The Berlin Wall gets demolished several dozen times a night by tiny dessert spoons. Wielded by bemused tourists and business travelers, they crack through a thin chocolate shell – lacquered, on the West side only, with edible gold-and-green graffiti – to reach a dense, Mauer-shaped mousse of organic Arriba cacao.
Three out of this year’s four new Berlin Michelin honorees wouldn’t be caught dead serving this gimmick. Ernst, that earnest locavore kaiseki experience, would probably find it offensive. Kin Dee does Thai and only Thai, while dessert-only Coda prefers abstract squiggles over concrete symbols.
That leaves Savu, and if you’re thinking “What’s Savu?”, you’re not alone. Far less fawned-over than its fellow star recipients, Sauli Kemppainen’s year-old fine dining establishment is the “boring” kind of Michelin restaurant, opened in a Charlottenburg luxury hotel by a pedigreed chef. It’s barely been Instagrammed; its main demographic was well over voting age when the original, non-chocolate Wall came down.
Three out of this year’s four new Berlin Michelin honorees wouldn’t be caught dead serving this gimmick.
The thing is, if it weren’t for the stuffy trappings, Savu could almost be cool. Kemppainen, a Finn, was cooking New Nordic at expense-account fave La Quadriga long before the rest of Berlin caught on. His new venture weaves together Scandinavian, Italian and Spanish influences with a healthy puff of savu, smoke.
Savu was the first thing we tasted on our visit, which came right after the star did. The austere store- front adjoining Ku’Damm hotel Louisa’s Place was packed, but still bookable. As we sipped Bollinger cuvee and watched Kemppainen do his thing in the glass-walled kitchen, we received an amuse-bouche of smoked polenta and aubergine flan on wooden skewers poking out of a ceramic rock, plus creamy aubergine soup in an espresso cup from Finnish it-designer Iittala. Then came bread, a mini-loaf of dark, wonderfully complex Scandinavian rye alongside cumin-spiked focaccia and grissini-like Knäckebrot, all made in-house.
So far, so pleasant, which made the next dish that much more of a shock. What was this bizarre, fishy-tasting bolus that resembled the inside of a baby’s diaper? The answer: Vorschmack, a Jewish-Baltic specialty that enjoys a cult popularity in Finland. Kemppainen makes his with beef, lamb and herring, cooked for 72 hours and served with cucumber gelée, beetroot sorbet, smoked potato purée and rose-coloured petals of beef carpaccio. The stew, off-putting on its own, achieved a mystic alchemy with the other ingredients that had us cleaning our plate almost against our will. Kudos to Kemppainen for pulling that off.
The next dish was much more of a shock. What was this bizarre, fishy-tasting bolus that resembled the inside of a baby’s diaper?
We were hoping our soup, a vibrant chorizo-spiked interpretation of the Spanish cod and potato soup riojana, would surprise us along the same lines; instead, it was merely straightforwardly tasty. So was the meltingly soft filet of fjord trout sandwiched between curls of marinated fennel and a spot-on risotto laced with tender octopus slivers. (The black-truffle version was the only time the meatless menu, available by special order only, hit the heights of the “regular” one.)
Our overall impression was that of a globetrotting, experimentally inclined chef constrained by the needs of a hotel dining room with a cardiganed clientele and a wine list full of prim Rieslings. We’d be curious to see him really cut loose; maybe if we’re lucky, he’ll put raviolo with dried reindeer heart and birch sap back on the menu. In the meantime, glimmers of Savu’s best self still lurk beneath the Ku’Damm sheen – in that vorschmack dish; in the attitude of the servers, who all seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves; and, yes, in that chocolate Wall, which, accompanied by Glühwein-like glögli sorbet, wild berries and cardamom, is as delicious as it is deeply, deeply silly. You can’t tell it from his unsmiling countenance, but Kemppainen is having more fun than his Michelin contemporaries. If only every once in a while.