Once you’ve entered Horváth, you’ll forget everything you know about Michelin star restaurants. The laid back atmosphere, young staff and typical German Gemütlichkeit of wooden-paneled walls have nothing in common with the contemporary fine dining standards. At Horváth, there’s no open kitchen, and a refreshing lack of the ubiquitous industrial Berlin chic.
The Kreuzberg restaurant, tucked away between run of the mill diners and cafés on Paul Lincke Ufer, seems a little bit out of place in it’s location. Considering its rustic interior, it might even look outdated to the experienced Foodie. But Horváth is leading the scene when it comes to the work of youthful and charming chef Sebastian Frank.
Chef Sebastian Frank: Undogmatic, but confrontational
Horváth’s saisonal menu is an exciting journey through 5, 7 or 9 exceptional dishes. Course by course, we were delighted to notice the rather delicate commitment to meat and fish. Chef Frank looks beyond the typical animal-centric menu and instead cultivates a plant based cuisine without glorifying it.
Ultimately, every dish becomes its very own entity – and a spectacle of new flavors.
That being said, I do believe that chef Frank thrives on controversiality. Some ideas were downright offending – until a critical moment, a climax of harmony and culinary understanding was achieved. Even an amateur like me comes to appreciate the complexity of uncommon ingredients at Horváth. But I admit it took some time to open up completely.
The “Sellerie Reif und Jung” – dried and aged celery – was very uncomfortable for someone who doesn’t like celery at all (me), but then unfolded an unexpected, delightful sweetness that made me question what I knew about my own taste. I think that’s essential to the concept of fine dining: without confrontation, there is no lasting memory to it. To include a disturbing element in almost every dish takes balls that other chefs haven’t proven (yet).
More suitable to my liking than the celery challenge: the home-baked Langos and the “deconstructed” Bratapfel, a bold choice for post-Christmas season – but unexpectedly perfect.
Another example of greatness was the amuse gueule, a venison broth cooked for days, served in drinking glasses and accompanied by cold water. I have yet to taste something as intense as this. I will make it my life’s mission to recreate this testament to savoury, wholesome flavors.
Of course, the menu can be put together as vegetarian-only option.
Non-alcoholic drink pairing? A stroke of genius
Frank’s fearless approach to an adventurous menu is the prime reason for why I would like to recommend the wine pairing: it adds another layer to an artistic concept, which otherwise only reaches about 95% of its full potential. Although to be fair, I would recommend the wine pairing in almost every Michelin star restaurant.
Although we also tried & liked the cleverly matched Austrian and Hungarian wines – outstanding was the Zenit wine from Hungary, a budget wine with a powerful elderberry flavor -, the new and unique beverage creations without alcohol won our hearts. They are the completion of Franks holistic approach to his daring and sometimes disturbing menu, and questions the natural necessity of alcohol for haute cuisine.
Oils, whey, fermented vegetable juices, fizzy or non-fizzy: the non-alcoholic beverages managed to pair excellently with the food, if not sometimes even overshadow it.
The only caveat being the slight feeling of heaviness to some of the drinks in comparison to the wine – there’s only so much fermentation my stomach can stand.
Highlights definitely were the Waldmeistersirup mit Chardonnay-Essig & Gemüsesaft (Syrup of sweet woodruff, Chardonnay vinegar and vegetable juice) and the Geschäumtes Berliner Kindl Kraft Malz mit Rubinette Apfelsaft & Zitronenzesten (Frothing Berliner Kindl Malt with apple juice and lemon zests).
Holistic fine dining approach with an Austrian touch
The hearty and homey Alpine inspired menu offers excitement and novelty through and through, reflected in the setting of the poetic restaurant. Horváth may look like a typical Kreuzberg gastropub – it’s long standing history as bougie café & bar Exil notwithstanding – but it’s a little gem, and seems almost traditional compared to the current wave of fine dining restaurant.
Berlins current obsession with locally sourced ingredients (who knew Brandenburg had so much variety to offer) might be expanding the scope on culinary challenges. But chef Sebastian Frank manages to creatively compose an authentic, modern menu that is focused on his Austrian heritage, without limiting himself to any dogma. And, to be honest, I was getting a little bit tired of all the turnip experiments in the rest of the city.
Horváth is a great deal for a 2-Michelin star cuisine, with an excellent 5 course menu that costs as much as an average night out in most average restaurants in Berlin (89€ for the menu and 50€ for the wine pairing).