Victoria Eliasdóttir doesn’t waste time with a tiny amuse bouche, some delicate little bite to impress the pants off you and tease out what’s to come. No, the first thing that lands on the table when you sit down for dinner at her new restaurant, Dóttir, is served with regular-size cutlery, generously portioned and satisfying. On a recent evening, it was a delicious pile of chicken salad, the meat in warm, tender pieces, embroidered with tarragon leaves and fat pickled cherries.
It was the kind of thing you’d nibble on some luxe family picnic, but Dóttir opened this past March in Mitte, a couple of blocks south of the Spree river in Berlin, in a crumbly old building that had been empty for the past three decades. Eliasdóttir, a Danish-born, Icelandic-raised chef, runs the small kitchen there, serving just one five-course set menu each night (€58), which she revises entirely each Tuesday.
On a recent evening, in the middle of a nasty heat wave, were pieces of soft, smoked mackerel and fresh cheese, with a little ceramic jug of cold tomato broth on the side—elegant and unfussy, each component buzzing with flavor. The dish seemed cool and effortless. Warm sourdough bread came with a bowl of melted brown butter to dip it in, and none of the servers seemed to mind that they had to wipe up everyone’s dribbles of butter across the wide bare wooden tables throughout the night.
The chef, who is 27, went to culinary school in Reykjavík and occasionally orders her seaweed and fish—a focus of the restaurant—from Iceland. But most of the seafood, including the juicy turbot I had with crisp skin and so many sweet green peas, comes from the Baltic Sea, just a few hours away by car. Like so many of Eliasdóttir’s dishes, it is simply but precisely composed, with a handful of ingredients and lots of attention to detail.
Dóttir translates from Icelandic to mean daughter. Eliasdóttir’s father was also a chef, in Copenhagen in the 1970s and ’80s. When the family moved to Iceland, he started to work on fishing ships, cooking for the crews of about 40 on board, leaving for one or two months at a time. When Eliasdóttir was 13, and her father passed away, she started to cook more herself—glazed ducks at Christmas, layered cakes on birthdays, always something celebratory, she says.
After culinary school, as the other students left to chase down high-profile internships, Eliasdóttir headed to Laugarvatn, a small lakeside town in southern Iceland where she jumped from being a student to suddenly running the kitchen in a hotel, cooking for a hundred people each day. She used trout from the lake and ordered tomatoes in from local farms. “It was a little bit in the Nordic in style, but at the same time I was letting my imagination go.”
That fall, Eliasdóttir headed to Berkeley for a four-month stint at Chez Panisse, jumping between stations, including pastry, and learning to butcher whole pigs, lambs, and various birds. “I got a little nerdy about the whole thing,” she says. By the time the chef got back to Iceland, her ambitions weren’t in fine dining any more. She moved to Berlin and cooked lunch daily at Studio Olafur Eliasson, her brother’s well-known art studio, until the offer came to run her own kitchen again.
The new dining room is beautiful, with stucco ceilings left raw and peeling, so they have the faded glamour of an old mansion that’s fallen on hard times. The handful of tables are spaced far apart (though on one night, some were pushed together for a birthday party of scruffy artists, half of whom were dressed in oversize striped shirts and ripped jeans) but close enough that you can still hear snippets of German, French, and English in many different accents.
Dinner goes so quickly, without feeling rushed, and every dish on a recent visit was delicious, right down to dessert: a hunk of frozen crème fraîche with a pool of salty caramel. (This week’s dessert is a mellow dill ice cream under a lemon and white chocolate mousse, with crisp sour raspberry meringues.) Dóttir, with its stylish dining room, warm service, and excellent, well-priced menu, may just be one the loveliest places to spend an evening in Berlin right now, the kind of place you could easily fit into your routine once a week and still never get the same thing twice.
Dóttir is at Mittelstraße 41, 10117 Berlin; +49 30 330060760 or dottirberlin.com