If you’re Tim Raue and you’re looking to open your fifth restaurant in Berlin, a French brasserie this time, what do you do? First, you find a location across the street from KaDeWe to ensure a flow of well-to-do West Berliners eager for a simple but gourmet experience. You make sure that the diligent waitresses bring baguette and butter to the table before your guests even have time to verbalise they’re gluten-free, and you throw a jar of pickles into the mix, which you duly label as “cornichons” even though they’re just as sweet and mild as German gherkins. You do classics and keep their French names, like “steak frites” and “escargots”, even “pot au feu” or “Salade Nicoise”. When you want to be creative with your schnitzel you make it “cordon bleu”, and you get away with smuggling the German dessert Heiße Liebe on the menu by listing it as “Amour Chaud” (“hot love”, vanilla ice cream with warm fruit). Then you pick a French-sounding name like – why not? – “Colette”, in a personal tribute to a certain Colette who made crêpes somewhere on the French coast. The facts are foggy, but who cares? It’s got the right ring to it. As evidenced by the Asian fusion that earned the born Kreuzberger his Michelin stars (and a restaurant empire that stretches from Berlin to Dubai), Raue is a bold man who trusts his instinct and imagination more than he cares about accuracy. So far, it’s worked wonders – and Colette, a French bistro with sister locations in Konstanz and Munich, is mostly no exception.
The escargots (€10), for example, were a divine surprise: no shell, garlic or butter here. From the original recipe, Raue kept only the parsley, throwing the naked gastropods in a small salad-like concoction with bone marrow, a crunchy touch of croutons and a delicate gingerbread-y dressing. The artichoke (€11) arrived whole and ready to be de-leafed, but with a trio of creamy dips, you’d more likely find in the US than in France where it’s often eaten with vinaigrette. The soft, home-cured salmon (€17), beetroot-red and sweet, is a mighty slice brought a notch above average by a touch of chervil – a herb too rare in Berlin’s kitchens, and nicely recurring throughout the dishes served here. That cordon bleu (€19) scored higher for its refined aesthetics than its culinary achievements, but with its smokey touch of Taleggio and bacon, it’s perfectly crunchy breading and a flawless pea mash, the small cylinder made for a pleasant comfort dish (despite the somewhat jarringly hot piment d’espolette mushroom sauce). A similar feast for the eyes was the octopus (€22), juicy and soft as butter, served with an exquisite veal-head jus and a side of Jerusalem artichoke mash next to blanched heads of lettuce and pear; this time, the alliance of textures and flavours lived up to the alluring aesthetics.
As for desserts, they definitely were up to the French standard – a good example is the mini-Madeleines (€10), prepared à la minute. Served with a side of chocolate ice cream, the small shell-shaped bites arrived hot from the oven and were doused with the creamy egg liqueur advocaat right at the table. This is no fake, and neither is the extensive wine list. Organised by vineyard, it spans all the French favourites, including some great Côtes du Rhône reds and Burgundy whites by the bottle, and a sharp selection of open wines – like a very elegant unoaked Chardonnay from Le Ventoux region’s Chateau Pesquié.
The verdict: who cares about authenticity when creativity can make up for it? And on our visit, Raue’s team of chefs proved to us they could pull it off.