Here’s a Zen koan for you: If a sake bar serving a locavore omakase menu opens right off Hermannplatz and there isn’t anyone there to Instagram it, does it even exist?
With Japanese cuisine more in demand than ever (more on that in the May print issue) and sake rapidly becoming the discerning Berliner’s drink of choice thanks to the likes of Nomu and, uh, Richie Hawtin, a place like Shizuku ought to be hyped as all hell. But for over a year, the tiny spot across the street from Hasenheide has managed to stay under the radar.
But word is beginning to get around. Owner Atsushi Shimizu originally envisioned his Tokyo-style watering hole as a hideout where introverts and misanthropes could luxuriate in drinking alone, however on our visit, its 14 seats were filled with couples and small groups – and pretty fashionable ones, at that. Yeah, you can reserve a solo seat behind the long wooden bar, but you’ll be in danger of winding up in the background of someone’s Insta reel.
Despite the growing buzz, Shizuku retains an air of tranquility; step in and you immediately forget that at least three people tried to sell you weed in the park on the way over. Shimizu presides over the bar from behind a neat row of sake bottles, happy to offer recommendations if you want them or to stay out of your way if you don’t. On the back counter lurks the harder stuff, a selection of exclusively Japanese spirits including whisky, gin, vodka and premium shochu.
If you haven’t tried the latter, now’s the time. Sake might be everywhere in Berlin nowadays, but nowhere else will you find such a wide range of rice, barley and sweet potato distillates. Try a three-shot shochu sampler for €21 before moving on to advanced studies such as Hyakunen no Kodoku, a barrel-aged variety named after One Hundred Years of Solitude that’s as complex yet easy to enjoy as the Marquez novel.
The food is meant to accompany the drinks, not the other way around, but the always-rotating menu from artist-turned-chef Ayami Awazuhara merits a visit on its own. While other trendy Japanese joints go heavy on the bluefin and wagyu, Shizuku hews closer to the likes of Julius Ernst and Awazuhara’s alma mater Mrs. Robinson, applying traditional techniques to mostly European ingredients. The cured mackerel dish shime saba, for example, takes the form of delicate little squares of Fish Klub’s finest, as precisely scored as an Olympic figure skating routine and served with thinly shaved cauliflower. Kushikatsu – deep-fried pork skewers – are made with Havelland’s famous organic Apfelschwein, so sweet and juicy it barely needs the accompanying drizzle of caramel soy sauce.
Add in the mountain of creamy potato salad topped with crispy fried potato shreds and a snowfall of aged Gouda, and you’ll be sated even before classics like the fluffy egg omelet dashimaki or the briny, umeboshi-laced omusubi (rice balls). Order the whole shebang as an omakase meal (€75/two people or €100 for three) and you get a “surprise”; ours was a buttery wedge of toasted chiffon cake, with additional sweet-salty contrast provided by sliced pear and Urstrom mulberry cheese. Or just come in for an aperitif of Japanese orange wine and an a la carte bite or two (€6-12) – it may be spendier here than at Hamy down the block, but there’s no pressure to drop a fortune.
Go often enough and you can even keep your own personal stash of booze behind the bar, in a corner reserved just for regulars. So far there’s only a handful of bottles back there, but we expect they’ll have a lot of company in the coming months.
Shizuku, Hasenheide 16, Kreuzberg, Thu-Sun 18:30-2