Tonight will be about one thing above all: Great sauces and jus, excellent products, classic French school and modern influences. These mostly used as accents, never dominant.
At least that was the picture I had before visiting Markus Semmler’s restaurant in Berlin Charlottenburg. Anyway, I have read a lot about the man who has now been awarded the title of Berlin Master Chef for the second time. 19 years lie between these two honors. And a path that led Semmler via various stations in Berlin, first to his first two restaurants in the capital, then for a few years to the Sylt Sturmhaube on weekdays. He has always maintained his Berlin mainstay in the form of his own catering business throughout all this time. And for five years now, it has been supplemented again by a leg in the form of the restaurant in Sächsische Straße. Actually, so the plan was, should be operated in the new restaurant culinary basic supply. Simple, uncomplicated, fast, inexpensive. And then, after the first six months, Semmler’s ambition took hold again. Why not go full throttle again and show what they can do there, in perhaps the hottest kitchen I’ve ever set foot in. The success proved him right.
In the lounge of the restaurant we meet in the late afternoon to exchange ideas about the concept of the restaurant and about the dishes of the current menu. And of course we also talk about the award that Markus Semmler has just achieved. A pure team effort, he says. Just like the Michelin star that the restaurant has held since 2015. He has been working with sous chef Dennis Hein for 20 years. And you can feel this routine in the kitchen. It’s hot as hell, but also very quiet. I get to watch the team prepare the dinner service. And participate in the first experiments on the Green Egg, which moved into the kitchen today. Semmler grills two pieces of foie gras over the hot coals. The course is then served as it is currently on the September menu: Together with strawberries, celery and potato-celery pops. Sweet, light acidity and the extreme roasted flavors and intense smoke surrounding the liver from the Green Egg complement each other beautifully: glowing coals, fat, smoke.
Previously, I could already taste the tuna from the current menu. Lemongrass and apple juice give the dish a pleasant light freshness, vine tomato in various preparations (grilled, as chutney and crumble) gives depth, but also a touch of acidity and textures. A candy from the lemongrass also contributes to this. However, not worked as a sphere but with vegan gelatin delicately coated, liquid inside. The apple celery juice ideally emphasizes this lightness.
This was followed by an emperor’s grant from the salt stone. Here, at the latest, it is noticeable that each dish has its own little story to tell. The products are impeccable – but especially in the preparation, there are always nuances that initially create or support the taste, but could also be explained when serving in the dining room. Whether this is really so, I can not judge, I finally had the good fortune to be able to dine in the kitchen. The kaisergarant is cooked on the hot stone, slowly pulling the salt. A gentle preparation for the tender product – and a nice effect when serving. However, I found the clam broth that was served on much more exciting. Heavy, full, highly aromatic and extremely dense. This is how I had imagined the cuisine here, this is how Markus Semmler had explained it – and this is exactly the essence of what I find here on the plate.
That this is exactly the right place for me, I realize with the following course: the turbot Flambadou. We had previously talked about this archaic preparation. But here, too, all theory is gray. Contrast that with the brightly glowing flames that leap from the hot cast-iron utensil as Semmler slides a piece of fat from the pork fat into it and a combination of fire and hot pork fat trickles over the turbot.
You don’t see any of that in the guest room. But this kind of preparation is another little story to tell the guest, to take with them and put out into the world. One of those important culinary narratives I love to talk about here. Nevertheless, the question is much more important: Can you taste this effort at all? I maintain yes. However, only at the first contact of the turbot with the tongue and palate. There is a hint of umami, a fleeting trace of smoke, though no visible textural change in the fish. Actually, I would go deeper into this and cook a smaller piece of fish using only the heat from the flambadou. But maybe you just need it for home… However, while I was still contemplating this thought, the kitchen team put together my plate. And if I already had the feeling in the previous courses that there are always many components at play, here element after element is added. Mashed Jerusalem artichoke, a parsley oil, bread crumble, really great porcini mushrooms, a foam from the fish stock, an intense sauce. There is a lot happening on this plate. The focus is on indulgence and enjoyment; it is less about the resolute elaboration of a single main character – this is also part of the philosophy. In any case, a great plate that just because of the variety of elements always allows new combinations. Thanks to the parsley oil also always with a fresh facet as a counterpoint to the other competitors.
And actually, it could go on and on now, here in the kitchen. The jacket has long since hung on a hook, the shirt sleeves are rolled up. I watch the arrangement of the dishes, tasting here and there, annoyed that I could not correctly name all the components in an intensely strong sauce that I could taste (truffle, how could I not taste it out right away). There is a fine Riesling from the magnum bottle.
Dessert (sour cream, plum and cinnamon blossom) is served in the lounge. Here we come full circle and end the evening where it began for me. Markus Semmler guides me through his extensive collection of cigars. Rarities, cigars of selected vintages, special editions of small (and large) Cuban manufactures. Classic enjoyment is at the center of Markus Semmler’s cosmos. And fortunately in a profession that allows others to share in it.
The restaurant does not follow all trends and fashions, but constantly develops its own style, its own signature: great products, classic craftsmanship, successful and sometimes bold flavor combinations. And that fits in perfectly with Berlin’s gastronomy scene, which is more diverse than almost any other.
Saxon street 7
10707 Berlin Charlottenburg
Phone +49 (0)30 890 68 29 – 0