“It must be a pain in the ass to be a serious chef right now,” I think to myself as I attempt to artfully position two paper-thin slices of caramelised black walnut atop a small square of porcini mousse. Pizza and burger joints barely had to lift a finger to pivot to takeout, whereas fine dining heavyweights have been tasked with transforming elaborate, multi-course meals into something us average schmucks can slap together in an hour.
And if you think that’s hard, imagine opening a Michelin-calibre restaurant during lockdown. Even if you’re a big name like Arne Anker – the German hotshot who turned Mitte’s Pauly Saal into a must-eat destination in 2015, and defended its star for four years in a row – how are you supposed to introduce eaters to your culinary gestalt via a series of plastic tubs, cardboard cartons and vacuum bags? (Ten tubs, six cartons and eight bags, to be precise, containing meat, fish, pasta, sauces, herbs and lord knows what else.)
With the assortment of containers strewn across every available surface in my IKEA kitchen, I look to the instructions explaining how to turn all of this into four courses, an amuse bouche and petit fours from Brikz – Anker’s brand new solo venture in Charlottenburg. The chef and his crew were counting on their November opening happening before the winter lockdown. (COVID had other plans.) Now, they’re testing the takeout waters to avoid employee furloughs, build word-of-mouth for sit-down service next spring and to prove it can be done right.
The dishes have been simplified, but the concept is the same: one four-course menu per week, mostly local ingredients and a freestyle cuisine. Tonight’s feast is continental comfort food with a side of Peru. Time to get cooking.
The mousse tastes of pure ‘shroom, its creamy richness contrasting nicely with the bittersweet walnut slices and crunchy crumbled bits sprinkled on top. Consider my bouche amused. Next up, a Saibling “rose” that I have to plant in a dish of zesty herbed bulgur. On Brikz’s Instagram, the thinly sliced cured trout indeed resembles a blossoming flower.
Here at home, let’s just say the instructions to “spritz” aioli into the fishy folds suddenly seem downright pornographic. I pipe the sauce onto the bulgur instead, douse the whole thing in “ceviche fond” (a mild version of Peruvian leche de tigre) and top it off with three sprigs of coriander from the appropriately labelled tub. Despite its vulgar appearance, the dish is great – a welcome jolt of summery freshness amid this endless winter.
The Zwischengang, pumpkin gnocchi, requires a sauté pan (mine) and a pat of butter (provided). The instructions say to use low heat, but turning it to high helps crisp up the dumplings while frying the accompanying sage leaves to a satisfying crunch. The double-dairy topping of scamorza cheese and buttery sage velouté may be overkill, but I’m not complaining.
A hunk of vacuum-sealed beef breast looks pre-seared and slow-braised. I’m supposed to give it a “water bath” at 80 degrees, but my only thermometer is the one I’ve been using to obsessively monitor my own temperature since the pandemic started. I boil some water, turn off the heat and hope for the best. Meanwhile, I heat a little stack of potato gratin in the oven, warm up a bag of jus and one of red beetroot slices, then pour the night’s first drink pairing – a bottle of non-alcoholic beer I found in the fridge.
Of course, my plating looks like something out of a horror movie scene and I realise much too late that I’ve mixed up the radish sprout and basil garnishes. But once I dig in, none of that matters. The beef melts into tender, flavour-packed strands at the touch of a fork, the gratin has just the right ratio of potato to cream, while pickled yellow beets provide a zingy acidic counterpoint to the earthy red ones. Even better, there’s enough left over for tomorrow’s lunch.
Dessert is a delicate layered rectangle of tarte tatin topped by a thin strip of butter that melts as you warm it in the oven. There’s a lemon-whisky sabayon to go with it, and don’t I have half a bottle of Laphroaig in my liquor cabinet? That’s drink pairing number two.
As I sip, I marvel at the sea of waste and dirty dishes left in my meal’s wake. At the sit-down version of Brikz, €75 would buy not only the good food, but the privilege of not worrying about cooking, plating, dishwashing or how long all this “biodegradable” PLA plastic will actually take to decompose.
Then again, the takeaway version isn’t just about the food either. It’s about keeping Anker and his team afloat through these lean times so they can open the restaurant they were meant to: a place where dishes are beautifully presented, thoughtfully spaced and expertly paired with wine, where the sea buckthorn marshmallow petit fours are neatly stacked on artisanal ceramics instead of scarfed directly out of the bag. I hope I can go there someday.