This is one way to begin a meal.
Thin pork belly
White asparagus, woodruff, and jalapeño
At the table
Duck, part two
Duck and waffle
Duck and waffle
Duck, three stellar ways
Hamachi, jade sauce, jalapeño
Suckling pig, dashi, Japanese mustard
Strawberries, Thai basil, rhubarb
Berlin is a city with an established — yet always evolving — culinary scene. Yes, you can eat some fine sausages and döner kebab there, and you won’t go wrong with either. But don’t overlook the Korean or French or Italian tables in Berlin. It is truly a multicultural, diverse culinary gem, one full of eateries humble and grand.
Recently, however, Germany’s capitol city is crowing about one restaurant in particular, and anyone planning a trip to Berlin should procure a reservation at the establishment, which is situated around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie. It’s called Restaurant Tim Raue, and I state without any hyperbole that a dish on the menu there is one of the top five things I have eaten in at least a decade. It is a langoustine, and there is wasabi, and Raue calls it “Cantonese Style” … and no matter its name, it alone is worth a trip to Berlin. I do not exaggerate.
Of course, you will want to order more than that crustacean dish, and I recommend you opt for the signature menu (six courses, 168 euros). At the moment, it includes scallop, pike-perch (think walleye), that sublime langoustine, lemon chicken, black pepper beef, and a notable dessert featuring strawberries, thai basil, and rhubarb.
Tim Raue is the chef behind the restaurant. His flagship (he owns two other places) holds two Michelin stars, and was earlier this summer elevated to the 34th spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (up from 52nd place the year before). Both accolades are more than deserved, and the latter is the reason behind all of the attention the executive chef and his staff are receiving as of late.
Raue, who was born in 1974, has a passion for Asian cuisine, a passion demonstrated in every dish on his menu. He finished high school in Germany after the 10th grade, and wanted to be an architect, but did not have the funds (or time, he has said) for studies, so he gravitated toward another profession he thought would allow him to express creativity. He started out as most cooks do, at the bottom, and he learned. Eventually, his career choice took a turn eastward.
“At the age of 28, I went to Asia for the first time,” he told Eater. “My first visit there was like being in paradise. I went to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, the great four places to go. I got in touch with all these four different Asian types of cuisine, and I fell absolutely in love. For me, who had grown up with stiff French cuisine and the stiff idea of a French restaurant, that was totally mind-breaking.
“It was full of flavors, it was relaxed, it was food you can pick with your fingers. The restaurants had no attitude, you just go there if you’re hungry. That, for me, was absolutely great.”
Restaurant Tim Raue does have attitude, a personality best summed up as unstudied and meticulous attention to detail. The staff, from the hostess at the entryway to the waiters and sommelier, know their roles, and perform them well. They are professionals, and possess a confident and cordial demeanor. No fake smiles, no officiousness, no talking down to guests. It all makes for a carefree, exciting, and relaxing several hours.
I dined at the restaurant twice in June, once solo, the next day with three friends, for lunch each time. On both occasions, the tastes and flavors, from the first bite of an amuse-bouche to the final sip of espresso, were everything they should have been, and more. No false notes, no hiccups or falters.
And what an amuse. My first lunch — which took place at a table placed at the front of the restaurant, beneath floor-to-ceiling windows on a sunny day, a table that afforded me a view of the entire calm dining room — began with a Campari and soda and a tableau created by eight beautiful plates holding paper-thin pork belly, delicately spiced cucumber, and roasted carrots, to name but three of the offerings. On the tongue and palate, all were vibrant and surprising, and the technique that produced them was of a high caliber. (At one point, seeing that the sun had shifted and that its rays were streaming directly onto my table, a waiter quietly drew the sheers.)
I took my time with the plates, because to rush would have been an unwise and callous sin. What followed was a procession that during one moment brought a few tears to my eyes. Not tears of sadness, but of gratitude, because I was aware of the dedication and care (and years) that it took to perfect the dish. Plus, the flavors floored me. It was the langoustine that did it (not that the other courses were in any way pedestrian). A piece of the langoustine had been covered with cornstarch for six hours, then deep fried for 90 seconds. Puffed rice adhered to the wasabi mayonnaise that enrobed the langoustine, and the whole sat on a mango aspic mingled with a Thai vinagrette (mango and carrot cubes, chopped cilantro stalks, chicken stock, vinegar, lime juice, and fish sauce). I’ve dined at a good number of great restaurants around the world, and this dish is among the best things I have ever experienced. Textures galore (crunch, tenderness), and flavors bold and delicate combined in epiphanic ways. (I ordered it on the next day as well, and I would not mind doing so again tomorrow.)
Before and after the langoustine during my two meals came that pike-perch, firm, brought to the table in a steamer basket and served dramatically with leeks and a soy sauce that had been aged for 10 years — its fermentation developed to a state of salty/rich wonder; a piece of hamachi (paired with sansho pepper) so fresh that I was transported to the Sea of Japan when I ate it; Peking duck interpreted by Raue, a three-part dish comprised of duck-liver terrine, pickled cucumber, and a ginger-leek cream; duck breast atop a miniature waffle redolent with Chinese Five Spice, a waffle whose indentations were filled with greens and other vegetables; and a broth made from duck stomach, heart, and tongue, plus winter melon and mushrooms. All were done well, though if I had to choose one above the others I would opt for the broth. It was gamy, rich, and full of complexity, go-to comfort and decadent luxury. Other courses included suckling pig, crisp on the outside, succulent interior; a scallop with elderflower jus and green Thai pepper; and the strawberry dessert, art (and a perfect balance of sweet and savory) on a plate. The second lunch was served at the chef’s table, with a view of the Raue kitchen, a table I recommend you ask for. It is separated from the main dining area by a wall unit, and can seat 10 diners (or two, for an intimate, and grand, repast).
Wine, of course, is not an afterthought here. André Macionga oversees a wine list and program that is strong, wide, and deep. It includes five pages of Champagne and sparkling wines, three pages of German red wines (21 bottles from the Rheinland Pfalz alone), and Rieslings galore, including 39 Mosel bottles and 15 from the Pfalz. You’ll find sake, as well — Katsuyama is well represented — and outstanding selections from California, France, and Spain. I enjoyed several Rieslings at Restaurant Tim Raue, including a 2011 from Dreissigacker, and a somewhat tight but balanced 2012 Spätburgunder from Weingut Friedrich Becker. All price points are represented here, and I cannot imagine the individual who would be unable to find something to her liking on Macionga’s list.
I do not think I am risking anything at all by predicting that a third Michelin star is in the cards for Raue, so you might want to book a table now, before the crowds grow larger.
One enters Restaurant Tim Raue through a nondescript courtyard.