It makes a nice change, in these days of insta-everything, to head out for a fancy dinner with no real idea of what you're likely to be fed. Such were the conditions of the meal that provided the crescendo to our recent trip to Berlin.
After a bit of online scouring, I had suggested Horvath as it's situated in the achingly trendy Kreuzberg area in which (obvs) we were staying, wasn't insanely pricey, and a lot of the dishes put vegetables, rather than dead animal, front and centre. This last point was relevant as Kasia and I had taken the trip with another couple, one one of whom is a fish-eating vegetarian. Horvath recently aquired a second Michelin Star, joining an exhalted club of six in Berlin. For what it's worth, London has 11 restaurants at this level and Paris 14. The chef is the young and rather photogenic Sebastien Frank, who is an interesting character. From eastern Austria, he has claimed inspiration comes to him from the dishes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What did they taste like then? We had no idea whatsoever, but looked forward to finding out.
Inside, the rare trick of making a room clad in dark wood paneling feel unstuffy had been nicely pulled off, partly through good lighting (both candlelit and more modern), partly by the fact of the uncovered tables, but also as the welcome from all the staff was warm and genuine.
|Bread, butter, mashed potato|
|Amuse of roasted salsify|
|Lettuce, Yellow beet, pumpkin seed oil|
|Brussels sprouts, almonds, champigon|
|Salmon trout, jerusalem artichoke, winter spinach|
I should say at this point that each dish was being presented with a dinky card that gave the full run-down of ingredients. This is the first time I've seen this, but it makes life easier for the front of house - especially when they're doing the whole performance in more than one language - and also helps when you have one of those "what the hell is that" moments.
|Beef shoulder cut, pepper, kale|
|Cauliflower, Serbian butter, barley|
Matched wines were all from Austria, Germany or Hungary and were excellent. I particularly enjoyed a vegetal pinotage along with the beef and a non-sweet Tokaji. No Blue Nun in sight.
|Chocolate, "Kletz'n", Elderflower|
|The straw that schnapped the camel's back|
It would have taken a lot more than this last mis-step to take the gloss off what was an absolutely stellar meal. Service was that perfect balance of attentive but not intrusive, the pacing of the dishes was good and there was a lovely atmosphere about the place. The bill came in at just under £100 a head including a hefty 19% service, which considering the quality of what we had, is reasonable. We could have shaved about fifty euros off it by skipping those bloody schnapps.
What I enjoyed most was finding delicious platefuls being constructed using materials and skills with which I wasn't really familiar. The kitchen avoids olive oil, using pig or beef fat. There is lots of garlic, onions and paprika, all of which would lead you to expect heaviness, but far from it; these are nimble, playful dishes that nonetheless pack some serious heft in the flavour department. I suppose you could make some sort of lazy allusion to the approach that places like l'enclume or Noma are inspiring, and, being lazy, I shall. There is certainly an integrity to this food. It feels like it belongs to this chef and this room. It's a lovely thing to find a novel genre of delicious, but that's exactly what we got at Horvath.
Horvath, Paul-Linke-Ufer 44a, 10999, Berlin, Germany
+49 30 61289992