“Forget everything you have previously tasted, seen, smelt, felt and appreciated.” This quote, taken directly from the Eins Unter Null website, is a bold statement in a culinary reality based on restaurant bucket lists – lists that have taken you to that odd Banh Mi deli Anthony Bourdain swears by in Hoi An as well that Tori Paitan Chicken Ramen in the Tokyo Ginza subway station.
But then again, food does have a striking ability to provide unique experiences since both ingredients and techniques offer a theoretically endless amount of combinations. And the Berlin fine dining project Eins Unter Null uses both variables to create unknown outcomes that certainly can be regarded as unique.
“The Reinstoff sous chef Andres Rieger shared Ivo’s lack of excitement for lobster and foie gras as well as his growing passion of the undiscovered virtues of local asparagus and grains”
Eins Unter Null was conceived in late 2015 by Ivo Ebert, a heartwarmingly friendly German who once started the Berlin fine dining institution Reinstoff (two stars) together with Daniel Achilles in the role of head sommelier. It turned out that the Reinstoff sous chef Andres Rieger shared Ivo’s lack of excitement for lobster and foie gras as well as his growing passion of the undiscovered virtues of local asparagus and root veggies and eventually pushed to go solo with Ivo as his Head Chef after having spent some more time in the kitchen of Sebastian Franck’s Horvath,
The name Eins Unter Null (“One below zero”) refers to the location of the stunning room where dinner is consumed, best to be reached via an elevator that makes the 10-second ride down to this minimalistic temple a small journey. The venue demonstrates a striking tranquillity with its grey and scaled-down furniture and a skylit garden space which circumvents the whole cellar with windows, allowing glimpses of daylight to reach the subzero location. Lunch is however consumed upstairs in the space next to the kitchen that’s enclosed by a futuristic sliding glass door.
“The Eins Unter Null crew preserved over 1,5 tonnes of food this year, filling Ivo’s wine cellar with hundreds of jars with anything from asparagus to berries, apples and spruce.”
This fascinating venue is inhabited by a crew of gastronomic service professionals who know their game and service quality has steadily improved throughout the year to a level where Ivo can compete with the city’s finest. This operation is hydrated by their bosses’ very interesting wine list, a selection that balances a lot of old-world classics with hand-picked low intervention natural wines, but also by a quite interesting non-alcoholic beverage pairing that includes the likes of homemade Kefir and Kombucha. All of this reaches your table through a sensationally elegant selection of handmade (in Berlin, of course) glasses and ceramics.
Eins Unter Null’s terroir focused fine-dining concept (which limits them to local ingredients) centres around the widespread use of preserved ingredients, Chef Andreas Rieger is truly a master of all things fermented and pickled. Call it an act of necessity – caused by the limited offerings in the Brandenburg region during the dark seasons. The Eins Unter Null crew preserved over 1.5 tonnes of food this year, filling Ivo’s wine cellar with hundreds of jars with anything from asparagus to berries, apples and spruce and a lot of it came from their own garden which they cultivate outside of Eberswalde.
“”It is notable that this kitchen is home to a chef who, if he could, would ban most animal proteins from his kitchen but who simultaneously cooks some of the finest fish and meat in Berlin.””
While it’s true to say Chef Andreas is a man with a strong affinity with fermentation, it’s even more true that he is a child of bitterness, and by that I’m not referring too his character but to his cooking. Poppyseed, charcoal, mushroom paste and anise are just a few examples of the bitter items Andreas loves to incorporate into his dishes. The way this tips the balance of his food can certainly be called an acquired taste, humans are, after all, genetically programmed to be suspicious of the taste bitter. The food during my first two visits at Eins Unter Null during the early days of the restaurant was simply not delicious or palatable enough and I concluded that Ivo and his gang of young gun chefs just weren’t ready yet. One year later I think they are, although I can almost certainly say that you won’t love every dish you eat here.
For example, I really don’t enjoy the carrot dish where fermented carrot is shaved onto a walnut cream and flavoured with anise seeds, a cavalcade of bitter notes that curled my tongue and left me with more questions than answers. On the other hand I love the chicken dish where a slice of a perfectly cooked rooster is served with a cured egg yolk and a chicken broth with chicken innards. A brilliant homage to the two-legged breed with its perfectly cooked breast and a brilliantly cured egg yolk cream which counted as the smartest egg dishes I’ve had in 2016.
“I concluded that Ivo and his gang of young gun chefs just weren’t ready yet. One year later I think they are.”
It is notable that this kitchen is home to a chef who, if he could, would ban most animal proteins from his kitchen but who simultaneously cooks some of the finest fish and meat in Berlin. To this day I still dream of his perfectly crispy and fatty lamb stomach or his sensationally well cooked char, recent dishes that filled the important crowd-pleaser gap in Andreas’ menu and symbolise an important development and compromise between his radically scaled-down bitter approach and Ivo’s ever so large desire to please the customer.
They say the second year either makes or breaks your restaurant. I’m very much hoping there will be no breaking involved in the near future of Eins Unter Null. In their co-signing of Billy Wagner and Micha Schäfer’s German food manifesto from Nobelhart & Schmutzig, the shining stars of the modern Berlin food scene, the crew from Eins Unter Null have found a powerful ally in their quest for a non-comprise, terroir-driven, Brandenburg cuisine and together with the vital, first star in the 2017 edition of the Michelin Guide this very intriguing food project hopefully has the adrenaline and muscles to keep on pursuing its vision and quest. And I must say that I’m quite intrigued about the possible outcome because I get the feeling the best root vegetables haven’t even been planted by this crew yet.