One beautiful aspect of the new-wave of Berlin expat restaurants is the odd combination of characters and nationalities. A Brit starting a Thai restaurant with a South African-Taiwanese. A Mexican cooking modern British food with this Canadian friend. Or the story of Shiori, the intimate Japanese restaurant by Japanese chef Shiori Arai, and his Korean partner Flora Choi.
Every night ten guests enter through this couple’s door in Mitte for a Japanese omakase dinner that starts at 19:30 sharp. Don’t be late. Timing is of the essence in Akai’s delicate cooking and trust me, you don’t want to be the one to arrive late to this gathering. Seated at a bar around the kitchen, where Araki runs dinner service entirely by himself, you are in for a very traditional and Japanese food experience set in a sleek and artsy space that sometimes feels more like a gallery than a restaurant.
“Every night ten guests enter through this couple’s door in Mitte for a Japanese omakase dinner that starts at 19:30 sharp. Don’t be late.”
True to Akai’s culinary roots and training, courtesy of his father who’s been running a traditional Kaiseki restaurant in his home town Fukui for over 30 years, he cooks a hyper-seasonal menu that focuses on highlighting traditional, Japanese cooking techniques. The dinner menu changes frequently and will feature anything between ten and twelve courses, ranging from tiny bites like a cep chawanmushi custard or a magnificent creations like a shrimp and lobster dumpling with chantarelles, zucchini blossom and shredded leek in a lobster dashi. Later on in the meal the chef might throw in a crowdpleaser like the sunemono of Argentinian beef where you’ll have the distinct pleasure of mixing a perfect onsen egg with the beef before you eat it. This is also the moment you realize how this food is far from subtle, the dashis Akai uses pack a serious punch and he has a wide repertoire of strong flavours.
“The dinner menu changes frequently and will feature anything between ten and twelve courses, ranging from tiny bites like a cep chawanmushi custard or a magnificent creations like a shrimp and lobster dumpling..”
The highlight of a meal at Shiori will be the stunning plate of small, seasonal bites, beautifully arranged on a plate that resembles how traditional Kaiseki meals in Japan are served. The plates and ceramics at Shiori will generally make you look twice since every dish is served on a unique piece of tableware from the private collection of the owners, a practice usually sparking a debate around the guests who received the most beautiful bowl. And while the beverage choice might be fairly limited at Shiori, there is really no way around drinking a few glasses of sake directly imported from a brewery in Japan.
“look for me next to you at Shiori’s bar, enjoying one of the best Japanese food experiences Berlin has to offer.”
A night at Shiori is a very honest and charming feel-good experience. It’s the kind of restaurant that everybody enjoys visting, but where the modesty and grounded attitude of the owners cause the restaurant to occasionally slip of the radar. For serious Japanophiles the quality of the ingredients, especially fish and meat, will at times be underwhelming. The modesty of Chef Akai means that an omakase menu at Shiori only costs 70€, a price so low that it forces him to be very conscious about ingredients. I adore this couple and their lovely restaurant, but sometimes I wish Shiori would just go ahead and double his prices and use ingredients worthy of his skill set and ancestors. My guarantee would be a restaurant that never slips of the radar again. Regardless of this wish ever coming true, look for me next to you at Shiori’s bar enjoying one of the best Japanese food experiences Berlin has to offer.