Oukan: Berlin’s New Japanese Vegan Food Spot

When it comes to vegan Asian cuisine, the restaurants run by Tran Mai Huy Thong have always stood out. While everyone served tofu curry, mock duck, and décor straight out of Dong Xuan, his joints experimented with tempura-crusted bao burgers and homemade spelled noodles (Ryong), or flamboyant bahn xeo. colorful (Con Tho) amid elegant interiors that reflected the Vietnamese-German entrepreneur’s background as a fashion designer.

But having been to these places still won’t prepare you for Oukan, his new foodie business and Berlin’s most ambitious vegan restaurant since Kopps which opened ten years ago. After entering through an unmarked red door into a courtyard off Ackerstraße, you are led through the dark corridors of the Weimar-era dance hall, Ballhaus Mitte, now redecorated to resemble a crusader Buddhist monastery with an upscale sex club. You are seated at a long granite table or in an intimate tatami room separated by hanging ropes.

Your only window to the outside world is a small skylight in the ceiling perfectly positioned above a carefully transplanted bonsai ficus; your main source of light, a slender pendant that will flatter your dining companions and your dinner party in equal measure.

In this respectful atmosphere, you receive a three or seven course meal of elaborate, plant-based dishes designed by DDR native chef Martin Müller in consultation with true Zen monks. You are told that the kitchen applies the principles of shōjin ryōri, or the cuisine of Japanese Buddhist temples, with regional ingredients such as kale, celeriac, potatoes and … black truffle. You can accompany it with wine or cocktails, but you are encouraged to opt for tea.

The closest analogue might be UUU in Wedding, which also fuses Asian techniques with local produce and leafy drinks, but this very intimate project serves less than 40 diners per week, not 80 per night. So accessories to Huy Thong and co. for showcasing such a quirky project on such a large scale, even though the setting and story (which also involves the entire team on a tea-meditation retreat in the Brandenburg woods) sometimes eclipses the food itself.

Which is, don’t get me wrong, great. But Müller is a German chef versed in German cuisine, whether it’s Tim Raue’s La Soupe Populaire or the high-end knee Tisk and the skid marks from his sudden lane change. The best things we tried were a yarrow-ish cube of double-fried sliced ​​potatoes topped with mushrooms and grated truffle, and a slice of lemon and nori-marinated celery served with a carrot reduction in sauce, a mound of fermented cashew cream and a pinch of fried kale. Both formidable, both decidedly European in a way that the cuisine at UUU’s Yuhang Wu is absolutely not – either would be more at home on Cookies Cream’s menu than on none. any monastery.

As for Japanese-style dishes, we enjoyed the refreshing pickled radish and yuba (tofu skin) in a chilled vegan dashi broth, but the wakame salad was unpleasantly sour, with only a handful of adorable mini oyster mushrooms. royals offering respite. We realized too late that Oukan’s most striking dish, marinated Krause Glucke (cauliflower mushroom) served on a bed of foam under a smoke-filled bell, was not actually on the evening tasting menu. Is it worth ordering as a main course a la carte, adding € 26 to your total of € 51-79? Maybe if you don’t want to leave hungry. We do not know which monk allowed Müller not to serve rice, which has traditionally been an integral part of a shōjin ryōri meal, but our growling stomachs felt the absence of it.

And yet, if you can afford it, we strongly recommend that you discover Oukan. Partly because there are so few places in Berlin serving vegan cuisine at this level, and partly because of the tea pairing (extra € 21), which is to this restaurant what wine is to Nobelhart & Schmutzig: optional by name only. We ended up remembering less of our meal than the cold infusions and hot cups poured and carefully explained by the tea sommelier Kwok Ying von Beuningen: the caramel-tinged sweetness of milky oolong, the smoky depths of the roast. hojicha, the farewell shot of something called “Old Eagle” that tasted like a walk in the woods on a rainy day.

It might not be a temple, but we bet Oukan will inspire a lot of devotion. Huy Thong is already planning the restaurant’s second phase: a foray into Korean Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, which will be developed with the help of a nun and fermentation specialist from Frankfurt. We will be there for that.

Oukan Ackerstr. 144, Mitte, Tue-Sat 18-24