The pandemic was a beast. But Billy Wagner has never been the type to let such circumstances get in his way. The only thing that matters is his mission: that of brutally local Berlin cuisine, as produced by his Michelin-starred restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig since 2015; of dishes that sometimes consist of a single asparagus spear with a dab of egg-yolk-yellow mayonnaise; and of an overall experience that can be best summed up as ‘Nordic cuisine with a Berghain twist’ – not least because Wagner himself looks like he’s ready to jump in the club queue at any given moment.
He can’t, of course, because Berghain is an art gallery now and it’s still hard to imagine that it will ever return to ‘normal’ again. Nobelhart, too, is a long way from its old self. For summer 2021, the hip, windowless locale on the grubby end of Friedrichstraße has been entirely transplanted to the roof of the Aufbauhaus on Moritzplatz. A lofty height, with an equally lofty ambience. A room with a few.
The temporary location is a good fit for a restaurant that’s been constantly reinventing itself since the pandemic began – whether serving vegetarian, parsley-stuffed Nobelhart-Döner kebabs at König Gallery, organising intimate dinners in local artist studios, or hosting a whimsical picnic at the Art Biesenthal fair. Early on, the crew set up an online shop selling a range of wares: homemade preserves, pickles, a shirt by Berlin designer Frank Leder with a loaf of bread to go with it. Unlike most other restaurants in this city, Nobelhart & Schmutzig made it through the pandemic without losing a single employee.
Leder, by the way, is the designer of those cosy woolen blankets that visitors to the Aufbauhaus rooftop can snuggle under on chillier summer evenings. To warm you from within, there’s the smoked potato puree from head chef Micha Schäfer, for whom this Nobelhart incarnation doubles as a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts. Other classics on the menu include free-range chicken from Lars Odefey, aged in hay, the skin seared to a crisp, the meat still rose-coloured.
That asparagus, grown without the help of plastic film and almost completely unviolated by the kitchen. Toothsome, with the perfect amount of acidity – whoa, who knew the white stalks could actually taste like something? Or the tomato essence served at the beginning of the meal, which doesn’t need to decide if it’s a thirst-quencher or an appetiser.
Speaking of thirst-quenching: a drink pairing will cost you at least €80, on top of the menu price of €130 per person. We think that’s just fine. For one, because Wagner has been completely transparent about the costs of his restaurant’s relocation: €25,000, including rent, tent construction and the building of a new kitchen. And secondly, because Nobelhart & Schmutzig – with its seasonality, regionality, mindfulness and gently forceful flavours – has always stood for a kind of curated intoxication. Thus, again, the comparison to Berghain.