Berlin is going through an interesting period in gastronomy with the arrival of new chefs, sharing their expertise and creativity. CODA is a prime example of this, started by former 3-star Michelin pastry chef of La Vie, René Frank, and his business partner Oliver Bischoff. They are changing the way we look at dessert!
There are few people already in room, as the kitchen gets ready for the 7pm tasting menu service. The clientele are primarily couples of various ages, in trendy urban wear. It is a stark contrast to folks outside in their all-noir uniformity.We were greeted by Oliver, who you could easily mistake as a tenured history professor. Wearing black rimmed glasses and a manicured beard, protruding a sense of intellectual curiosity and knowledge. In his past life, Oliver is originally from Hamburg and moved to Berlin in 2004 and ran a successful design agency focused on gastronomic concepts.
The dinner tasting menu is comprised of 6 dessert courses with drink pairings, and unlike a standard restaurant, there is no separation between the bar and kitchen. The menu changes regularly and as part of the dining experience, each guest receives a little card to indicate their next course. At 10pm the Restaurants moves into a bar concept, where the menu is reduced to a selection 4 or 3 course tasting menus, along with a-la-carte option.
“This is a fine dining concept, if you eat something heavy, like a pizza or casual Pan-Asian food, which is everywhere in Berlin, and then you come here and order a dessert, we may not match your expectations.”
Everything in CODA is based on pastry techniques with an emphasis on texture and temperature. Every plate uses 6 to 8 components in extremely experimental ways. The idea of using pungent cheese or fish sauce are things you would not expect in all at dessert but these are the reason why CODA is pushing the boundaries.
It was surprising to see René Frank stationed behind the bar. It is highly unusual to find a head chef controlling the kitchen but that is what makes CODA so interesting!René is originally from Wangen im Allgäu, one of the southernmost cities in Germany, and he completed his chef’s apprenticeship in 2004.
“Since I always knew I wanted to be a chef, during my apprenticeship, every time I would come home, I would go straight to the kitchen. I was addicted!”
In a little over 10 years, he has worked in some of the most important kitchens in the world: Akelarre in Spain (3 Michelin Stars), Georges Blanc in France (3 Michelin Stars), Nihonryori Ryugin (The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) in Japan.Japan in particular was the major highlight for René. As a child he would eat Maggi soup and was fascinated by the umami produced by the MSG. When the Michelin Guide for Japan came out for the first time in 2008, it was his calling.
“Japan in particular was the most important time for me, there was no pastry but it’s way they think about product, flavours and especially umami.”
After 6 months in Japan, virtually working for free, he had to return home to make money. In order to get his bank balance in the black, he decided to look at pastry chef roles, since they pay more than being a cook. it was by chance La Vie was looking for someone, and the rest is history.During 6 years at La Vie, René received numerous accolades, which includes Gault Millau 2013 pâtissier of the year and helping to raise La Vie to a 3 Michelin Star restaurant.René looks like a poster child of what you would imagine a Bavarian man to be, with a manicured beard, strong shoulders and forearms. His personality is more akin to a scientist, carefully following measurements as he prepares cocktails to ensure precision.
To prepare for CODA, Rene went to bar school to learn more about the bar business. It was there that he discovered the amount of artificial flavours and colours used in cocktails.
“There is nothing written on a bottle, if you look at food there are laws that require you to declare any artificial ingredients but with spirits there are no requirements.”
There is so much emphasis towards local and knowing where your food comes from, but there is very little out there on raising awareness of what goes into a cocktail. This is what makes René a renaissance man, he is always learning and through knowledge he questions the status quo.To ensure the quality of what they serve, almost every component of what you eat is homemade. The focus is primarily on natural products and to use vegan substitute such as soy and almond milk. All the ingredients they use is seasonal and 90 perfect is completely organic. The juices and syrups are hand handmade and in some cases naturally preserved.
“The focus is to use natural products and to make light desserts. It was one thing I did not like about gastronomic pastry was the heaviness. After 6-7 courses a customer, is too full for dessert and I wanted to change that!”
This is the reason why CODA is no ordinary meal. René applies everything he has learnt in his career to create a complete dining experience. There are very few chefs in the world that have this ability and let alone have the audacity to execute their vision.
“The drink is part of the plate, like a dressing of a salad or sauce for dessert. This allows me to move components of the plate to the glass, which is the freedom I have to create our dishes the way I want.”
Macerated beetroot and apple with rye cracker and fermented tofu.
Tofu has a lot of umami, the apple and beetroot gives a fresh direction, which creates a clear taste, which just makes you want to have more.
Dry carrot sticks with crystallised maple syrup and lemon
There is nice chewy sensation which balances well with fresh and sour notes of the lemon.
Puff of pork skin, caramelised with apple juice and 5 spice powder
Tastes very similar to caramel popcorn, perfectly crunchy and with the sweetness coming through the apple reduction. Prepares your well for the first course.
Dried Pineapple, with foamed soya milk and purple carrot paired with a drink with beetroot, passion fruit and Shōchū.
Purple carrot reduction gives it a natural sweetness and there is pineapple and curry sorbet to give the dish a refined complexity.
Frozen sheeps milk yogurt, filled with roasted brioche and dried grapes and in the glass there is Spätburgunder sparkling wine with slow, quince and px sherry.
The dish is refreshing, with a fruity and creamy consistency, which lingers on your palate.
Pumpkin tart with, with carrot juice, pumpkin kernel oil. The side cracker is made of corn and side dish of clementine fresh in a sorbet. In the glass there is yuzu sake with pear sparkling wine.
The pumpkin is sweetened with carrot juice and a host of spices such as cinnamon, cloves and star anise. There is slight bitterness from the tangerine and yuzu. The contrasts of sweetness and acidity, with warm and cold textures, makes this dish very interesting.
Nitro cocktail of homemade peach liqueur, gin infused with lime and grapefruit.
The ball is frozen on the outside with a liquid centre. There is a riesling auslese, a sweet wine from Jürgen Leiner. That goes on top. The drink naturally fruity with hint of bitterness and acidity.
If CODA can win the hearts and minds of Berliners, anything is possible.