Steffen Henssler vs Tim Mälzer: celebrity chefs come to Berlin

Farm to Table It’s Not: Go by Steffen Henssler. Photo: GO by Steffen Henssler

Do the names Steffen Henssler and Tim Mälzer ring a bell?

If so, congratulations on getting your Rundfunkbeitrag it’s worth the money. Otherwise, consider the German duel Jamie Olivers, daytime TV fixtures that make Tim Raue look coy.

Henssler made it big with its version of Japanese cuisine; Mälzer with fine European cuisine. Both are now middle-aged Burgers with goatee who spend more time in front of the cameras than behind the stoves. And, whether by coincidence or as a synergy killer for their current competition show Mälzer und Henssler liefern ab (Mälzer and Henssler deliver), both have recently opened outposts in Berlin — in the city’s swankiest luxury hotels, no less.

Henssler arrived first. Or rather, its sushi delivery service Go by Steffen Henssler did so, as part of its pandemic-inspired expansion into Germany’s wealthiest cities (and Brussels). For the past year, Berliners and even Brandenburgers have been able to order sleek black boxes filled with creations like the “Rich Boy Roll,” an unholy conglomeration of crab tempura kimchi, seared salmon, caviar and saffron truffle mayonnaise. . But it wasn’t until December that the Go team, having moved from the kitchen of the five-star Hotel de Rome in Mitte to the Ritz-Carlton on Potsdamer Platz, found a sitting home for the fusion fare of Hensler.

Or did they? Technically, the restaurant version of Go is a “pop-up,” though nine months is an eternity on today’s dining scene, and the tasteful Asian makeover of the Ritz’s former Fragrances bar – some kanji here, a decorative sake barrel there – seems built to last. More importantly, however, the restaurant’s menu barely bears Henssler’s fingerprint. Instead, as conceived and executed by Nobu Matsuhisa’s former students, it’s a stealthy attempt to bring that conductor’s particular brand of Japanese-Peruvian decadence to Berlin. That means less wacky buns, more bluefin tuna, wagyu beef, and edible gold.

All of the above presented in the omakase we tried (99€ and more), a parade of guilty pleasures appreciated by those who have just won a financing round or sold their first NFT. Farm to table, it’s not, but if you’re gonna eat otoro (bluefin tuna belly) you could do worse than the soft pink petals sculpted by sushi chef Shigeru Fujita, drizzled with lime “caviar,” dried shiitake and unnecessary but undeniably sexy bits of gold leaf. It arrived as part of a towering sashimi platter which also included amberjack with yuzu kosho, truffle sea bass, miso and rosemary salmon and a pair of oysters for good measure.

The miso-marinated black cod, that old Nobu cliche, was still as delicious as ever, but eclipsed by slices of premium Hiroshima wagyu presented with a hot stone for DIY searing, needing only a pinch of salt or a whisper of dipping sauce to complement their buttery richness. And then there was this latest hand-rolled: slices of fresh fatty tuna against perfectly warm sushi rice, a little freshly grated wasabi, a scoop of briny black caviar and, why not, more leaves of gold, wrapped by Fujita next to the table and devoured with the still crispy nori. As we chased down the last bite with a bespoke cocktail that alchemically blended cognac, yuzu, chocolate and white truffle, we felt bad for the delivery customers who were still content with Henssler boxes. They have no idea what they are missing.

Chiaro: Italian with a Japanese touch. Photo: 3c4y Photography/Tommas Bried/London/Berlin

Let’s go back a few months. Why did Go have to leave the Hôtel de Rome? To make way for Tim Mälzer, of course, brought in last fall to redo the fancy Tuscan restaurant at the luxury fortress. Bank as his look. In October, a cavalcade of German B-listers walked the red carpet at the opening of Chiaro, an art-adorned space bearing the cryptic motto “Italian but not Italian.”

What could describe Lady Gaga’s performance in Gucci House rather refers to the menu, created by Mälzer himself in collaboration with employees of the Hotel de Rome and his Hamburg restaurant Bullerei. Call it Italian with a Japanese twist, or if you’re feeling less generous, a blatant trolling from Italian Twitter account Mad At Food.

Sometimes it works. Although the “Katsu Tramezzini”, stuffed with beef tartare, shredded lettuce and a hint of caviar, has nothing to do with any of the dishes that bear their name, the rich triangular sandwiches in umami are an essential starter. Too powerful, perhaps: an order of four (€20) almost defeated our group of two. We had no problem with the red prawn carpaccio in shellfish vinaigrette, which disappeared from the plate almost as soon as it was served.

Our good memories helped us through the cacio and pepe with smoked eel and trout roe, a pale mass of noodles, salt and profanity that should never have left Bullerei, its birthplace. The combination of cheese and seafood performed best in the “Gyoza of Scampi», prawn dumplings topped with crispy parmesan instead of the usual cornstarch crust. Still, the portion was small for €18 and we would never have tasted the ‘nduja in the dish if the spicy Calabrian pork spread hadn’t been checked off the menu. The lamb osso bucco with smoked calamaretti and parsley root mash, washed down with an excellent Valpolicella (there’s nothing “but not Italian” on the wine list) was as competent as you’d expect. might expect in a luxury hotel, but didn’t convince us that Mälzer’s claims to be the “best Italian chef outside of Italy” had no validity – or that his heavy hand at Chiaro was a good thing.

Ah, but then came the dessert. No dish screams “Italian but not Italian” more than Spaghetti-Eis, and at Chiaro, vanilla sprigs are served at the table, squeezed from the same metal gadget your corner ice cream parlor uses, but enhanced with miso caramel, crunchy meringue and umeboshi strawberry sauce. The best Italian food outside of Italy? niente affatto. The best ice cream disguised as spaghetti in Berlin? Sleeping.

So who wins? I’m tempted to say Henssler, even if his non-involvement sounds like cheating. Either way, this year’s non-quarantined Berlinale VIPs would be advised to opt for its omakase over Mälzer’s pasta (assuming the 893 Ryotei, also in debt to Nobu, is already full or too far from Potsdamer Platz). On a large scale, is it too pessimistic to say that we are all losers? Raue aside, Berlin has so far avoided the celebrity chef plague that has plagued other cities, where tourists flock to names they know instead of trying out the local scene.

And so I’m afraid that the forays of Mälzer and Henssler represent the beginning of the end. With them here, can Gordon Ramsay, Salt Bae and a real Nobu be far behind?

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