If you’re walking into Schmatz’s newest location in the Jinnan neighborhood of Shibuya expecting the typical German restaurant experience – dark surroundings, expensive beers, and nothing but sausages – you’re in for a pleasant, and tasty, surprise. The décor is sleek, spacious, and cosmopolitan, the service is extraordinarily friendly, the brews are various and affordable, and the menu offers an intriguing mix of modern German favorites and creative German-Japanese fare.
Schmatz – in German, the word can be translated as “the sound you make while eating food heartily” – has come a long way from its earliest origins: they started out as a food truck selling German sausages and later as a food stand at the Commune 246 collective space. They opened their first full-sized restaurant in Akasaka in 2015, and from there they’ve grown steadily, and now have seven locations open, in spots ranging from Kawasaki to Kichijoji.
“Schmatz is the sound you make while eating food heartily”
We wanted to see just what made the Schmatz experience so unique, so we dropped in at the Shibuya location, a couple of weeks ahead of their grand opening, and also caught up with Chris Ax, Schmatz’s co-CEO and co-founder, who brings an intriguing back story to the business. He grew up on an organic farm and spent summers at a seaside hotel that was opened by his grandmother, often working in the kitchen alongside the chefs. After a globetrotting early life and working in finance, he and a long-time friend, Schmatz co-CEO and co-founder Marc Luetten, realized that they wanted to create a business that produced something they could really believe in, and the seed that became Schmatz was planted.
Chris recommended that we start with a few of the restaurant’s custom brewed beers, which is just one more way that Schmatz stands out – and appeals to diners on a budget. Instead of focusing on imported beers, which are often expensive and age during the importing process, they brew their own beer in Japan, working with a local brewer with more than a decade’s experience of brewing German style beer to German brewing standards. Their lineup ranges from lagers to dark porters, and they’re constantly working on new recipes – one of them, the Kanda Kraft Kölsch, started exclusively at their Kanda location, but became so popular that they serve it at all of their restaurants. In Shibuya, they serve an exclusive called Rebell, which is an amber Altbier style with a rich, full-bodied flavor.
Moving on to the food, the dishes at Schmatz are meant to be shared – but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to be tempted to keep them to yourself! One of their most tempting appetizers is their German style fried chicken with tartar sauce. It’s Schmatz’s take on chicken nanban – fried chicken topped with tartar sauce – and features sauerkraut mixed in with the tartar sauce and, in the image of the German flag, is decorated with lines of red paprika, yellow curry powder, and black pepper. Another delicious fusion offering is their garlic cheese edamame, which is a flavorfully unique take on the Japanese izakaya standby.
When it comes to the main dishes, the schnitzel parmigiana is a hearty revelation: it’s a crispy fried pork cutlet, covered in cheese and tomato sauce. Another item that’s not to be missed is the currywurst. This dish is a simple one – a sausage topped with curry sauce – and it’s the most popular street food in Germany by far. To this American, the sauce has a sweet kick that reminded me a bit of barbecue sauce – definitely a pleasant association.
And finally, we weren’t expecting the variety of pizzas on offer: all are served on a very thin crust, which lets you enjoy a variety of toppings without filling you up. Needless to say, we walked away from our meal more than satisfied.
If things go as the Schmatz team plans, they could have as many as 15 shops open around Tokyo by the end of the year, and with a dining and drinking experience like they’ve got to offer, we think they’ll be making a lot more fans in the months to come.
For Schmatz’s Shibuya branch contact info, see our Concierge listing.