Sunday, 10 February 2008 by kinakoJam
In Munich a week or so ago, my boss Many Ameri and his wife Anne Siemens took me to dinner. I guess everybody knows by now that I'm into weird healthy stuff as a kind of part-time hobby (working on an event 5 years ago Many, amongst others, learned the hard way not to drink from my water bottle 'cause it would normally be infused with Kyolic garlic drops, a habit I have regrettably not managed to sustain). But the place they took me to, although a serendipitous choice, was not chosen just for me, but is rather an established favourite of theirs. Located close to the former location of Many's office, the Zerwirk restaurant was where Many (an avowed non-gym-goer) would eat a vegan Ayurvedic lunch (with separated carbs and proteins) each day as a lead up to their wedding in the Austrian mountains last year.
This Zerwirk place, with the cute pink logo of a leaping deer, was vegan, but the Saf restaurant recently got made over a little bit with a nod to current 'raw food' fads. The chef Chad Sarno looks amazingly German, especially his glasses (pic below), and has achieved what seems to be a gold standard for vegan chefs worldwide: the honour of cooking for Woody Harrelson. (Harrelson's personal raw food chef Renee Underkoffler also endorsed the cookbooks from Fresh in Toronto).
But the really serendipitous thing about the Zerwirk is that it used to be a place where deer were slaughtered and hung up to be drained of their blood, back in the day.
This you would never guess, from the beige & white palette and adroitly lit interior which reminded me of the airy spaces where Jiyugaoka-loving OLs and indian-cotton-wearing media hipsters would eat in Tokyo.
Toytown Germany says "It was originally built in 1264 as a bathhouse and is the second-oldest building in Munich as well as one of the oldest secular buildings in Bavaria. It's also been a Falcon house, a brewery, a game store (as in venison and wild boar), and most recently a theater."
The building houses not only a club on the middle floor (where DJs like Florian Keller and Jay Scarlett play or live acts like the excellent Fujiya & Miyagi), but also a deli on the ground floor, and the restaurant up top, and at times, we're told, also houses a vegan 'literary salon'. That is so Munich! (Note: all opinions of the author are based on an average of 72 hours spent in Munich over the last 2 years).
Apparently the guy who founded this place, Michi Kern, was a member of German techno DJ Sven Vath's posse from back in the day - he organised house parties at legendary places like Ultraschall back in the early nineties - and now he also owns a yoga studio. Anne told me that she attended a class by him the other day and he was actually quite good.
In fact, (exclusive techno gossip for Gut Feelings) many of Germany's top techno DJs, who live a life that is far from puritan, take sabbatical health retreats at one very expensive Ayurvedic health spa where a friend of mine has been known to go due to back problems. In between drinking morning cups of refined ghee, taking enemas or getting massage therapy, he bumps into people like Roman Fluegel of Alterego and renowned party animals Ali & Basti of Tiefschwarz.
Also, there is a rumour that the guys at Kompakt records here in Cologne have a private sushi chef, and the 'kaiser' of Kompakt (Wolfgang Voigt, architect of minimal techno) is a known devotee of private Iyengar yoga tuition.
So techno, healthfood & yoga seem to go hand in hand in the vaterland, even if it's sometimes of the executive chic 'binge & purge' variety.
But I digress.
The food at Saf gets mostly rave reviews from international vegan website Happy Cow, though obviously it is a little bit on the expensive side. My raw food sushi platter was about 18 euros and came with maybe eight small pieces of 'sushi' formed from small chips of raw parsnip and carrot instead of rice, moulded and wrapped with untoasted nori and other vegetable accoutrements (wild mushroom, 'miso-sambal', avocado, arame-cucumber saland garnish) and some pickled pink ginger which I'm not sure counts as raw.
I had a nice glass of organic pinot nero, and really enjoyed the food - as stated I am a healthfood hobbyist. I must say there's a fascination with this rawfood stuff in how it often mimics other foods: like our starter of a raw caprese salad, with half-dried tomato and rocket/rucola layered with slices of 'cheese' made from macadamia nuts, and garlic oil.
In regular vegan & vegetarian cuisine I've more often found it to be less than profitable when they try to mimic regular foods - it always seemed counter-intuitive to be making vegan macaroni cheese when there were so many delicious meals that could be made that celebrated tofu & vegetables themselves rather than sadly mimicking junkfood.
However in rawfood cuisine this mimickry becomes so abstract that it is intensely fascinating (for me at least!! And I know I'm a bit sad!).
Because there are no refined carbohyrates involved - no flour or rice since that would necessitate cooking - the textures are very different to what you're used to - sweetnesses are accented with surprising use of natural sea salt - raw vegetables contribute a different sort of crunch - and a 'cheese' made from macadamias is rolled on your tongue and meditated upon and given kudos for the surprised acknowledgement of a certain 'cheesey' vibe.
I imagine - though I've never eaten sous-vide cooking - the abstraction of flavours here could draw a parallel.
It also reminds me of being a kid and making 'mixtures' in the kitchen of milk & wine-cooler or magic potions from all kinds of mud and twigs in the back yard. Rawfood is too weird to be regarded as simply a boring facsimile of regular stuff like sushi.
On the non-raw tip, Anne's tempura shiitake mushrooms and fried polenta with sage with truffle-garlic oil and parsley-oil were delicious - the mushrooms perfectly cooked whole and very meaty/juicy. Many's ayurvedic platter was probably the best value: although it cost 23 euros, it came with lots of little tasting things in divided segments including some really delicious stuff that they didn't like so I ate all of it: a gelatinous cake thing made of god knows what and a sweetish brown paste tasting of dried fruits and ayurvedic spices. Yum. That too reminded me of something that you would likely be served up in some healthy healing designer cafe in Tokyo called Mangosteen (or something similar) and probably with a range of medicinal Korean liqueurs.
The chocolate mousse dessert we shared was yummy: it didn't taste like soy though I imagine that's what it was made from; it was studded with bits of pineapple and nuts and drizzled with an opaque coconut syrup. Decadent but not too sweet.
A place like Saf satisfies one of my main restaurant criteria: that the food be labour-intensive or artful enough that it would require quite a lot of effort to recreate at home. Rawfood is quite simple and not huge in portions, but to assemble and process and blend all the components is very labour-intensive.
There, have I been effusive enough??
Although you'd have to be - very literally - a nutter to eat rawfood fulltime, it's an extremely fun diversion now and then.