Western chefs looking for inspiration in Asia tend to look to Japanese cooking. Countless restaurants have included dashi, ponzu, yuzu and the likes on their menus. Those working with Chinese produce and concepts are a rarity. One of the most daring is Tim Raue. Raue is a bit of a media-darling in Germany. Having grown up in one of Berlin’s rougher neighbourhoods, and joining a gang to fight his way through his youth, his social rise and charismatic appearances on TV have fascinated German media and the public alike. But there is more to Raue’s popularity than his background and quirkiness. He is one of the few chefs to have openly talked about the brutal working environment in professional kitchens. This has earned him a lot of respect.
Tim Raue, however, should not be qualified as a celebrity-chef. Most importantly he has become a restaurateur who was able to break one of the big taboos in German gastronomy: the chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant stays behind his stove – no matter what. Raue on the other hand opened a second and even third restaurant in Berlin. Additionally, he regularly cooks for big events, collaborates with Krug, and seems to be very good at keeping himself occupied one way or another.
A lot of Germans would assume all of this having a detrimental effect on the quality of a restaurant. But a visit to Tim Raue in Berlin’s Kreuzberg shows that there is nothing to worry about. If anything, the restaurant has become even more complete and convincing in its offering than it was a couple of years ago.
First of all, there is the question of a restaurant’s ambience. Regular readers of QLI will know that we find many German top-restaurants lacking in that respect. Most of them are populated with people too afraid to laugh or have a good time, but Tim Raue is the exact opposite. The atmosphere in the dining room is the most enjoyable in Germany: laid-back, and yet elegant; the staff is very friendly, and the mix of diners includes people from all backgrounds and ages; some in jeans and sneakers, others in jacket and tie.
Whilst Raue has done very well for himself breaking a number of unwritten rules over the past, the most recognisable development has come from the kitchen. Raue has further fine-tuned his use of Chinese products and concepts, and has given his food another layer of complexity by increasingly using a South-East Asian approach to seasoning. This adds a tension, and freshness to dishes that could otherwise be heavy. A dish served at Tim Raue will typically have an almost electric quality to it, meaning that every bite explodes with energy.
Take a playful interpretation of wasabi prawns. This is something you see in take-away shops around the world, and can hardly be described as a summit of refinement. And yet, Raue’s version is a fascinating plate of food. First of all, he replaces the poor quality shrimp with sizeable, sweet, and crunchy langoustine. The frying, and seasoning are spot-on, resulting in a crisp batter, and a tantalising combination of savoury, spicy, and sweet. This is the sort of thing that should come by the bucketload.
Steamed fish served with ginger, and soy is a classic Cantonese dish that you see in countless restaurants around Guangdong and Hong Kong. Raue makes it his own, by steaming turbot, and serving it in a sauce made from 10 year old Kamebishi soy sauce, and clarified butter. The fish is cooked to perfection: meaty, firm, and juicy, with plenty of flavour that is complimented by the potent, and mesmerising sauce. There is so much depth of flavour to this that it draws you back time and time again. The combination of simplicity, and complexity make it one of the finest dishes we have had all year.
Raue’s food has come a long way in the last few years. The energy, tension, and sense of excitement make a meal go by in no time. But even here, not everything is perfect yet: the desserts feel a little dull compared to the extremely potent, and vibrant dishes. But change is to come, as Raue has hired a new pastry chef, with whom he will develop this part of the menu.
Finally, another aspect in which Tim Raue has become one of the most convincing restaurants in Europe is the wine pairing. We don’t often mention wine pairings, because we aren’t great fans of them. What the sommeliers at Tim Raue offer alongside the food, however, is some of the most meticulous pairing of food and wine we have seen on this planet. Regardless of the very complex character of the cooking, with its spices, sweetness, savoury aspects, the sommeliers here offer a stunningly accurate and harmonious set of wines to go with the dishes.
A meal at Tim Raue demonstrates the enormous upside potential that Chinese cuisine has if treated with sufficient respect, and cooked with the right produce. Whilst Raue does not serve traditional Chinese, he is one of the few people who truly engage with Asian gastronomy before integrating it into their cooking. That makes all the difference.