The flavours of authentic Japanese cuisine can be hard to find in the West — even good restaurants of the type don’t always have the courage to challenge the tastebuds of their Western patrons with some of the unique flavours and ingredients of the real thing. Motoko Watanabe missed the tastes of Tokyo, and after each trip she and husband Shaul Margulies would longingly recall the great meals they had enjoyed. If only Japan wasn’t so darn far away. The solution? Open their own restaurant, of course. The two hospitality entrepreneurs count Zenkichi as one of their stable of Brooklyn venues, and the dynamic duo has now opened a second branch in Berlin to go with a German version of their Brooklyn café House of Small Wonder. If Brooklyn-isation isn’t a thing, it soon will be.
Zenkichi mkII is Watanabe’s baby — she has developed the menu with the head chef as well as designing the interior of the Johannisstrasse restaurant. A welcome break from the see-and-be-seen places, the layout of Zenkichi offers something more private, with bamboo blinds that can be pulled down to screen the tables from others and a bell system to call for service. Granite paving surrounded by black pebbles recall traditional Japanese rock gardens, and dark timber is set against light fabrics and bamboo pillars. Seasonal small plates are meant to be shared, which along with the partitioned booths further increases the intimate vibe. With Watanabe’s skills as a sake sommelier to call upon too, Zenkichi promises to be as convivial as can be.