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Zosimo: nuovo-Siciliano

"Sicilian food" conjures up images of simple comfort dishes, executed under the supercilious eye of a nonagenarian nonna. But a look at Zosimo's menu immediately banishes such assumptions.

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Photo by Tamsin Ross Van Lessen

One could be excused for thinking that Sicilian food is a family affair, and expecting a restaurant like Zosimo – whose claim is to enlighten Berliners about the island’s culinary delights – to serve simple comfort dishes, secret recipes passed from one mamma to the next and executed in a back kitchen under the supercilious eye of a nonagenarian nonna (rumour has it they live long there, thanks to all the olive oil!).

Zosimo’s décor blends style and tradition: a mural map of the island (parchment-style), the usual wine bottles, dark-wood dining furniture (inside) and checkered tablecloths (outside) won’t disabuse you of that notion. But a quick overview of the sparse, sophisticated menu and you’re immediately proven wrong.

Here, Sicilian culinary tradition comes more as an inspiration than a credo: Sicilian cuisine is pulled into the service of creativity and experimentation. And the cooking team (some recruited from Papa Pane on Ackerstraße) seems to have no shortage of ideas, nor lack of fun in the kitchen. So expect elaborate combos brought to you in the form of often visually spectacular dishes made from sun-drenched Mediterranean ingredients (from olives to tomatoes and aubergines) and scrumptiously seasoned seafood. Flavours of Spain, northern Africa and Greece – an influence on Sicily for centuries, and even millenia – also put in a cameo appearance.

The typically Sicilian-Arab influences, nuts and citrus, are best expressed in a dish such as “Spaghetti, Pistacchi and Agrumi” (€10.50): spaghetti with a lemon-pistachio pesto flavored with lemon, thyme, chili oil and pecorino crumbs. It packs sweet, sour, savory and slightly crunchy into one forkful – a Zosimo standard. And since scholars now seem to believe that it was the Arabs who invented pasta…

Speaking of which: our personal favourite is the masterful cannelloni (€12.50; photo), dark pasta shells filled with mussels, ricotta and potatoes, on a bed of sashimi tuna tartare… served with a fragrant shellfish and tomato sauce… topped with a salty foam produced, thanks to some molecular cookery wonder, with the seawater from inside the clams. This is a highlight of the house!

Stepping up the sophistication yet another notch: the “Sinfonia Mediterranea” is a good example of the kitchen crew’s sheer creativity. This refined arrangement is inspired by several continents: braised octopus with a pleasantly sour pickled potato, pescaccio (fish carpaccio) from wild sea bass with a wakame seaweed salad, fried shrimp with ‘unusually’ spiced guacamole (besides the lime and chili, some cumin and coriander) and delicate clams with a sharp chili-lime dip… An especially spectacular-looking combo (with a price to match: €22.50).

Starters can be delicate and refined like the “Anguria, Caprino and Fagiolini”, a watermelon sandwich with tarragon and marinated goat cheese, served with marinated green beans and a sprout salad – a thoroughly palatable salty-creamy-sour-sweet light and colorful dish. The more traditional clams sautéed in tomato sauce (traditional Sicilian style) boast a perfectly spiced marinade served with homemade sautéed garlic bread.

For dessert, don’t miss the delicious, superbly simple “Granita” – shaved ice with fresh lemon, in the style sold by the street carts of Palermo. Zosimo is proud of its wine, and our smart waiter/sommelier had endless knowledge of grapes and soils and vintages. We drank a surprising Sicilian white, the perfectly balanced Pretiosa: a bold and full-bodied combination of Albanello and Chardonnay, and a Spumante from Lumbardi that will make you forget France invented champagne. They serve it with white peach liquor as a luxuriant aperitif.

A labour of love, Zosimo was launched last spring by a German sister-and-brother team who, like generations of northern Europeans from Goethe to D.H. Lawrence, fell head over heels for Sicily. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a country where “the vegetables are delicious, especially the lettuce which is very tender and tastes like milk”, and the fish has “the most delicate flavor” (Goethe).

In short: groundbreaking Sicilian food as you’ll never experience it in Sicily. Even king Zosimo – the 18th century peasant rebel-leader crowned for a few days – never ate so well.