On a balmy summer evening on Berlin’s Paul-Lincke-Ufer, I recently experienced what modern product-focused cuisine can currently look like. Sebastian Frank himself describes his style as concentrated, powerful and above all unconventional. This can all be signed blindly. All of the plates revolve around vegetables, reduced, often purist dishes, and the elaborate presentation of supposedly simple products. Emancipated vegetable cuisine is the overriding motto – and I was very enthusiastic about it this evening.
However, I am not alone in this: The Guide Michelin rates the kitchen with two stars, and recently the “Bittersalate” was chosen by the Michelin testers as one of the best five courses for 2023 in Germany. In the combined restaurant rankings, Horváth is currently in second place in Berlin; it has five red toques and was also recently named one of the best in the country by Gault&Millau for its wine list (which is quite sophisticated and oriented toward the East).
Celery old and young. A story in many acts.
When telling about the creation of complex dishes from the star cuisine, the development period may well relax for weeks, months, sometimes even a whole year. And then, there are ideas that require five or more years to develop. Sebastian Frank has been working on a preparation variant of celery since 2011. At first, the tuber was baked only briefly in salt dough, stored in another evolution for weeks to dry, then later for months and finally even for a whole year. Through these different phases and ripening processes, he finally determined the ideal ripening time. The main focus is on the hydroscopic processes, i.e. the withdrawal of water. In this video, which we recently recorded in Berlin, Sebastian explains this progress in a very comprehensible way.
Already in 2016, together with Sebastian, I was able to take a look into the cellar of the Horváth to prepare a presentation of the salt celery for a cooktank of star eaters. In retrospect, another exciting development of Horváth can be observed here. In addition to the dried celery (combined then with pumpkin, Jerusalem artichoke and cabbage vegetables), Sebastian also showed a bleu roasted pheasant. Today, the menu of the Horváth has not included any products of fish or meat for a long time – at least not as independent components. The concept of emancipated vegetable cuisine puts all products on the same level, values vegetables as much as proteins, and uses the components in the way that is most conducive to achieving the desired flavor image. Thus, meat or fish may give depth and flavor without being visibly present on the plate. And, of course, there is always a variant for vegetarians, in which a comparable taste picture is achieved.
Highlights from the current menu
The first official course of the current menu is the mushroom liver. Clearly, the association with foie gras terrine resonates here both in the title and in the presentation – and indeed also on the palate. Vegetarian, based on herb mushrooms, which are first made into a paste and then intensely fried in butter. On top, an apple balsamic reduction (Manufaktur Gölles, Riegersburg) contributes fruity acidity, which immediately makes the quite heavy entrée seem somewhat lighter. An exciting start and a really welcome alternative to a difficult product.
Another highlight in the menu then the kohlrabi cold dish. At first perusal of the menu, I thought this might be an expendable course by name – but far from it: the cool soup has great elegance and a fine, velvety texture, ideal for a summer evening. A large drop of cherry pit oil breaks the clear stringency by the spoonful. A part is found more kohlrabi in intense decoction of ham fat and fermented cherry blossoms.
Our menu spanned 10 courses that evening, so it was clear that we added two optional classics to the menu. The focus here will be on individual highlights. However, at friend and Kaiserhappen colleague Stevan Paul as well as star eaters can be found detailed notes of the current menu in all courses .
Once again, however, the “first stitch” was spectacular. Supposedly a small bowl of sour cream (actually a cream topped with yogurt just before serving). A reminder from Sebastian Frank of the first spoonful, from a large pot of schmant. It may sound bizarre, but this pure clarity (here in the context of a two-star dinner) is so soothing, almost meditative, and at the same time, of course, perfectly set dramaturgically. Because after the calm follows directly the storm, here optionally by the addition of the paprika reduction in the left bowl or a garlic-cumin vinegar on the right spoon.
Now, barely seven years after my first contact with this product, Sebastian Frank then grates the twelve-month dried celery over delicately steamed celery slices, celery bechamel and jellied celery juice. In its reduction (one product!) and simultaneous complexity, really an absolutely exceptional dish.
The basic concept of emancipated vegetable cuisine, as currently lived by the Horváth, is extremely exciting. Acidity, salt (lots of it!), occasional bitterness make such a great contrast to typical star cuisine, most of which tends to be sweet and rich in components. So it succeeds here again and again that supposedly simple products thanks to their complex and intelligent preparations then in the end any turbot, lobster or even a “real” foie gras can put in the shade.
So is the next plate, the soup green “Seleskowitz”. The recipe comes from an old recipe book by Viennese cookbookator Louise Seleskowitz (1830-1899). In addition to the aromatic consommé, the plate features the classic vegetable protagonists of the soup cooked over three days and then clarified with hare meat.
The combination of classic flavors with modern interpretation, sometimes quite avant-garde implemented, makes the restaurant Horváth quite unique. The exciting selection of accompanying wines from often unknown regions and countries, as well as the equally innovative and complex non-alcoholic accompaniment, further emphasize this impression. The competent and relaxed service additionally contributes to an enjoyable evening with many new impressions.
Star gastronomy for young people (or smaller pockets)!
At the moment, Horváth offers a Quick & Dirty menu, especially addressed to young people. Over four courses, you can learn about the cuisine, including amuse bouche, water flat, sourdough bread and petit four. Always on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For only 129€.
This is an approach that should set a precedent. Not everyone can afford the current menu prices in excellent restaurants, but young people in particular are, of course, the future of the restaurant industry and any inhibitions that can be broken down here should be broken down. Quick & Dirty allows you to experience this world of gastronomy, perhaps complementing it with a glass or two of wine (or choosing from the exciting non-alcoholic accompaniments). By the way, this also applies to all those who are young at heart 😉
Wednesday to Saturday from 18:30
Note: We were invited to dinner as part of a photo and video production. The Horváth Restaurant is a client of our Kaiserhappen agency. Of course, my report is still written objectively and is not influenced by this.