Restaurant experience-meets-night out, Tel Aviv style. Night Kitchen is about enjoying food and time with friends.
***Warning: Review contains alcohol. Quite a lot. Perhaps so much that it’s detrimental to the overall review. Either way, Night Kitchen knows how to treat their guests.***
Oranienburger Strasse. A part of town I’d had no reason to go to since Tacheles closed. But now, with Israeli restaurant Night Kitchen, it’s back on my map.
In the shadow of the gold-topped Neue Synagogue, we turn into a dark passage and are transported into a new world. A row of two-storey cottages. Picturesque. Almost fairytale compared to the townhouses of Mitte just metres away. There stands a small, square red-brick building. Originally the horse stables for this – what was once a post office centre for old Berlin. Everything felt surreal. In the stables is Night Kitchen.
Dinner with Friends.
Night Kitchen is the creation of young chef and restauranteur, Gilad Heimann. It’s the sister of Tel Aviv’s Night Kitchen, darling of the city’s gastro scene. The concept is revolutionary in its simplicity: to recreate the fun of just sitting around with your friends at a bar, shooting the shit and having fun. Night Kitchen’s food and staff aren’t a distraction to your conversation, they’re part of it.
Although the restaurant has an impressive a la carte menu of modern Mediterranean food with Israeli influences, it’s their ‘Dinner with Friends’ you should experience.
Costing 38EUR per person (54EUR with bottomless wine and beer), you and your friends are asked a few simple questions – do you eat meat? fish? allergies? – then, once they know your limits, what follows is a steady stream of unexpected delights, shareable to help fuel conversation. It’s a dinner party without the stress of prep. or clearing up. Sit back and enjoy. And drink. They make you drink hard.
A boozy introduction.
Night Kitchen’s goal is that guests, after visiting, do one of two things: go out partying or go somewhere to fuck (although in Berlin these two things aren’t mutually exclusive).
This leads to two conclusions: one, the food at Night Kitchen is incredibly light so, even after eating endless courses, you’re still party-ready. The other is that Night Kitchen fosters an energetic bar vibe, all loud music and conversation. The bar and kitchen are open, involving the staff too.
In fact, the boss recommends the bar staff drink and join in the fun… “it works”, or so a glowing Mitarbeiter tells me.
As we sit down, we’re offered a round of free shots. Pineapple-vodka or Guava-pastis.
The four of Night Kitchen’s cocktails we tried – The Berliner Schnauze (bourbon, ginger, sherry, liquor), Die Wiesen (Chartreuse, mescal, fresh herbs) being dryer and punchier, Indian Summer (Pastis, mango, chilli) and the O’Collins (vodka or gin, citrus, orange blossom) being sweeter – there was a clear theme that ran through them all.
They all had strange elements within that subverted them. Distorting the sweetness. Undermining the freshness. Mescal against herbs, anise Pastis cutting mango. Like a poison running through, infecting them. A poison that soon left us red-faced and joyful. Wanting more.
Plate after plate arrive.
With the strict instructions that we’d eat anything, the plates start to arrive from the kitchen. Soon our table is filled with dishes of all colours and influences from around the world.
Tomato carpaccio with kalamata olive dust, salmon sashimi with creme fraiche and Yemeni spice paste, a fennel salad with fennel three ways – fresh, pickled and fried crisp, and ‘Jerusalem Spring Chicken’ with char-grilled chicken, rucola and walnuts.
This first salvo is served with their daily-baked Jewish Challah bread, sweet ‘brioche style’, served with whipped tahini butter and an oregano-like herb.
Conversation erupts as we dig in – arms over arms we pass plates, fork food and share in this intermingling of cultures and styles. The sheer variety means you don’t have time to focus on one dish, one flavour. But that doesn’t detract from the food experience – instead, it gives a sense of urgency and adventure. The giddy highs of a night out.
More Feast with Friends than Dinner.
Before we’re finished, plates are being removed and new dishes take their place. With more shots, of course. I ask our server: what do you do if someone comes in who doesn’t drink? “Send them home.”, he winks.
Their menu works to showcase one central ingredient, everything else on the plate working to emphasise it. This was no clearer than when the main courses arrived.
A honey-glazed beef short-rib arrived, so big it almost blocked the light, served with cumin sour cream and cauliflower. Then a ‘Mediterranian Porchetta’ rolled pork-belly joint with smoked cabbage. Then grilled octopus. And an enormous chicken breast with sweet potato.
Eyes like saucers, we ordered more cocktails to try to make sense of what was in front of us.
Soon after, an artichoke salad with heavy, strong parmesan cheese and ‘Bonfire’ potato wedges with tomato salad and tahini arrive. I ask if all these dishes are part of some special treatment we’re receiving. The answer is “No” – this is what a Dinner with Friends looks like.
We’re fighting over the mains. We can’t figure out how the porchetta can be so tender – where does the meat stop and the fat start??? – yet have such a rich, crisp sear. And the octopus and chicken the same – impossibly tender yet with flamed edges.
The secret is Night Kitchen’s use of water baths and then a high-heat finish. The result is some of the best-cooked meats I’ve had and – the revelation – octopus that… well, wasn’t just like chewy chicken.
Eating’s about living in the present.
At the end, after what felt like 40 years in a delicious and drunken desert, we were asked what our favourite dish was. An impossible question. I loved the theatre of that big short-rib, others were besotted with the cooking finesse of the octopus dish, whilst the porchetta’s amazing texture won us all over. But to pick just one?
Since I’ve started to write this, I’ve realised something: the dishes at Night Kitchen, although all fantastic, just don’t compete with each other. There’re no bold, brash, stand-out flavours. No overpowering spice or garlic or vinegar. No clear favourites. The flavours don’t linger with you long, but what endures is the memory of the time you had together.
And this, I guess, is what Night Kitchen was about all along: the experience, the fun, the push to go on with the night.
But then, dessert arrived.
This, their awesomely creamy steamed cheesecake, apparently gets its colour from a “secret mineral”. They wouldn’t tell us which.
If Night Kitchen is any indication of the food scene in Tel Aviv, I need to buy some plane tickets right now. The casual, boozy, multi-kulti, high-end but low-brow thing does it for me somehow.
Don’t be put off by forking out 38EUR up front. If you consider all those dishes and the quality of the ingredients you get for the money, it’s totally reasonable (and possibly sensible). Especially when celebrating a special occasion with friends – exactly what Night Kitchen was built for.
On Sundays, there’s Brunch with Friends which, I’m told, has a more Israeli vibe. For all you brunch-fiends out there.
Oranienburger Strasse 32