It is unique in the world: in the middle of Berlin-Neukölln there is a restaurant that specializes exclusively in desserts. Since 2020, the Coda has had two Michelin stars. Now the head chef has been awarded the best pastry chef in the world. How a seven-course dessert menu works.
Chef René Frank was named the best pastry chef in the world by the coveted “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” award. Due to the occasion, we have taken this article, which was published in 2019, from the archive.
If you have no idea what might be in a restaurant that only serves desserts, the first thing that probably comes to mind is perfectly understandable: tiramisú, panna cotta, hot raspberries with vanilla ice cream and chocolate cake with a liquid core. These are perfectly legitimate desserts, but a world away from what ends up on the plates in the “coda.” The multiple award-winning top pastry chef René Frank has meanwhile received two Michelin stars for his concept. A huge success. Because in the 100-year history of the Michelin Guide, the world’s first pure dessert restaurant was awarded Michelin stars.
In the middle of Berlin-Neukölln, one of the most unusual starred restaurants in Germany hides behind a graffiti-sprayed facade, completely inconspicuous. Oh, maybe even the world. You would never expect it from the outside. Inside you will find a minimalist guest room, the light is dimmed. Sitting at the bar, you can see straight into the kitchen where the individual dishes are being prepared. You bite into a dehydrated, i.e. dried, slice of aubergine, which cracks nicely in your mouth and then tastes sweet. Or on dried sauerkraut over a real “cheesecake” made from mountain cheese. Or you spoon a chocolate mousse over which dried tuna is grated. Are these supposed to be desserts? Yes, in seven courses.
No refined sugar is used here
“Our concept is unique,” says René Frank modestly in an interview with the star. Frank is a quiet, introverted person who runs his restaurant with complete composure but with a high level of concentration. Like a kind of yogi who only becomes one with his desserts and his followers patiently await the creations that spring from his hand. The kitchen is connected to the guest room, it is relaxed, every move is spot on. Professionalism par excellence reigns here, but you can still see that René Frank and his team enjoy their work.
Frank relies entirely on the freshness of his products. Refined sugar, artificial flavors, colors and additives are taboo in his restaurant. He draws the sweetness exclusively from vegetables and fruits, the tart notes from herbs and olives, the saltiness from cheese and anchovies, the acidity from homemade vinegar, tamarind or citrus fruits. “And we also serve the fifth sense of taste: umami. We grow it from legumes, tomatoes, mushrooms and also from fermented products,” says Frank. “umami” is the name of the fifth taste besides sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The taste can be described as hearty, spicy or meaty. Frank and his team do everything themselves. Also the chocolate. For this, cocoa beans are ground into chocolate in a granite mill, day and night.
Each course is accompanied by a drink that goes well with the dessert. Some of these are also homemade, such as self-prepared infusions or lactic acid drinks such as kefir or kombucha, a drink made from the fermented kombucha mushroom.
surprise in the mouth
For example, the aubergine dessert with pecan ice cream and apple balsamic jelly is served with sherry that has been refined with oolong tea and cardamom distillate. In the starred restaurant you also get simple desserts, at least at first glance. A “waffle with a yogurt dip”. After the first bite, however, it turns out that the waffle is indeed such a thing, but it is made of corn and filled with raclette cheese. The yoghurt turns out to be a pickled gherkin that has been dried and is served as a creamy consistency for dipping. The surprise in the mouth is certain here.
And so the seven-course menu continues. It is a perfect composition and follows a classic dramaturgy. Although it’s really just a dessert, you still get the impression of being served a starter, main course and dessert. Including intermediate courses. You are far away from the sugar shock here. If you feel like something “sweet” later in the day, you can order a small menu with cocktails from 10 p.m. The classic menu is served from 7 p.m. for 138 euros during the week and 148 euros at the weekend, including drinks and snacks.
Frank and his team often spend up to three months honing the perfect plate. You can taste it – and you will be surprised again and again. This is the great art. Because appearances are often deceptive and you are taught otherwise. For example with a dark brown cream. You might think it’s chocolate or nougat. And even when you try it, you only taste a subtle note that somehow doesn’t quite suit the conditioned sweet palate. The cream turns out to be black garlic that has been fermented and then made into a cream. The fermentation develops a natural sweetness that is second to none.
Chicken skin in dessert?
The chef draws inspiration from his travels. He was recently in Turkey and ate a traditional dessert: Tavuk Göğsü, a kind of milk pudding with chicken. Frank was so fascinated by it that he dared to reinterpret it and put the dessert on the menu: he redesigned it and refined it with crispy fried chicken skin. What may sound strange is inherently as harmonious as all the other “desserts”, which is actually an understatement for their description.
“In the beginning, guests would come in and just want a chocolate cake with a runny center,” says Frank. “It took a while for the guests to understand what we were doing.” There is a reason why the restaurant opened in 2016 in the hipper part of Neukölln. It’s still calm here and there are many small shops from which Frank and his team buy their wines, for example.
It was a bold move to open a restaurant dedicated exclusively to desserts. Anyone who has eaten here broadens their horizons when it comes to patisserie, which can be so much more than delicate cakes. The Michelin Guide writes that “excellent products are excellently presented here by a talented chef and his team with a lot of know-how and inspiration in subtle, extraordinary and sometimes original creations”. We think so too.