At Julius, proceedings usually begin without much ado with a promptly served plate bursting with locavore micro-seasonality – typically a minimalistic display made up of bitesize vegetables (and/or some fruit) left raw or only slightly altered, so that the quality of each carefully sourced product really shines through. (Thanks for this bounty go to Mariá Gimenez, the cool new female farmer on the block, who cultivates veggies under the principles of regenerative farming about 45 minutes south of Berlin.)
On a September evening we were treated to crisp, naked young (raw) turnips as sweet and flawless as baby skin, squash cooked in dashi and citrus leaves, and beets dressed with a dollop of yogurt and umeboshi. Despite the flawless quality of each ingredient, this would make for an underwhelming plate if you weren’t patient enough to let the plot unfold. A meal at Julius (available only as a set menu for €65) is best experienced as a narrative, with a beginning, five chapters and a sweet ending – plus a hand-brewed epilogue for coffee drinkers. So let that first plate set the tone, before the ensuing dishes move things up a key towards ever-more refined sophistication, one notch at a time.
For our next course we were served albacore tuna sashimi, a tomato-red mussel chowder, seaweed butter gnocchi seasoned with karasumi (salted fish roe) and black yuzu, and a perfectly executed pollock with celeriac purée.
Along the way, there were a few whimsical touches that may perplex purists, such as a slice of milk bread toasted on just one side, or radishes served with root nodules intact. (We were assured that neither was due to laziness!) There were also a few misses, like the rather dry, Parmesan-topped green salad incongruously paired with the fish, or the overpowering sweetness of Maria’s tomatoes competing with the delicate Normandy mussels. But the hits really stole the show: the butter-soft tuna and a pitch-perfect slab of steamed cod fillet were well worth the trip alone.
The master behind these French Atlantic wonders (most of which are caught by a Noirmoutier fisherman on first-name terms with the restaurant owners) is the Okinawa-born, Kyoto-trained Shunsuke Naogoka. The Japanese chef worked for two years at the Michelin-starred Ernst until, last December, he (literally) crossed the road to oversee the menu of the restaurant’s ‘casual’ new offshoot.
Naogoka’s weekly-changing menu runs high not only on seafood but also on Japanese flavours: shiso leaves, dashi, shoyu, umeboshi, yuzu and even sake for a perfectly ‘moisturised’ fish. For breakfast, there’s also the kitchen’s signature ‘Japanese brioche’, lightly caramelised and perfectly cuboid. Stacked in clean rows, they contain an ever- changing array of choice fillings, both sweet and savoury. The place also doubles as a coffee bar, with fellow-Japanese master barista and co-owner Shoji Hara serving up the most diligently hand-poured brew in Wedding. (Don’t bother ordering if you’re rushing to catch the Ringbahn.)
Sommelier Sumiya Omori is Japanese too, but the wines are mostly French and mostly biodynamic. There are also creative zero/ low-alcohol options, such as a plum-vinegar soda and black-tea kombucha with apple juice, Nashi pear and whey, all concocted in-house and available either by the glass or as part of the set meal (pairings cost €45 without and €55 with alcohol).
“We go to Japan for four weeks a year for inspiration,” says Inga Krieger, one of the founding members of Julius. But this year, they went to Paris instead, where they scouted some hit spots – from Michelin-starred Le Clarence to the less orthodox Mokonuts and Clown Bar, with whom the Ernst offshoot shares a devotion to immaculately selected local ingredients.
Krieger, the only German in the Julius crew (which is made up of four Japanese, a Korean and an Italian with a Scottish accent), is a former food and fashion journalist who fell in love with her subject the day she visited Ernst co-founder Dylan Watson-Brawn in 2016, back when the Canadian was still cooking in his flat. The team’s international eclecticism is reflected in Julius’ minimalist-white yet surprisingly cosy interiors, which combine curtains of Belgian linen with Japanese design and woodwork by Berlin carpenter Rainer Spehl. (Diners in the know should insist on sitting at one of his original zinc-covered tables.)
Since Julius launched in December 2020, Krieger has played the perfect hostess to the restaurant’s smart-casual ambitions: “Good food, good wine, good coffee, that’s all,” she muses. This is a great little story that takes a few chapters to win you over, so don’t leave after the amuse-bouche – by the third dish, or that final drip of artisanal coffee, you can be sure you’ll want to come back!