5th Floor, Mandala Hotel
Potsdamer Straße 3
10785 Berlin, Germany
Tel. +49 30 590 05 1234
Food type: Modern European
For our second night in Berlin, we dined at Facil which is located on the 5th floor of the Mandala hotel. The dining room overlooks the hotel courtyard with floor to ceiling windows. The restaurant is one of the new generation of 2 star restaurants in Berlin, having been promoted to 2 star status in 2013, 10 years from when they were awarded their first star. At that time, chef Michael Kempf was the youngest Berlin chef to be awarded a Michelin star – this was eclipsed in 2011 by Sebastian Frank of Horváth.
We had dinner at Facil where there were two menus available. The traditional a la carte menu features a limited number of choices with starters €24 – €34, mains €58 – €74 and desserts €25. We were informed by our waiter that the a la carte dishes are the restaurant’s classic and do not change. Instead we opted for the set menu which consists of the chef’s newest creations and is constantly changing. In fact, checking their menu online as I write, the menu has already completely changed in a space of less than 2 weeks! You get to choose any number of courses between 4 (€109) and 8 (€185) courses. We opted for 7 courses as we had a fairly late lunch.
As with the other restaurants in Berlin, we were presented with a couple of canapés on arrival. These were described to us in German and I didn’t quite catch the description of one of them as my grasp of the language is basic to say the least. A beetroot meringue was light and had good depth of flavour. My favourite was an octopus crisp made using dehydrated strips of octopus, a canapés which reminded me of a Malaysian snack of dried cuttlefish. There were also some fennel seed crackers which were fine. A second amuse bouche was presented after our orders had been taken. This was compressed apple with dill granita which was refreshing although it was rather sweet and would not feel out of place as a pre-dessert. A final amuse bouche was a take on Chinese prawn toast – shrimps on toast was accompanied by a confit quail egg yolk, and was the best of the lot of amuse bouches.
The first official course was a very enjoyable wagyu beef tartar with generous amounts of Imperial caviar. I suspect this was oscietra caviar judging by the size of the eggs. Underneath was a small shallot tart with little dots of champagne hollandaise to bring richness and creaminess to the dish. Beef tartar and caviar are a natural pairing and the only thing that was surprising was a modern restaurant like this producing such a classical plate of food.
We followed with a dish of black cod which had been confit and served cool, with a sauce made from pointed pepper and passion fruit for some acidity. In addition, there was also some crispy cod skin for texture. I have mixed feelings with this dish. On one hand, the flavours, although unique (passion fruit and pepper) did work. However, we both felt that the dish would have been more enjoyable had the cod been served warm, even lukewarm, as opposed to the cool temperature.
The dish of the night was the Argentinian red prawn which was served set within a jelly made from dashi and crab. The dish was finished with a hot consommé of shellfish bisque made from the prawn shells, which helped bring the prawns up to optimum temperature. This dish was all about the intensity of the consommé which had incredible depth and complexity. It was just a pleasure to eat a dish like this where you know a lot of work had gone into making such a beautiful consommé.
Following on with the fish theme was another cracker – red mullet which had been grilled was served with crispy scales of the fish which had been deep fried (oh wait… I have seen that technique at Lyle’s which was my last write up…) and a bouillabaisse reduction. The fish was timed perfectly as you would expect from a 2* kitchen. Once again there was incredible depth and intensity with the saucing which lifted the dish. In addition to the fish scales, there was also some crunchy seaweed for texture which I really enjoyed.
After the highs of the two fish courses, we were brought down to a crashing low with the beetroot dish. Presented in a caviar tin, the lid was lifted to reveal beads of green eucalyptus jelly which looked more like frogspawn on top of more jelly of beetroot. For texture, sunflower seeds which had been puffed were coated in edible gold which achieved a grand total of nothing but to make it look blingy. I often complain about how unoriginal beetroot dishes are, with chefs often relying on the tried and true combination of beetroot with goat’s cheese. I guess I should complain less, because this innovative combination tasted of hand wash. It was disgusting and left half of it uneaten, which was to say we ate half a plate too much. Alongside the gin botanicals onion at Story, this has to be one of the worst dishes I have eaten this year.
Things did get back on track with the main course of pig cheeks with cucumber, dill and grain mustard. I suspect the advertised trotters were used to thicken up the sauce and give it an unctuous finish. The combination of ingredients – pickled cucumber, dill and mustard may sound very Scandinavian, but in fact I only had a cucumber, potato and dill salad earlier during the day for lunch. There was plenty of acidity in the dish which was very smart cooking given how rich the overall dish was with the pig cheeks and potato puree. Very good and tasty, even my non-pig cheeks loving wife lapped it up.
Desserts are a highlight at Facil with master patissier Thomas Yoshida who was awarded Gault Millau “Pâtissier of the year” in 2016. Our dessert was titled ‘Bonfire’ and was a compete dish which was made to look like an actual bonfire. Amongst the many elements were vanilla pannacotta, pear sorbet, toasted marshmallows, raspberry jelly, chocolate shavings and a cep sponge (of the microwave variety). Despite the many elements on the plate, the dessert ate very well with the earthiness from the cep sponge balanced by the acidity from the berries and pear and the richness of the pannacotta.
The sweet treats were not over, and unlike with many restaurants in England, petit fours are also included as part of the menu. A blackberry sorbet had a nice deep flavour of the fruit and you know it was properly made from the glossiness of the sorbet. My favourite bite though was a mini lemon drizzle cake with the lemon complemented by a yuzu cream.
When I was thinking of what title I would give to my write-up on Facil, the first word that came up in my head was ‘frogspawn’. This is in reference to a particular dish which looked and pretty much tasted of the aforementioned item. A shame really because we did really enjoy the rest of the meal, particularly after the depressing night beforehand at Fischers Fritz. Despite the beautiful presentation of the dishes, the flavours here are bold and interesting. On occasion, the chef may be seen to be taking his creativity too far. The ‘frogspawn’ dish, no matter how much skill and technique is required to make it, was just simply unpleasant to eat. In a lot of ways, this reminded me a lot of my meals at Hibiscus in their earlier days where I would get some show stopping dishes, but also some dishes which were less… impressive. Overall though, the cooking at its best is really top notch and memorable, and I am sure that over time, Kempf will slowly weed out the less successful dishes from his repertoire.