Dining at Zenkichi is an all-around experience, beginning when you open the door to the stairs leading you to the basement, in this bleak, completely unremarkable office building. Once you’ve descended, you’ll wander through a lobby that looks like a bamboo forest, to immerse into a selectively lit dining space composed of small, semi-private booths. As with the upstairs bistro called House of Small Wonder, Zenkichi’s perk is its all-embracing conceptual design – the basement has been completely remodeled from floor to ceiling to re-create a truly Japanese – In’ei Reisan – atmosphere, using black lacquered wood and bare bamboo, where guests enjoy a seasonal Omakase menu in seated in alcoves.
This menu is here to make it easier for you, the 8-course tasting menu (65 Euro per guest) will let you enjoy all the varieties the kitchen has to offer, just sit down, relax, await the plates being spread in front of you and enjoy. Maybe even add the premium sake tasting, a selection of three premium sake, served cold on a wooden tray (26 Euro).
We started with a delicious Hijiki, Japanese seaweed simmered in sweet sake and soy sauce, served on a shiso leaf, and then ate our way through the menu. Zenkichi’s main focus is obviously fish, but vegetarians can order variations – like the maguro carpaccio with tomatoes instead of tuna, covered in delicious yuzu pepper sauce, or the homemade fresh silk tofu served with soy sauce instead of dashi fish sauce.
The owners put loads of importance not only on the interior, but also on dishes they use to present their food – all of which have been imported to Berlin from small Japanese manufacturers. With elegant dark colors and the typical irregularities the tableware does its best to support the intense colors and natural textures of the produce used. The plating is stunning, to say the least. The kitchen takes great care to pairing their food with a plate that will add to its beauty. Just look at the bright white tofu in the red and black lacquered bowl, or the edged oyster shells on the shiny plate that is colored like water. Pairing food and ceramics as well as plating has a huge importance in Japanese food, in case you wanna learn more about this topic, I suggest you read Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei Reisan), a wonderful essay about Japan’s preference of the dark and muted: “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty”. Zenkichi certainly feels like a perfect execution of Tanizaki’s principles.
While enjoying dinner, it is very likely one forgets to actually sit in a crowded restaurant. Thanks to a clever layout, every booth offers loads of privacy, even more if located further to the back of the restaurant. Only quiet voices and the always returning waiter, serving more and more beautiful dishes filled with delicate food, reminds us we weren’t alone. Maybe the sake tasting played into that sense, too.
While Zenkichi is catering to vegetarians and meat/fish eaters alike, the main dishes are created with a focus on meat and fish. No wonder my personal highlight was the dessert – a generous serving of frozen black sesame mousse in a bamboo cup.