What happens when a star restauranteur turns his hand to fishmongery? Well, it’s Fish Klub.
It’s funny to see Daniel Lambert, the man behind what I coined ‘F’hain’s most exciting restaurant’, Khwan, and the person who has served me the best meal I’ve ever had in Berlin, working behind the fish counter at new Markthalle Neun venture, Fish Klub.
Out of place? Hardly… but in stark contrast to running a hip and busy restaurant, Daniel looked at peace, almost serene, as he sliced out and weighed a large, wonderful-quality fillet of salmon for a customer. The fishmonger life seems to agree with him.
But buying fish wasn’t the reason we were visiting Markthalle Neun that Saturday afternoon. The pungent, enticing smell of Thai spices wafting from behind the Fish Klub counter – that’s why we were there.
“What Berlin needs is a seafood bar.”
In the fish-shaped vacuum left by Kostlichkeiten’s leaving, Margaux Friocourt has stepped into the void. Her Fish Klub stall offers the market a new source of fantastic-quality fresh fish and seafood, including Fine de Claire oysters.
After being contacted by Margaux, Daniel was quick to join in with the project.
“She contacted me four weeks ago looking for a chef. I was told: I can do what I want. I had time and it sounded like fun.”
He’s had the idea of opening a fish bar in Berlin for a while now and saw a great opportunity to test out new concepts.
“What Berlin needs is a seafood bar. Seafood doesn’t fit with Khwan so much, so my seafood passion is here now. Hopefully, it develops. This is a pop-up within a pop-up.”
So, with a pocketful of very Khwan-esque Central and Southern Thai receipes, Daniel joined the Fish Klub.
Whilst we were there, there was a constant queue. After just two weeks of being open, they already have regular customers. There are also people who recognise Daniel from Khwan and impatiently wait to taste his next project, as well as those drawn over by the intoxicating aromas of lemongrass and fish sauce wafting out of their blue caravan.
“My wife made this curry paste this morning. She’s from Southern Thailand, so it should be the real deal”, Daniel shouts.
Fish Klub’s also already notorious with its neighbours who, in true Berlin style, complain constantly about the smell.
Someone buys 4kg of oysters, the queue continues. They’re running out of fish. We’re getting worried. By the time we receive our food, Fish Klub has completely sold out and is closing for the day. It’s only 3pm.
Food that’s both simple and complex.
“In Thailand, they sell the fish and a few doors down there’s a fish restaurant. We combined it. The exciting thing is the limitation: no BBQ, only steam.”
Seconds after saying this, Daniel’s got a blowtorch in his hand, which he’s using to char a handful of organic Madagascan prawns he’d plucked from the ice in the caravan’s display. “Gotta bring some Khwan to the caravan, you know?”
These were then served with a peanut nam jam dip made with fiery habanero chillies.
Next up, we got a generous portion of Southern Thai-style sour curry/soup with mussels.
Finally, a pan-fried salmon salad with sour lemongrass, mint and chilli. While this dish was served cold, the Thai chillies really added fire. The combined heat and vinegary pungence of this salad, along with the cooling relief of the mint, really took me right back to eating at Khwan. It was an emotional return.
What appeals to me about Fish Club is how ingredients are taken from the fishmonger display and prepared right in front of you. You know the fish is stunningly fresh. You know the preparation is simple. Yet, the combination of top-quality produce and Daniel’s mastery of Thai flavours makes even Fish Klub’s simplest dishes intriguingly complex.
In its current incarnation, the Klub will run from now until January, Tuesdays-Saturdays, but Margaux and Daniel have bigger plans for the place. Soon, a new caravan with a larger kitchen will arrive and there’s even talk of developing Fish Klub into something more permanent.