Izakaya is the relaxed, informal Asian-tapas-and-cocktails counterpoint to Tim Raue’s Sra Bua at the Hotel Adlon
Anyone who’s been to Japan knows what an Izakaya is – those smokey holes in the walls where the Japanese go to let off steam, speak their minds, eat small plates of delicious food and drink a few sakes or shochus with friends, before heading off back into the regimented file of the busy streets. The Izakaya is a portal to where you can finally be yourself.
This is the concept behind Daniel Lengsfeld and Stefan Grill’s Izakaya. As a counterpoint to its parent restaurant Sra Bua’s formal setting and many-course taster menus, Izakaya has a relaxed, ambient atmosphere with an open kitchen and a bar.
It’s for groups of friends to sit down together, talk, catch up, flirt, drink Asian-inspired drinks and cocktails and work their way through the Asian-tapas menu which spans flavours from all over Far East and South-Eastern Asia. Although it’s at the Adlon, you don’t have to reserve a table and you won’t need to polish those black shoes.
Small plates of ‘Asian-tapas’ with a focus on lightness, freshness and sharing
Izakaya’s menu is made up of small dishes ranging from €4 up to €21. The average hovers at around the €10 mark. You can order them individually or in set menus – klein, medium and all in – where the chef chooses you a selection of plates based on that day’s recommendations.
Lo-carb and no-carb diets can do pretty well at Izakaya. During our tasting there, the staff spoiled us with plate after plate of delicious food and we left full and perfectly satisfied, without feeling, well, suicidal.
Izakaya’s Asian-inspired food cooked with a European sensibility
To say it’s ‘fusion food’ wouldn’t quite do it justice, but the cooking styles and flavour combinations used by Izakaya’s chefs feel really familiar to the European palette, which is surprising considering the wide breadth of authentic Asian ingredients they use in their dishes. This Asian/European style and flavour has become a hallmark taste of Tim Raue’s Sra Bua and Izakaya’s food.
A huge breadth of ingredients unseen in Berlin
A pizza-and-pommes diet hadn’t prepared me for the sheer variety of dishes available at Izakaya. We ate our way through Noah’s ark – from Japanese-style sashimi and raw tuna ‘pizza’ tartlet, to Korean BBQ chicken wings, to steak tartare, to wild boar, to softshell crab and scallop. And the menu boasts a handful of memorable vegetarian options too – including the Kopfsalad which had the best dressing we’d ever tasted. After pressing the chef for 20 solid minutes, he finally gave us the recipe list – and it was as long as your arm.
Must try: the steak tartare and the salt & pepper shrimp
Most of the time this East/West thing Izakaya’s chefs have going makes an exotic flavour taste homely and non-threatening. But sometimes it works to make something really interesting.
Steak tartare is a European classic. In Izakaya it’s served with Dashi and wasabi, but to really capture the texture and depth of the beef, the chefs add finely chopped beef jerky and crushed raw rice into the mix.
Salt & pepper shrimp on the other hand is a Cantonese dish, and Izakaya have got that initial crunch and spice mix down to an art form. But instead of simply squeezing lemon onto the prawns, they’ve gone 10 steps further, creating a majestic citrussy pomelo mousse throne for the prawns, akin to lemon curd with a dental edge. This makes it into a sweet/savoury dish you probably weren’t expecting. Delicious if not a bit overkill.
So, how does Izakaya rate?
It’s a beautiful place to be, and has a welcoming atmosphere. Every level of their staff is friendly, attentive, knowledgeable and a pleasure to be around – and I know that with a name like Tim Raue attached, you’d expect world class service, but these guys inject personality into the restaurant in a way that goes beyond sheer professionalism.
It’s out of my normal price range, sure, but who walks into the Adlon expecting a cheap meal? That being said, it’s not overpriced if you consider the quality of the ingredients and the renown of the chefs. And most people have more money than I do so it’s fine.
Izakaya is a top-quality restaurant posing as a relaxed, hole in the wall eatery. And it succeeds in doing so. It’s not authentic Asian, and they’re very open about that. They’re trying something new. Similar to Sra Bua, it’ll put off those people obsessed with authenticity, but it’ll also open many more people to new Asian flavours and styles.
To Surmise: Like Tim Raue’s TV personality, Izakaya is a bit of a bastard… but makes great food.
Shot with Olympus OM-D.
Izakaya at Sra Bua by Tim Raue
View the menu here.