Behind a large aluminum door that fronts onto an unassuming street in Wedding is one of Berlin’s most talked-about restaurants — ernst. The brainchild of Dylan Watson-Brawn and Spencer Christenson, this raw yet refined twelve seat space offers a dining experience with a difference.
Situated on the opposite side of town to the much-hyped hipster colonies of Kreuzberg and Neukölln is Wedding — an outlying suburb that hasn’t yet been hit by the gentrification that Berlin’s art areas pulsate with. Watson-Brawn’s choice of Gerichtstraße as the location for his restaurant venture fits well with the instinctual process by which he creates: “It’s mostly a matter of convenience, since it’s two blocks from my apartment,” he explains, “but we also thought there was a great opportunity here — there isn’t much around, and it’s not that remote.”
Having a physical site for the restaurant has been a welcome change for Watson-Brawn, who had been holding evenings of fine dining — first with friends under the moniker of Jüng, Grün und Blau and later as ernst — from other people’s kitchens and his own for years prior. “Now that we have a fixed location there’s a lot more space to grow and express ourselves,” Watson-Brawn explains, “and it makes it easier to work as a team. Obviously, there were a lot of downsides to working from my living space, and my kitchen as we had done before, so it’s a relief to have somewhere permanent to make home.”
In making this “home” at Gerichtstraße 54, Watson-Brawn enlisted the design genius of Gonzalez Haase AAS: the Berlin-based atelier of architect Judith Haase and scenographer Pierre Jorge Gonzalez, whose work includes fit-outs for Balenciaga stores and famed art galleries alike. As should be expected then, the resultant space is artfully understated. Indeed, if you’ve wandered through this part of Wedding before, don’t feel bad if your eyes haven’t recognized the restaurant for what it is. Barely signposted — a small silver badge that reads ‘ernst’ secured to the rough concrete facade is the only marker — it certainly feels exclusive, an early review noting that it was a place more difficult to get into than Berghain. Inside, you’ll find handcrafted design objects and unprocessed materials buttressed against one another, the aesthetics of the space offering a sensory experience of balance that is mirrored in the food and drink. For Gonzalez and Haase such duality was key to the design of ernst, explaining that “it distinguishes the entire concept” of the dining experience.
With just twelve seats arranged in an L shape around the open kitchen, eating at ernst is an intimate occasion: it allows what Watson-Brawn calls “an unbroken dialogue” to occur between the hosts and their guests over thirty courses. Whilst twelve seats might seem a small number, Watson-Brawn explains that they have actually doubled the number of covers at ernst since opening: “We aren’t doing more because of space constrictions, but also because of limitations on our produce. We only have a certain quantity of products coming in, and because the shipments and the produce itself are both so spontaneous, twelve covers allow us to change our menu regularly.”
And change it does: Watson-Brawn has long been an advocate for using local seasonal produce in restaurants, and one of his reasons for tying ernst to a space was to allow them to be more “receptive to nuances”; be that of the season or the ingredients. “We only want to work with very, very high quality produce,” Watson-Brawn explains, “and we look for people who share the same drive and passion in their work. Then when we receive the produce we continue with their philosophy and practice by honoring their ingredients.”
All images © Maidje Meergans