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Margaux:  A New Level of Haute Cuisine in Berlin

Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

Named for the Château that produces some of the great Bordeaux's, the restaurant Margaux has a decided Gallic sensibility. Its 600+ list includes thirty wines of the historic vineyard; its chef is trained in the techniques of classical French cuisine. Yet the restaurant is in Berlin, and Chef Michael Hoffman is a native of Frankfurt.        

Nevertheless, Margaux is well suited to its Unter den Linden locale. The horrors of the past: Hitler's parading through the Brandenburg Gate a block away and down Unter den Linden upon assuming power in 1933, the reduction of the region to rubble at the close of World War II, the four decades of GDR domination may still be part of living memory. But the more recent past has seen the tearing down of the infamous Wall (a portion of which ran alongside the Gate), the reunification of the city, and its evolvement into a modern, culturally rich, and fashionable metropolis where, especially in this historic neighborhood close by the German parliament and the great green expanse of Tiergarten, a place like Margaux could be expected to be established and thrive.

The dining room, accessed through a street-level doorway on Wilhelmstraße around the corner from Unter den Linden, conveys a Zen-like aura of space and calm with gleaming floors of black marble and high ceilings painted in gold leaf. Soft, indirect lighting comes from illuminated rectangular pillars and recessed fixtures. Abstract art decorate the walls; there are rich woods, ocher-velvet chairs around tables set with pristine blue and white linens, and a wall of glass that looks out to a gardened courtyard. Maitre d' and sommelier Gesumino Pireddu led us to one of the tables facing the courtyard. "This is where Gerhard Schröeder always sits," he told us.       

A gentle, elegant man with boyish smile and black hair streaked with gray, Pireddu oversaw our dinner with effortless graciousness and efficiency. It was a remarkable feast, accompanied by wines the sommelier selected from Margaux's extensive cellar including a couple of excellent German whites --which, given the setting, seemed no more than appropriate, a clean and dry Pinot Blanc from Piedmont, a white Burgundy, and a red, very aromatic wine from a German grape similar to Pinot Noir.

Pireddu had followed Michael Hoffman to Berlin from Munich when the chef opened Margaux two years ago. "For me, Hoffman is one of the best of the chefs," he said, as he started us off with a Moselle Rosé. "He uses no butter, no heavy oils and a great range of herbs, especially in the summer when they are in season. As it is June, you will get the chance to taste them. You'll see how all the dishes are so light and fresh, so healthy." 

Gesumino Pireddu, Maître d'Hotel/Sommelie

Servers Nina Meisner (left) and Dominique Octscher with Gesumino Pireddu

And so we did -- beginning with a crustini and assortment of calamari that came with a salad of herbs , some of which were totally unfamiliar. But our servers -- a pair of engaging young women, Nina and Dominique -- knew the names of each, in German at least. Among them were several varieties of nettles. With their sting removed, they're quite tasty, we discovered. Also, said Nina, they're good for your skin and hair. 

Refreshingly cold cucumber soup, a lovely shade of green, came in champagne glasses topped with sliced radishes and what appeared to be clover but was, as we were soon informed, wood sorrel. There was a relish of radishes and apple beneath a tiny round of roasted pigeon; a stunning array of vegetables, some grilled, some marinated: blue potatoes cooked in a foam of tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, fennel, artichokes, eggplants, bell pepper, kohlrabi and a group of wild herbs marinated in sunflower oil -- an astonishing 35 in all!

Grilled tuna and tuna cream with ginger came with a salad of beetroots (a green we'd often noticed in the market and now decided to add to our next shopping list) and coriander. There followed another vegetable dish, the colors and shapes arranged like a painting: steamed carrots, kohlrabi, red and orange peppers, celery, turnips, and spinach marinated in an herbal oil and arranged in an arch over cockles sautéed in vegetable juice. It was accompanied by toast rounds made with black olives and tomatoes andthat came with a spread comprised of every one of the vegetables listed above.    

There was crispy sea bass topped with beans and almonds in a  lemon sauce with red spinach grown by a farmer near Berlin and the Chinese cabbage bok choy. And finally, and also in a lemon sauce, a round cutlet of Swiss veal served over tomatoes and leeks, and accompanied by artichokes.

But there was still dessert, a choice of   sweet basil mousse with strawberries, basil with curd cheese, strawberries and German champagne, caramel vanilla soufflé, ice cream with cherries and mascarpone or a salad of peppermint and orange cicely -- a wild herb -- these with a Riesling ice wine. And finally, delectable and perfectly formed miniatures: almond crackers, jelly of peach and raspberry, a roll of cream of pine nuts and marshmallow topped with elderberry and cream of elderberry.

One hears that Michael Hoffman has taken classical French cuisine to a new level. He calls it Avantgarde Classic, a label that has the ring of an oxymoron. But not after one has experienced the chef's take on standard dishes, his singular creation of flavors, the great range and manifold uses of herbs, the number of vegetables and quality products, the sheer, staggering variety of all of the above. The parade of ingredients, their preparations, arrangements and combinations are enough to leave one breathless. They have earned the dining room a Michelin star, and its reputation as one of Berlin's great restaurants.

Unter den Linden 78
Eingang Wilhelmstrasse
10117 Berlin

Phone: 49 30 22 65 26 11

Photographs (unless otherwise noted) by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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