Nobelhart & Schmutzig – Billy Wagner celebrates a festival for all the senses
Everything about Nobelhart & Schmutzig has an easy, almost casual air to it. And yet there is absolutely nothing easy about it. This, the first restaurant for Sommelier Billy Wagner, who in 2014 was still organizing the '14 wine list for Rutz, is nothing short of a total work of art. An installation from Beuys. A Scandinavian holiday home. A typesetter's case. A flea market. A disco.
In the middle of the restaurant stands a stove around which Billy Wagner and his team rock to the sound of real vinyl and upon which the stories of the finest selection of regional products come to be heard. It is a treasure trove of re-discovered old-fashioned vegetables, animals raised with passion and devotion and fine raw ingredients from small farms. At Nobelhart & Schmutzig, regional really means regional. There's not a prise of black pepper to be found in these dishes, because it doesn't grow here.
And yet, before the eyes of each watchful guest, culinary stories are composed, explored, and recited with each changing season. Sauces are poured onto plates, veggies snipped and stocks reduced. Fresh herbs seemingly disappear between the lettuce leaves, soups steam and the meat exudes rich, savory aromas. Yet the most passion is given to the tale's re-telling — for the butter, churned in the restaurant from raw cream, or mini kohlrabi bulbs patiently nurtured to maintain a mildness that allows them to be served with only a spoonful of buttery breadcrumbs.
The bread is from the Sironi bakery. The gluten-free cornbread is baked in-house, with a delightful graininess. Dinners are given one single knife with an Asian blade and wooden grip to be used throughout the evening. Fresh forks and spoons lay in wait in a close-at-hand basket. On my knees is an antique linen napkin. The coasters for the glasses are a motley collection, resembling nothing so much as a passionate collector's exhibit of beer coasters at the flea market.
As in the theater, guests sit in the semi-darkness along a long counter around the illuminated cook-filled stage. One other long table is also available. The plates, hand-thrown ceramic from a Buddhist living in Berlin, arrive laden with grilled onions in a sweet woodruff mayo, then lettuce with a game-stock dressing and scattered wheat kernels, followed by char in an intensive green fennel reduction with yogurt. The onion is wonderfully mild, the lettuce intriguing and the fish is divinely tender.
The sequence continues with a culinary poem: blood sausage in parsley sauce, ground elder and long stalks of fine radishes. A broth of beef fat, peas and tree onions awaken childhood memories of shucking the peas fresh out of the pods. The intensive and aromatic lamb neck with thick beans and bone stock leaves us slightly hysterical.
The sorbet from an old French sorrel variety with dill blossom meringue and a bit of grape oil is the highlight of the three deserts. Airy and aromatic, it just edges out the scraped cherry granita and the luscious red strawberries from Berlin's Domäne Dahlem farm, with frozen young fir needles and a meringue foam from cherry plum blossoms. The sweet finish to a grand show!
Throughout Billy Wagner applies his trademark creativity to find suitable liquid accompaniments. He stops by repeatedly, pouring wines still and sparkling — and a beer as well, when requested; basks in the glorious aromas, reports on weekend winemakers and small breweries and always ends with a promising "Bitte"! We absorb and are amazed. The drink menu reads like a thrilling novel; my own personal discovery was the freshly pressed juices from seasonal fruits and vegetables.
The international audience — young and old alike — sits harmoniously side -by-side linked by the fine food and exquisitely crafted experience. We leave Nobelhart & Schmutzig filled to the brim, and perhaps beyond, not unlike walking out of the cinema after an intense film. And I think of the sentence that I discovered at the start of this evening: "A man who is nice to you but rude to the waiter isn’t a nice man." And with that in mind... go taste for yourself!
Interior & Portrait ©Marko Seifert