How This Guy Brought A Little Bit Of Tokyo Into A Gambling Casino In Berlin
You might start reading this article because you have been caught by the idea of Tokyo in Berlin. Or secretly, deep down you are just another gambler. But really, I don’t want to hype too much about neither Tokyo nor any casino. What I want is to bring the story of a remarkable young gentleman a little closer to you. I’m speaking of the Canada-born, Dylan Watson-Brawn who only turned 24 last month.
At his young age he experienced, learned and created more than many old farts will ever do in their whole life. And I was lucky enough to encounter his theater-like dinner presentation in his new restaurant ‘Ernst’ in Berlin Wedding. Stars of the night are seriously high quality products of hand selected farmers, winemakers, and craftspeople from mainly Berlin/Brandenburg but other regions too. An act focussing on the pureness of beauty and on understanding its origins properly.
This restaurant is certainly not your nextdoor favourite Japo, but the 12 seat maple counter at which guests are placed bears a striking resemblance to what you'd expect to see in Japan.
Here you can find Japanese cooking techniques, the appreciation that the team and guests have for food just like people do in Japan (music for example is composed by Dylan's friends, yet very much in the background) and Japanese-like simple and puristic design of the interiors. This is a revolution in the German gastro industry on so many levels. They even have a ticket system as if it was a concert you are going to see, which helps the team to maximise the time dedicated to the food & beverage and it eliminates no-shows. And I swear it is the evolution of your best 4 hours spent in a restaurant. Here is why:
When you enter the restaurant you are warmly welcomed by Dylan himself, accompanied by 1 member of his 4 head team (Dylan Watson-Brawn, Spencer Christenson, Christoph Geyler and Paul Klein). A casual meet and greet, a genuine smile. Wait, did I meet any of you a night out? The sincere politeness of the young and brotherly boys that form the team without any hierarchy struck from the beginning. But no, the seemingly laissez-faire attitude comes from their private dining project, which they were running in their own living room prior to opening this restaurant less than a month ago. Back then, they only served six people at a time, and although the number of guests has doubled, they still maintain personal communication and individual care. And that is what this is all about. The restaurant is nude. Even though it has been designed by Gonzalez Haase AAS, who just developed the interior of the Balenciaga store in Paris, none of that high end luxury shi shi or stiffness here.
Natural colours of the interiors make you focus even more on what is on your plate and what is happening in the kitchen in front of you. This is the boys’ stage. Here they perform their art. Not only can you see Dylan using his knives like he learned it in a 3 - michelin star restaurant in Tokyo, but also you get to see perfection in team work.
No noise, no fuss, only the symbiosis of each team member working on something. But also everyone is able to perform each other's task, so I have been told. And that is astonishing. What is even more astonishing though is the dedication to the product that the guys are serving. Every product that you find on your plate (always only two at a time) has been grown by hand selected farmers, whose stories are diligently told to you individually just before you start eating. And that is actually also the first time you get to know what you are eating, because the 25 mostly veggie courses served are a complete surprise.
No evening resembles another, but I think it is crucial to give you some insights to what I was delighted to eat, simply because such sensations cannot be kept secret. At the base of each dish is the merciless freshness. Starting with an untouched freshly fermented cheese bathing in a cucumber essence, the menu promises to offer the simple beauty of the most amazing flavours speaking for themselves. A piece of radish, potatoes, young onions, tomatoes and other veggies are prepared in a way that their individual flavour is exposed like I promise you have never tasted before - and I know you will now argue that you tried the best tomatoes in your life already. Don’t be too sure my friend!
Another highlight was honey waxed quail, briefly grilled over the barbeque in the kitchen, which filled the room with mouth watering smell. The Japanese touches follow through from beginning to the end: The eel is killed according to the ‘ike jime’ technique; one dish focuses on the Japanese egg custard called ‘chawanmushi’, and after smelling some ‘umeboshi’ style pickled plums in a big jar, I was served a refreshing tea that I incorrectly assumed was brewed from matcha leaves.
No, that’s too simple for Dylan - this tea is brewed from raspberry leaves and has to be consumed at strictly 60 degrees. The hands-on concept displays itself in every detail. Hand crafted plates by special ceramic designers such as Carolin Wachter, who actually gave the boys a special edition of black plates instead of her signature white ones (how very Berlin), again show the delicate selection of partners and collaborations.
Yes, I told you it won’t be your new every day hangout. Here everything is about relationship, passion, devotion and the story one has to tell. Uninterrupted conversation between the team and the guests gives you that feeling of this very special dinner experience that actually I can’t even articulate properly on paper. To make it a little easier for me and to understand better about this magical simplicity-explosion, I let Dylan tell it himself.
Dylan, in your own words, what is your philosophy?
It is trying to be very human with everything. If that makes sense. I mean sharing our experiences with the guests is the most important thing, but also sharing experiences with everyone and presenting it in a way that you can understand. You say you don’t want to serve a bunch of pretentious over the top things, you want things that are that you can reflect on in a meaningful way and we do the same thing with our farmers. We want to work closely with them, we want to know what’s going on in their lives and build a relationship. It makes sense to study your surroundings before you go out. And for some things it makes sense to be regional for that, but for others it doesn’t.
At your young age of only 24 years you have travelled and lived in some of the greatest cities (Tokyo, Copenhagen, New York). Why Berlin Wedding?
It’s cheap. Wedding is cheap, this used to be a Spielcasino that has been empty for 1,5 years. You can still see the obscure windows from the outside, so at night you can actually only see movements inside. That is literally the only reason.
What made you leave your home at such a young age and how did you survive as the first non-Japanese team member in a 3 michelin star restaurant in Tokyo?
I didn’t plan. That is just the way it went. I didn’t have so much attachment. The place you grow up at you either love it or you don’t. So I travelled and went to this restaurant where after all I also started working. I don’t think I was a good cook. I think it was more that I worked hard. Like really working hard and showing that I was dedicated. Learning every single day and wanting to be better. The willingness to give up ego and self, being in the moment and making most of the opportunity.
From a personal and culinary perspective, how do you describe Tokyo as opposed to Berlin?
It is the exact opposite. In every way. It is a culture where food is the most important thing as opposed to a culture where food is the least important thing.
How did your experience in Tokyo influence your dishes and your newly opened restaurant ‘Ernst’ today?
I don’t think we designed the restaurant to resemble Japan. For us the focus is on the food and the sensibility. That’s also what comes through in every course.
Why the name ‘Ernst’? Is it because of the German meaning and you intend to make people aware of some serious business?
Everyone thinks we are doing serious business because they don’t know us so well. Berlin is a city where people say they are doing things but don’t really. And we actually do things. So people ask do you know these guys, who are they, etc etc whereas Ernst is actually the middle name of my friend. I didn’t even know it meant serious in German.
What made you change the location from your living room to a proper restaurant?
I think we are moving in an upward trajectory and to get the recognition. We got half the people before, just because it was my living room. It was in my apartment because people didn’t want to go to a restaurant. But I was like, ok we need a space where the team is full time dedicated to get the desired results.
You are aware that your cuisine and philosophy is not for everyone. What would you want to say to people who can’t/won’t/don’t want to come eat in your restaurant?
I mean big screens is not about money. You should want to have the space in your life that you enjoy. This whole project was about me wanting to fire work 10,12,14 hours - doesn’t matter - most of my entire day work in a space that I enjoy and have a great relationship with people who I work for. And that should be mutual and with respect for each other. And that’s all.
If time allows, where do you love to go in Berlin. Favourite hangouts, clubs? Do you have any other interests that you are following?
I spend my private time with friends working on projects, but I also really like to hang out in this really beautiful place where you can sit on the highway overpassing and looking on the runway of Tegel airport. And there I like to sit and drink a beer.
So you are not so much into the typical Berlin nightlife after you finish work?
I have been to Berghain a lot, but I mean things change, my whole life changed.
Well then I only have one last question for you. What are your favourite restaurants in Berlin? And where do you go for Japanese food in Berlin?
Japanese restaurants: I am a fan of places where you can get some nice rice. And there is a place nearby called Lon-Men, but it’s really busy now so we go to this place on Seestrasse called Asia Deli. I am at the point now where I order everything in Chinese and we bring our own wine. But to be honest I only eat Japanese food in Japan. Other than that there is cocolo Ramen, but even that is not as good as the stuff they have in Tokyo.
What else is there to say? Dylan and his team truly demonstrate their ideology to the guest and this isn’t simply what they are doing to earn money: for them it’s a way of life. I got a taste of it that evening and would love to get to know more about it on another visit. See it as a special cultural event - don’t be biased, ring that bell at the iron steel door and let your sense be carried away on that journey of freshness and technique. And trust me you will really feel as if you are taken by your best mate’s hand.