One of Berlin’s latest and most affordable Michelin stars seduces with deceptively modest dishes bursting with unbridled creativity.
Push the door to the charming Fichtestraße Altbau that once housed the Cochon Bourgeois and you’re greeted by Ilona Scholl and her all-female service team dressed to match the leafy pattern on the wall behind them. A nice touch, and so is your name charcoaled on the naked wood of your table and printed out on your menu. It’s a sparse but cosy space, rustic wood and old tiles oozing bygone Alpine holidays.
Back to that woodsy print on the uniforms and wallpaper. It’s alluring in a mundane, twee way, but closer scrutiny reveals an edge: shells, tentacles and cuts of meat hidden in the luxuriant foliage. In many ways, what has become Tulus’ visual signature epitomises the food you’ll sample here. Don’t trust the deceptively simple, at times conservative outlook of your plate. This is complicated, edgy stuff, with myriad cooking secrets hidden in each dish.
This is especially true for the way they treat vegetables (both the vegetarian and meat menus run €99 for six courses, €109 for seven and €119 for eight, putting Tulus on the low end of the Michelin spectrum). Take “carrot” – and yes, the menu here lists dishes under the de-capitalised name of their core ingredients, as fashion commands in high gastronomy these days. It’s basically a bunch of sliced carrots standing to attention in a pool of rootsy broth at the bottom of a stoneware dish. Slightly underwhelming, to be honest. Then you take a bite and it tastes so wonderfully sweet and simple that it’s hard to reconcile the chamomile used in the dish with the bitter infusions you might remember from childhood. In this case, the bitterness of the dried flowers perfectly balances out the sweetness of the carrots, whose uniquely sprightly texture had us wonder: no, clearly not boiled, not fried, nor steamed – so, what? Simply oven-baked… in a bed of dried hay! If you find this one gimmicky you might want to pass on “beetroot”, which looks like just that: a bowl of beetroot with some twists of the same, pickled root on top. But this is beet as you’ve never tried it before: not that flabby texture that turns off so many people, not a raw version either – just perfectly firm-fleshed with a bit of crunch. It’s as if a beet-hungry God had cooked a plate of it for himself, assuming God owned an Excalibur drier in which to dehydrate the root for about five days, before rehydrating it (with beetroot juice!). Throw in a pinch of cumin- and coriander-heavy dukkah spice… and, well, you’ll get something incomparable, and a testament to slow food. Scholl, who does the wine pairing (an additional €54-69), brought us a Poirée which boldly rounded up the wintery-sweet ripe-fruit ‘n’ roots experience.
On the meat side of things, the “challans duck” won us over for its faultless cuisson (preserved in its own fat before roasting, it melted in the mouth) as well as the succulence of its sauces: Mumbai curry, blackberry jus and pistachio oil, poured over the meat in three converging streams. It was definitely one of the highlights of this meal, one that must have convinced the Michelin inspectors that chef Max Strohe knows a few things when it comes to the French art of sauce and jus making. It almost made us resent the pungent lavender/coriander/Szechuan pepper crust on the duck, which somehow overpowered the overall blend of flavours. But hey, a glass of unfiltered Gamay from Nuit Saint Georges did the connecting trick.
Our menu’s finale was “rose hip”, a fruity sorbet sprinkled with honey crumble and blossom sugar and a mean spoonful of full-fat crème fraiche. Doesn’t sound like much? You’ll have to dig your spoon into it to experience the perfect match of cold and crunchy, sweetness kept in check by the cream. It’s one of Scholl’s favourites. “Max is always coming up with new ideas that sometimes seem tame or weird, like this one – but then we try them and we love it!”
Scholl and Strohe themselves are a bit of a match made in gastro heaven: gifted cook meets born hostess. Their real-life meeting took place five years ago, when both were working at Prenzlauer Berg’s Frau Mittenmang. Ilona’s driven congeniality and Max’s savoir faire did the rest, notwithstanding a bank loan and a jump into the unknown. After a mere two years, Michelin rang them to break the news: Tulus Lotrek had gotten a much-coveted star in their 2018 guide. “It was like, whoah! It came out of the blue, we had absolutely no idea!” recollects Scholl. “We thought, what now? And Max said, nothing. We keep on doing what we’ve been doing until now – obviously they liked it.”
This enthusiasm, groundedness, and refreshing absence of pretension is something that runs through Tulus. As for the almost geeky creative experimentations happening in the kitchen – it’s the kind of thing that will delight gourmets that can taste what the eyes don’t see, and will underwhelm others. The star will take care of the rest.
Tulus Lotrek Fichtestr. 24, Kreuzberg Fri-Tue 19-24 (reservations only)