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Glass: Arabian bites

This year, already-acclaimed Charlottenburg fine dining restaurant Glass switched over to a "modern Arabic" concept. We scoped out the new menu and had a forkful of cured camel.

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Duck breast with coffee-chocolate sauce, celeriac mash and a piece of duck confit baklava. Photo by German Palomeque

It’s not that Glass is underrated – in fact, 32-year-old Israeli chef Gal Ben-Moshe has received all kinds of accolades since opening his fine dining restaurant in a nook off Savignyplatz four years ago. But it does occupy a weird niche in Berlin’s expensive food scene. It isn’t locavore or Asian enough to tempt the Mitte crowd out west, and it’s a bit too far-out for the kind of Charlottenburgers who can afford to drop €79-plus on dinner. Until late last year, Glass was known primarily for two things: the mirrored curtain ensconcing its semi-open kitchen like a festive meth lab; and the “Candy Box”, a bravura dessert involving powdered sweets, tweezers and liquid nitrogen that couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Chicago’s Alinea, the Michelin-starred molecular gastronomy restaurant where Ben-Moshe apprenticed before moving to Berlin.

The curtain remains (UPDATE: It was taken down a few months after this review was published, during December 2017 renovations), but that dessert’s been banished from the kitchen, along with the smoking glass of mushrooms called “Forest in a Jar”. In their place, Ben-Moshe has introduced a seasonal “modern Arabic” menu inspired by the descriptions of dishes in the 11th-century storybook Arabian Nights. It’s a smart move, one that allows the Tel Aviv chef to experiment with ingredients and techniques from his native Levant without Glass being pigeon-holed as an “Israeli restaurant”.

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The broth for Glass’ onion soup is poured at the table. Photo by German Palmeque

It’s also delicious. And – with the exception of a piece of duck confit baklava – it almost never feels like a fusion gimmick. The dishes in Glass’ five- to nine-course tasting menu incorporate varying degrees of Middle Eastern influence, from overt (the funky little amuse-bouches of cubed falafel and cured camel) to somewhat forced (fresh-baked pretzel buns were introduced as “Jerusalem pretzels”) to negligible (we’re not actually sure what the oyster with preserved lemon sabayon and iced beetroot had to do with the Middle East). But the most revelatory for us were the ones in which Ben-Moshe used “Arabic” elements to inform and enhance without taking over, the way other contemporary chefs might put miso on steak or kimchi in Brussels sprouts. Our soup may have had shredded phyllo floating in it instead of a crouton, but the flavour profile was straight-up French onion, turbo-charged thanks to a broth of charred, slow-roasted alliums spiked with bone marrow. The filet of loup de mer surrounded by grilled baby squid and shards of crisped-up okra in a smoked tomato broth was like the best cioppino you’ve never had. Perfectly tender yoghurt-marinated roast lamb served with jus and halved cherries could’ve come from France via Adana Grillhaus but was mostly just really, really, good. We almost licked our plate, but settled for the last sip of our glass of red from Lebanese natural winery Chateau Musar. Dessert looked like the usual dabs, squiggles and shards of things that end your meal at many a fine dining restaurant, but the flavours – yoghurt mousse with preserved lemon, or chocolate with black sesame sauce and charcoal-blackened banana – were spot on.

There were a few missteps: an early dish of sashimi-cut bonito (the mackerel relative, not the Japanese tuna flakes) was too overpoweringly fishy for such a large portion, and that duck baklava just wasn’t amazing enough to excuse its existence, especially compared to the sublime slab of medium-rare duck breast it accompanied. But all in all, this is the kind of place that makes you understand why one might spend three hours and over €100 per person on a meal – and kind of resent people who take it for granted, like the German couple next to us who seemed more preoccupied with the insides of each other’s mouths than the subtleties of sumac. We can only hope that more appreciative Berliners – and, finally, Michelin inspectors – take notice.