René Frank, 38, since 2016 co-owner of Coda, 'dessert fine dining restaurant' in the Neukölln district of Berlin, 2 Michelin stars. Frank is also the 2022 'World's 50Best Pastry Chef'. Photo by Claudia Goedke
Serving a dessert-only tasting menu is one of the most fascinating cooking challenges of the last two decades. But dessert restaurants face a difficult existence. At the beginning of the millennium, when Ferran Adrià urged his young colleagues to break the wall the French had erected between sweet and savoury, they seemed to be rampant. Desserts, pioneers like Jordi Butron (Espai Sucre, Barcelona) and Will Goldfarb (Room 4 Dessert, New York and now in Bali) demonstrated, may well bypass the ghetto of the end of the meal to support it, from start to finish. But something must have gone wrong if these same restaurants have struggled to stand out. If they have remained almost completely isolated examples, with very few emulators.
This is what we think as we cross the threshold of a Berlin restaurant camouflaged among the trendy districts of Neukölln and Kreutzberg. Amidst the dark lights and diffuse hubbub, we meet its smiling founder René Frank. Almost 39 years old, this young man from Baden-Württemberg was shaken by a rare electricity even as a kid: he immediately set off to learn the art of pastry-making in important establishments in Spain, France, Japan and the United States, and then won three Michelin stars as head pastry chef of La Vie restaurant in Osnabrück.
In 2016, his solo adventure began: Coda is an Italian word tail but also for a rhythm, a melody. At the tail end of something. With partner Oliver Bischoff, the initial intention was to open a simple dessert bar, but Frank is so curious, gifted and precise (a control freak, he says of himself) that the establishment is rewarded first with one (2018), then with two Michelin stars (in February 2020, with Covid approaching). And in 2022 comes another title that boosts his popularity: he is nominated 'World's Best Pastry Chef' by the jurors of the 2022World's 50Best.
The tables and counter at the entrance of Coda, seat around 30 people for an average of 3 hours. Fun fact: the tasting menu costs 244 euros on weekdays (288 euros if one wishes to add the caviar icicle, see below) and 30 euros more on weekends. 'Even restaurants need to adapt to demand'. Photo by Claudia Goedke
Three pillars of the Coda restaurant: left to right, Sophia Fenger (sommelière), Julia Leitner (head chef, Austrian) and Elise Czako (restaurant manager). Photo by Claudia Goedke
After two small appetisers (golden beetroot Gummy bears and a sweet potato and almond Beefcake), we get into the heart of the tasting menu with a Brioche with rice flour dough and a rather soft texture. It is filled with a delicious Gouda cow's milk cheese (very popular in the Netherlands), aged 6 months and sprinkled with turnip caramel at the table. Delicious
The tomato is served in two steps: dehydrated, sorbet-like, and confit. The chickpeas are in mousse and meringue form (the ethereal top part). Finished with lemon. It is served alongside a shot of apricot brandy, toasted coriander seeds and homemade almond milk. As complex and surgical as the food, the beverage component dialogues very well with the edible part
Aubergine and Lettuce
To the left, aubergine with pecans, cider vinegar and liquorice salt, another Coda classic. To the right, a small ethereal shell of candied lettuce with cream cheese and gherkin powder
A mouth-watering waffle filled with cheese, to be broken with your hands and dipped in a rather sour yoghurt drop, enhanced by the pungent notes of dehydrated kimchi powder
Coda's signature dish is made with Osietra caviar of French origin (Sturia, Aquitaine) covered in chocolate, on vanilla and Jerusalem artichoke ice cream and a pecan ganache at the heart, before the stick. The concept (rich and popular, high and low) reminded us of Massimo Bottura's foie gras magnum
Beetroot sorbet made from the reduced and concetrated vegetable. On top, crispy dehydrated beetroot. Verjus (unripe vegetable juice) jelly and whipped tofu. Another sweet, vegetable, humamic tartlet
Dike cheese and cocoa tartlet and crunchy
To the left, Dike cheese tartlet, figs confit and, above, whipped peanut cream and marrow. Dike, in German deich, means 'dam': deichkäse , 'dam cheese'. It comes from a dairy farm near the North Sea, in the Friesland region, where cows graze. The ageing cells (the ageing lasts one year) are located right under the dykes: the microclimate and proximity to the sea give important saline notes
Right, a chocolate mousse with caramelised soya milk, semi-dried cherries and preserved cherry sauce.
An interesting interlude is served between the two dishes: breadsticks of caramelised pork rind, sauerkraut powder and pear puree
Parsley root, black garlic and pistachio
Cream of black garlic (with deep notes of cocoa and coffee, the result of the fermentation process), parsley root ice cream, caramelised pistachio and a vinaigrette of parsley leaf oil and lime, served at the table. It is among Coda's longest-lived dishes and also the one that impressed us the most with its unexpected result (acidity, roundness, herbaceousness, freshness), after the pre-tasting scepticism
To close the meal, a great variety of pralines and inventiveness and chocolate strips (crispy outside and liquid inside)
Left, the beverage pairings with the tasting menu: all German wines (the list is 80% German wines, including Rieslings with a great depth of vintage) and a sake. Right, a cocktail proposal for the end of the meal
René Frank and Julia Leitner. Photo by Claudia Goedke
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world
born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes.