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Asian style | More than just chopsticks

       31. January 2014       

They set benchmarks in Asian cuisine and interior design: a new generation of Asian restaurants.

‘I didn’t want any red walls, any lampions, and no incense sticks!“ Nam Cao Hoai is very firm when he’s talking about the interior design of his restaurant. In 2008 he opened Dudu in the Torstraße, and at that time what people expected an Asian restaurant to look like could be summed up in two words: Monsieur Vuong. ‘They re-interpreted this style in Berlin at the beginning of the 2000s and it went down incredibly well.’

This was always out of the question for Nam: born in Hanoi, he came to Berlin with his family as a child, first Lichtenberg, then Mitte. ‘You can’t sell something, that you are not. We’re not your typical Asians. We’re Berliners’, says Nam. So, absolutely zero Asia kitsch.

The strategy of following others’ expectations had already been a bad experience for the family. ‘My mother opened her first restaurant in the middle of the 90s; Chinese, because all Asians were automatically thought of as Chinese anyway.’ Sister Chi Cao Hanh explains, ‘It was first Chinese, then Thai, then Japanese. And obviously, at some point it was no longer authentic.’

It was going to be different at Dudu. Designer Anna Quintana’s concept, a single wave, remains to today: a fish mobile hanging from the ceiling and organically formed round lamps bringing pearls to mind.

He’s paid attention to the details in his latest project, the Bonbon Bar opposite. Again, its style has nothing to do with typical Asian clichés, but also not with the minimalist Dudu either. Instead it’s Art Deco with soft sofas, polished surfaces, lots of purple, black and copper. A lot of furniture came from London and Paris, and the lighting is soft and subtle. ‘Not another Mitte bar with shabby ceilings, concrete and neon’. And this summer the second Dudu is opening in Charlottenburg. Here the wave concept is going to be further developed to a sunken treasure chest.

And it’s in Charlottenburg where we go to another restaurant that set early benchmarks in Asian cuisine and interior design. The original Kuchi Japanese restaurant has been here since 1999. ‘We didn’t want to do something typically Asian, not just for Europeans, but for us’, says Quang Huy Ngu. The Kuchi Kant is very minimalistic, extremely little decoration, reduced to the essential. Bit by bit, the Kuchi empire has expanded and in each new district the interior design changes. Kuchi in Mitte has large-scale portrait photos on the walls and is ‘more feminine and playful’. The two Cocolo Ramen branches in Mitte and Kreuzberg in contrast, are ‘street kitchen’: Japanese packaging on the walls, and yes, here are the typical lampions. ‘Doing things by hand is important for us, therefore we didn’t want major interior designers for each project, but wanted to do them ourselves.’ This principle goes right through to the tableware: the Kuchi owners set up their own ceramics producer four years ago where everything is exclusively made by hand.

Si An Truong also attaches great importance to exclusive tableware. In Bat Trang, south east of Hanoi, the chef has plates, cups, bowls and pots for his three Vietnamese Restaurants in Berlin made from special clay, ‘It feels soft and warm, not smooth and cold.’ Truong has very definite ideas about the interior design of each of his restaurants. ‘With my first restaurant I wanted to create a friendly atmosphere.’ The small vegetarian Si An restaurant is modestly furnished, with the simplicity of Zen Buddhism.

It is dreams, memories of his travels that continually inspire him. One dream was of a teahouse he developed together with Huy Tong, a good friend. With the District Môt, ‘I wanted to create a contrast to my Chén Chè teahouse, something contemporary.’ A young generation Vietnamese already lives in Berlin, and Vietnam is an attractive destination for Berliners and so it’s obvious that District Môt’s décor should be ‘street food’ says Truong.

Axel Burbacher and Guan Guanfeng, known as Afong, also travel to furnish their restaurant. ‘l let Afong lead me through the villages of his home. We both then develop an idea and bring something home from China.’ Afong has let a lot of his childhood memories flow into the Long March Canteen.

The architects from ett la benn take part in the planning, development and implementation. ‘We take the cultural background apart, then its either rebuilt or reinterpreted. That’s clearly visible in Yumcha Heroes and the Long March Canteen.’

They’ve learnt a lot, especially about lighting concepts. ‘In Yumcha Heroes the colors of the food look stronger and clearer than in the guest area.’ This is reversed in the Long March Canteen where spotlights highlight the food on the table.

Mengling Tang is also working on the lighting concept in the Peking Ente. She took over her parents’ restaurant a few years ago and has been clearing away the clichés of an 80s Chinese restaurant. ‘I’m for constant change, step by step, evolution not revolution.’ Here too the food on the table should take center stage. Food that here is as unique as in all the restaurants mentioned.

(Eva-Maria Hilker und Annika Zieske)

Out now! Taste Berlin and turn to the center pages to experience Berlin's unique flavor in English.

Bon Bon Bar, Torstraße 133, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 24 62 87 18, www.bonbonbar.de

Dudu, Torstraße 134, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 51 73 68 54, www.dudu-berlin.de

Kuchi Kant, Kantstraße 30, Berlin-Charlottenburg, tel. +49 30 31 50 78 15

Kuchi Mitte, Gipsstraße 3, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 28 38 66 22

Cocolo Ramen, Paul-Linke-Ufer 39/40, Berlin-Kreuzberg, tel. +49 30 98 33 90 73

Cocolo Ramenbar, Gipsstraße 3, Berlin-Mitte, www.kuchi.de

Si An, Rykestraße 36, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, tel. +49 30 40 50 57 75, www.sian-berlin.de

Chén Chè, Rosenthaler Straße 13, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 28 88 42 82, www.chenche-berlin.de

District Môt, Rosenthaler Straße 62, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 20 08 92 84, www.districtmot.com

Long March Canteen, Wrangelstraße 20, Berlin-Kreuzberg, tel. +49 178 884 95 99, www.longmarchcanteen.com

Yumcha Heroes, Weinbergsweg 8, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 76 21 30 35, www.yumchaheroes.de

Peking Ente, Voßstraße 1, Berlin-Mitte, tel. +49 30 229 45 23

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