It was halfway through dinner at my first two-Michelin-starred restaurant experience at the Fischers Fritz in Berlin when I realised I was far more a ‘drinkie’ than a ‘foodie’ (assuming ‘drinkie is even a word.)
I was dining at the Fischers Fritz restaurant in the Regent Berlin, and had already been thoroughly over-excited at the arrival of my pre-dinner drink in the hotel bar. This was a Prince of Wales cocktail, a €23 Champagne cocktail which contained liberal servings of cognac and Grand Marnier, topped off with Angostura bitters and brown sugar and served rather incongruously in a silver goblet which grew almost freezing to the touch as the ice inside melted.
I was happily piling into that when I was invited into the dining room with the most wonderful phrase in the English language: ‘And you must really try our martini trolley.’
A martini trolley! This sounded like a great deal of fun and so it proved. The menu for the martinis alone was a fascinating read, full of information about the origin of various drinks and a whole dictionary-worth of delightfully esoteric ingredients. I could happily have spent the entire evening working my way through the cocktail list and forgetting food altogether, aside from whatever olive or pickled onion garnish came my way.
The evening had already surpassed my expectations before a single dish had even arrived. But several hours later (Michelin food might be of the very best quality, but blimey does it take its time arriving), I realised that I had been far more excited about the prospect of Champagne cocktails and gin delights than anything I was about to eat.
This is not to take anything away from the food experience – not at all. But Michelin-starred food, by its nature, is as far removed from plain and simple fare as it is possible to be, and while I am a big fan of complicated drinks recipes – if it includes toasted peppercorn smoke and essence of Kryptonite then so much the better – I am much more of a ‘buy something really tasty and then do as little to it as possible’ kind of person when it comes to food.
It could be a legacy of my years spent living in Italy, but in my opinion you can’t go wrong with a fresh, gloopy ball of mozzarella or burrata, just plonked on a plate. Or a juicy red steak, flash-cooked with rosemary and salt and then plonked on a plate. Or freshly-sliced salami, just plonked… well, you get the idea.
I could have pored over the drinks menu for hours and dissected each recipe in turn. But food? Do as little as possible to it and bring it out fast. Which is possibly the exact opposite of what Michelin food is all about.
This doesn’t mean that the food wasn’t delicious – it was. It was incredibly intricately prepared and probably had a million different things going on with each dish which I don’t have the knowledge or the palate to discern.
But I sat down to eat at 8pm and I finally left at midnight, which is an awful long time for a meal, especially when you are dining alone. And while the food was incredibly-ornately designed, some of the ingredients were so tiny that they were gone in half a forkful, even though the chopping or the searing or the reducing or whatever of each component had probably taken hours.
The menu itself was quite – well, unusual. The set menu for €105 offered a terrine of foie gras and smoked eel, pepper caramel and jam of purple eggplants, followed by roasted codfish, carrots and Roscoff onion-cumin-jus, with a dessert of soft-centred Quark dumpling poached in hibiscus infusion with a Red Williams pear sorbet.
Now if I’m spending a hundred quid on a meal, I don’t really want it to end with Quark dumpling, whatever that is, and roasted codfish sounded a bit like something I might feasibly be able to achieve in my own kitchen. (Not to the same effect, I’m sure, but you know what I mean.)
Breton lobster for two people at €145 was out, mainly because I was just one person, so instead I was rather delightfully left with no alternative than to go for the Prestige menu at a mere €130 for four courses.
Some bread turned up, and a variety of amuse-bouches, and already an hour had passed before I saw my first course. (The waiter, seeing that I was accompanied only by my gin and tonic, had unprompted brought me a selection of things to read, namely the International Herald Tribune and the local tourist guide to Berlin.)
Finally a tartar of sea bass with baby squid, avocado mayonnaise and smoked bell pepper turned up. It looked very impressive, much nicer than in my photo, but sadly was gone in a couple of swipes with the fork.
Another thirty-minute wait.
The next dish though was well worth it – and let’s face it, I wasn’t in a hurry, and time might have gone quicker with a dining companion – it was roasted scallops, caramelised Hokkaido pumpkin and Jaiper curry. It was delicious, the stand-out course of the night, and packed with some quite incredible flavours, set off to perfection by the curry foam heaped on top.
The main was saddle of Limousin lamb, gratinated fennel and gravy emulsified with olive oil and was exactly as you’d expect from expertly-cooked lamb. I was beginning to feel pretty full by now, but I powered on through, aided with a glass of something red, a hefty German syrah.
For dessert I thought that I couldn’t really leave without trying the creme brulee. But I hadn’t factored in the secret little dishes that arrive between courses at Michelin-starred restaurants, and so was completely overwhelmed by the arrival of not one but two tray of petit fours, and a melon-melange-thing in a cup.
It was very nice but there was no way I could either resist or finish the chocolates and hope to do justice to the creme brulee, so I sampled a few and wrapped another couple of miniature delights into a tissue in my handbag for later. (Obviously I rediscovered them several days later, smeared all over the contents of my bag. I never learn…)
I could barely touch the dessert after all that but made a decent effort anyway, and then had to sit and think about life for a while over a glass of dessert wine. Well, I felt a meal like that deserved a special send-off.
Four hours later I emerged from the restaurant and very slowly rolled off into the Berlin night. It had been quite a meal.
Michelin-style dining is obviously far more than just the food – it is a whole-evening event. But while I might be hard pushed to tell you exactly what dish I had in a few months’ time, I will be able to describe, in intricate details, the entire contents of the martini trolley.