The Nenio in Düsseldorf, Germany, opened in May 2016 as sister restaurant and right next to the “U”. During my last stay in the city in October 2016, I took the chance to try out the refreshing concept created by Bastian Falkenroth.
Bastian himself is very friendly, down-to-earth guy. We entered the restaurant a little early, they open at 7 and we decided to be very German and arrive 15 minutes earlier. Granted, the restaurant isn’t easy to see from the outside, you have to look very carefully. Once we found the entrance, Bastian stood in front of us, shaking our hands and seating us. At first, I didn’t even realize it was HIS restaurant since he’s so hands on.
Being seated isn’t difficult in the Nenio, it has only 12 seats – all at the counter, no table. What sounds a little uncomfortable in the beginning isn’t uncomfortable at all. In fact, it supports the charm of the restaurant and creates a refreshing experience, since the counter is shaped like a “U” around the kitchen, where food is prepared right in front of your eyes. Bastian and another chef / waitress are enough to serve the whole (small) restaurant in a very enjoyable manner.
Personality, closeness, and atmosphere are very important for the Nenio experience. Those are not the only qualities the restaurant can come up with, but they clearly stand out.
What else stands out? The menu, for sure. It changes every 7 weeks, consists of 9 courses, of which 3 are starters. I will go more into detail with each course, but another quality, after my mind, was the sound story throughout the menu. From refreshing interpretations of classic starters like tomato and mozzarella (Burrata with tomatoes) to courageous combinations like St. Pierre and mushrooms to reoccurring ingredients in different forms (elderberries and Elderberry sauce). Bastian made sure that every product is of very high quality and has a story behind each. The price 120 Euros per menu is very justified, almost a little low.
The Nenio has no Michelin star yet but doesn’t even remotely fall short of keeping the quality of one. That’s also reflected in the wine selection, which once again intentionally falls off the regular spectrum of wines. You find Vin Jaune, which is served with the St. Pierre that’s also made with Vin Jaune, on the menu, presented on an Ipad. It surely needs a couple sips to get used to, but pairs wonderfully with the fish. Or a French red wine that’s made completely without additives, which is rare for French red wines.
The wines are very anti-mainstream, often come from young wineries. Bastian wants that, he tries to go new ways and likes to take risks. I appreciate that a lot because it’s easy to play it safe and offer something you know people will like. He’s not afraid to play a little with people, drag them outside their comfort zones and widen their horizons. It fits to the overall concept.
The interior is very simple, dark and cozy. Warm yellow light gives you a candle-light dinner kind of atmosphere and works well with the very simple design. Besides one image on the wall right next to the entrance, there is not much more. All focus is on the food and the kitchen. The seats are cosy, even though they’re bar stools because they have a backrest and are made out of leather.
But enough small talk, let’s look at the courses:
- Polenta & Parmesan
The little Parmesan ball and Polenta crackers are served on small rocks. They’re tasty for sure and set the tone for the night.
- Esl & Knäckebrot
- Life Changing Bread
The Life Changing Bread is a funny thing. It’s made completely without egg and flour but holds together by a technique called “swelling” (don’t ask me). It basically consists of nuts only and is served warm (warm bread, ugh!) with a butter made of Hemp. Delicious!
The Burrata is a discovery Bastian made through one of his friends, who owns an Italian food shop in Düsseldorf. While regular Burrata quickly dissolves when being cut, this one is a little firmer like a good Mozzarella and goes great with the tomato and tomato essence oil! It’s served on a cracker that’s made of the Burrata’s milk and fried to a nice consistency that doesn’t fall into 1,000 pieces when you take a bite. It’s a great first main course that makes appetite for more.
- Butternut Kürbis (squash)
The butternut squash is another of those courses that are a little risky. The theme of the plate is definitely something like “woods” or “forest”, as it’s being served with moss, which is dehydrated and has a surprisingly good taste. The plate also comes with “soil”, made of dehydrated Chicory. It looks like actual soil and at first tastes like some, but then you realize it’s not. The squash itself is cut into long pieces and has a very nutty and rich taste. Didn’t expect that from the plate honestly.
- Wels leicht geräuchert (lightly smoked)
The Wels comes with an Elder essence and beans. It’s a solid course that I didn’t expect before the St. Pierre. Fish after fish? But it works! It’s served with a dry, almost bitter essence of elder that bridges the taste between fish and beans.
- St. Pierre
The St. Pierre was one of my highlights of the menu. Against all odds, it works great with mushrooms and is carried by a sauce that makes you want to lick the plate. A glass of white wine and life is good. Even the Anise, which I usually am not a big fan of, finds its way perfectly into the play of rich flavors. The fish is cooked in Vin Jaune, as I told you earlier, which pairs beautifully with the course itself.
- Taube (Pidgeon)
The second highlight of the night was the pigeon for me. It’s shown to you on a tone plate covered in hay before being prepared. The key is burned down on the kitchen table and melts into the pigeon meat, which is then cooked in a pan for a couple minutes. That gives the skin a quite rich taste of hay, which the meat is close to being rare. But because it has been cooked in the oven for 1.5 hours prior to being served, it’s soft enough to be sucked off the bone. It’s enriched with a thick sauce of … Elder! Once again, we find that framing story structure here, of ingredients being used in several ways and combinations. What an experience!
- Feige (Fig)
To end the journey, the Nenio serves fig on elder parfait with Seabuckthorn ice-cream. Ugh! It’s the third highlight and a fantastic dessert: not too sweet, a little fruity, lots of chocolate. Next time I’ll ask for another #fatty!
The dessert round finished with a threesome of “Indian Baumkuchen”, “sweet brownie” and a truffle. Ugh! All of those were stunning…
I’d be surprised if the Nenio doesn’t receive a Michelin star in the next 6-8 months. All courses are delightful, refreshing and the restaurant’s vibe is great. I’ll definitely come back as soon as possible because I want to see what mastermind Falkenroth and his team creat next and if they can keep the standard.