yourself as you see fit. You are also issued a knife – yes, just one – a hand-forged piece made by German company Hohenmoorer, which will see you through your entire 10 courses.
The creative approach to cutlery is just the first sign that dinner at the Michelin-starred Nobelhart & Schmutzig is not your average meal. Owner Billy Wagner and chef Mischa Schäfer play by their own rules on everything from photos (banned) to ingredients, which are sourced from within 120km of the heart of Berlin.
Schäfer doesn’t just limit his food miles; he also refuses to work with ingredients that don’t grow naturally in this climate. That rules out not just exotic fruits and vegetables such as pineapple or avocado, but also everyday basics such as black pepper.
How does that work? Surprisingly well. Instead of piling on the flavours, each of Schäfer’s dishes keeps ingredients to a minimum, giving them a pared-back purity. If you never thought that cucumbers could constitute an appealing dish in their own right, you’re in for a surprise. Braised and cut into spaghetti-like strands, these cucumbers are lifted to the next level by a simple application of dill and onion. The roast king mushrooms served with sage butter and just a sprinkle of parsley are equally sublime.
One more thing: Billy Wagner is one of the country’s top sommeliers and his drinks list – which includes beers, schnapps and other drops as well as wine – unfurls over a staggering 110 pages. Do yourself a favour and ask the staff to provide some matched wines. You are bound to discover a new favourite: I head home determined to track down an unusual wine from France’s Jura region, matured in an amphora and featuring a distinctive note of blue cheese in its aroma.