10969 Berlin, Germany
Tel. +49 30 2593 7930
Food type: Fusion Chinese
Website: Tim Raue
When it came to planning my trip to Berlin, the one restaurant on my ‘Must go’ list was Tim Raue. I have heard many good things about the restaurant from Felix and the restaurant is currently the highest ranking German restaurant in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants guide. He is probably Berlin’s hottest chef with two other restaurants in the city – Sra Bua at the Adlon Kempinski Hotel and La Soupe Populaire which is currently closed for renovation. He opened flagship restaurant in 2010 and gained a star that same year, with the second arriving in 2012. Raue’s cooking is unique, focusing on flavours from Asia, and in particular China combining them with his Modern European technique. The entrance to the restaurant is off the main road, via a small courtyard. Guarding the entrance to the restaurant are two stone lions which are meant to ward off evil spirits and bad luck.
We dined at Restaurant Tim Raue for lunch. There were a few menus available. The a la carte menu has items individually priced with starters €46 – 56, mains €46 – 66 and desserts €24. On average you will spend about €130 for a 3 course meal. The lunch menu starts at €48 for 3 courses up to €78 for 6 courses. It does include a few of Raue’s signature dishes although they come with a supplement. In addition, there are two tasting menus available. The ‘Signature’ tasting menu (6 courses for €168) features all his classic dishes while a more contemporary tasting menu simply called ‘8’ (the number 8 being considered auspicious in Chinese cuisine) is priced at €198. Note how all the pricing also ends with an 8! We opted for the larger tasting menu and also incorporating his signature Peking Duck dish for an additional €24.
As we were browsing the menu, we were brought the first wave of canapés to be enjoyed with chopsticks. They did offer to bring my wife some additional cutlery which she declined. First was spicy cashews – cashes which had been tossed in some red thai curry paste and then roasted off. The second were pickled tomatoes with the acidity balanced by a honey dressing. Next were fillets of pickled herring and shallots. My favourite of the canapés was the pork belly – thin strips of warm pork belly with a spicy sichuan sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds for texture and nuttiness.
A second wave of bites soon followed having placed our orders. This was not served to all the tables so I suspect the additional bites are served to those ordering the larger format menus. This consisted of shiso leaf with veal consomme – the veal consomme thickened with a gelling agent to give an interesting umami hit as a counterpoint to the herbaceous shiso. Carrots came with a cumin flavoured dressing and although you might wonder how interesting can it be having tried and true flavours of carrots and cumin, the dressing was something else altogether. It had the right hit of cumin with a sweet and sour note in the background. Next was pickled courgette with a spiced matcha cream which had a surprising amount of heat. Not European heat, but the kind of heat you would expect when travelling in Asia. Last but not least were thin strips of veal heart, slow cooked and marinated with a hoisin like dressing. Superb.
The first official course on the menu were two bite size meringues made sprats sandwiching Imperial caviar. While on first look, the dish may look deceptively unremarkable a lot of work has actually gone into their creation. The meringues are made from juiced sprats which are then layered with small discs of lettuce, marinated in green chilli, dotted with a composite of sprat, butter and creme fraiche, yuzu marmalade and finally a large dollop of Imperial caviar. A little more yuzu marmalade tops each creation with a sorrel leaf on top. Phew! Even describing the dish is tiring but this complexity and detail would sum up Raue’s cooking – deceptively simple looking, but incredibly complex, with layer upon layer of flavours which keep giving. The sweetness and sharpness from the yuzu, the saltiness from the caviar, the umami hit from the sprats, the bitterness and heat from the chilli. Such a small item, but one that gave so much pleasure.
Next was hamachi (amberjack) with what was described as a jade sauce. The hamachi had been steamed just long enough to set it, with the flesh still moist and extruding some of the natural oiliness of the fish. The jade sauce was a concoction of green herbs, spiked with a little sansho pepper for background heat. For balancing acidity were capers, pickled pearl onions and green melon balls as well as a drizzle of lemon verbena oil. On the bottom of the plate was a little mash with spring leeks, a bit like an Irish champ, to give the dish body. Very tasty!
My favourite dish of the day was homage to the humble Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli). This is a common dish you will find in many Chinese restaurants with the Gai Lan steamed and served with oyster sauce. Raue takes inspiration from the original dish with the Gai Lan prepared two ways. First, the chunky stems (coming from obviously A grade specimens) are cooked until tender while the trims are used to make a puree. Instead of the run-of-the-mill oyster sauce you can buy in your Chinese supermarkets (which actually does not contain much in the way of oysters), Raue instead creates his own oyster sauce with fermented oyster juice with full on umami goodness. The centre of the plate featured a fat, plump steamed Gillardeau oyster to hit home the oyster component. The acidity component came from the lime in a tapioca pearl form. The one really interesting thing is that Raue has decided to include some background heat with some Thai green chilli. Green chilli is not something that would traditionally be paired with Gai Lan, at least not in Hong Kong, yet it is something my mother has also been doing at home. Maybe her ideas are not so weird after all!
If the Gai Lan was a homage to a dish you would find in any Cantonese restaurant, then the next dish of tomato prawn is a nod to the every day dish you would find in a Chinese home. This is the equivalent of beans and toast to the Chinese person. In its original form, it is essentially stir fried prawns with ketchup, maybe with a few dried chillies if you were daring. Raue has separated each component – the prawns have been cooked separately – a quick sear to obtain a nice springy, bouncy texture. Instead of smothering it with ketchup, the prawns instead sit on of a compote made from tomatoes and galangal with a dusting of simichi togarashi (seven flavour chilli pepper) on the top. Each prawn is dressed with a single Thai basil leave. On the side, little prawn meringue chips, no doubt a nod to the ubiquitous prawn crackers found in many Chinese takeaways. This dish really brought a smile to my face. Raue has managed to deconstruct and reconstruct such a humble dish, keeping the flavours true, yet amplifying the impact of each component.
Next, we were presented a whole suckling pig knuckle, slow cooked and then deep fried to achieve an ultra crunchy texture. This was a cross between Bavarian pork knuckle and Cantonese crispy aromatic duck. The knuckle was presented table side, on top of a faux newspaper cut out featuring a picture of a handful of €50 notes, before our server niftily deboned it. Not that it required much effort to debone the pork, given how tender the meat was. With a rich serving of pork, the balancing element comes from the pickled ginger and dots of dashi gel. Really whats not to like? Perfect, crisp, rich, sinful, melt-in-your mouth pork. My mouth is salivating just thinking about it!
We followed with Raue’s take on dim sum. The bowl contained noodles (likely made from rice flour) which was a cross between udon and silver needle noodles – having a slightly chewy/ springy texture to them. The noodles were dressed in a duck cream sauce and a couple of shavings of preserved black truffles. Hidden within the treasure trove were grilled duck lungs and little jelly cubes of prik nam pla (Thai Fish sauce), the later providing a huge umami hit. I absolutely adored this dish but I understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea given the chewy nature of the noodles.
The main course of the menu (prior to additions) was smoked eel and beetroot. The main component of the dish was a piece of eel which had been gently grilled with a jus made with jalapeños. Smoked eel was also used to make a brandade which surrounded beetroot which has first been braised then marinated in raspberry vinegar. I also liked the witty play with the presentation – the beetroot, cut out to the shape of the word 福 (Fu) and placed upside down to represent ‘bringing in fortune’. The lovely, oily, meaty chunks of eel felt was a natural pairing with the earthiness of beetroot with its earthy, sweet and sour notes. Although eel is a strong flavour and has a meaty texture, I do wonder whether the suckling pig should have been the main course on the original tasting menu.
Our additional course was Raue’s signature Peking Duck. Raue has the utmost respect for this revered dish, and much like you would expect in Beijing, but very rarely in the UK, utilising pretty much every single part of the duck in 3 different preparations. The main dish consisted of the duck breast with crispy skin flavoured with Chinese five spice. The texture of the skin was more akin to crispy aromatic duck than the glass like texture with traditional Peking duck. The meat was cooked slightly over the medium rare (but still moist) you would be accustomed to in a European restaurant, to resemble the roast duck in Cantonese restaurants. On the side, a cannelloni, for want of a better word, of leek filled with green apple. The leek played the role of the spring onion providing relief to the richness of the duck. All of this was tied together with a duck jus made with the duck feet to give it a natural gelatinous texture. The second part of the dish was a duck liver parfait with gels of pickled cucumber, ginger and leek. More duck skin, this time broken up was sprinkled on top of the parfait for texture. The final component, and my favourite, was a warm duck and winter melon broth with all the other remaining offal – heart, tongue and stomach. Tellingly, my wife, who is not a lover of weird and wonderful offal, lapped the bowl up with a satisfied nod.
We now began the sequence of desserts, and much like most of the restaurants in Berlin, this seems to be limited to 1 pre-dessert and 1 dessert. First a cucumber sorbet and jelly was refreshing albeit unexciting. Then came the official dessert of macadamia nougat and quince. In the middle, a macadamia caramel roll filled with a macadamia nougat mousse with quince cooked with passion fruit and saffron and a quince sorbet. In essence a play on an apple crumble and was fine, if unmemorable. The desserts seems to be the weakest part of the meal here and while all the savoury courses draw inspiration from Chinese/ Asian cuisine, the desserts here seem like something you would expect to come out from a French/ European kitchen. This is hardly a surprise given how desserts are often seen as an unnecessary luxury in Chinese dining, with dinners often ending with fresh fruits instead.
It really has taken me a long time to write up my meal at Tim Raue. Part of the reason is that I wanted time to properly reflect on the meal, to let things digest before jumping to an immediate conclusion. As much as I enjoyed every second of our meal here, it is the long lasting impression that it has left me, days, weeks, months later. I have eaten out a fair bit this year – close to 100 by the time this post goes live – with many meals I do not write about. For the jaded diner like me, I often struggle to remember what I ate one week ago, let alone what components were in each dish. Yet, Raue’s cooking is memorable for the right reasons (unlike say Restaurant Story). Months have passed and yet I can still remember every vivid detail, every subtle taste. Where there is a weakness, as mentioned above, it is with the desserts. And perhaps this is where the tipping point lies when it comes to Michelin not awarding them a 3rd star.
In a nutshell, Raue’s cooking draws on inspiration from China with a few Pan-Asian sprinklings but maintaining the German precision in execution. It would have been all too easy for this type of cuisine to be muddled and confused, yet there is clarity and purpose with each plate of food presented to us. Raue undoubtedly has a thorough understanding and respect for what Chinese cuisine and culture is all about. Even with all his kitchen alchemy, the DNA of his cooking is still firmly anchored in the source material. For this purpose, Raue has frequently visited Hong Kong and China, drawing inspiration from each trip.
I sat in Fischers Fritz a few days ago eating my plate of turbot thinking ‘I could easily eat this dish at Le Gavroche or Nathan Outlaws and they would probably do it better’. Yet I could not say the same about any of the dishes that came out of Raue’s kitchen. Raue’s cooking is special because it is unique, because has its own identity and because it can only be done by him and him alone. Surely then that is the definition of a meal worthy of a special journey?