Munich's gourmet restaurants are as colourful as the neighbourhoods themselves. Our author visits Joshua Leise in the kitchen at the Mural Restaurant in Munich's historic city centre – the Altstadt district – and has lunch with him at the Caspar Plautz potato stall on Viktualienmarkt. Not only is gourmet chef Leise a native of Haidhausen, he also has lots of Munich fine dining tips to offer.
Joshua Leise and I arrange to meet for lunch on Viktualienmarkt on a sunny Wednesday. During my preparatory research, I’m amazed to find out his age: Joshua is just 27 – at 23 he became head chef at the Mural Restaurant, winning his first Michelin start two years later together with his colleague and friend Johannes Maria Kneip, who is the same age. The two met while training on Sylt, after which they joined the Mural together as a head chef duo. Kneip moved to another gourmet restaurant in Munich in 2021, leaving Joshua Leise to do the job at the Mural on his own.
In front of me is a blond young man who at first seems almost rather shy. But when we get talking, it quickly emerges that Joshua actually likes to talk a lot when he’s interested in the subject – ideally good food, appreciation of food produce, great wines or his favourite restaurants in Munich and around the world. But first of all, here we are at the Caspar Plautz stand studying the menu: the potatoes here come in all shapes, colours and combinations – for example with kimchi-sour cream-mirin cream, cucumber peel-mustard oil dressing, sour pickled yellow beet, sesame seeds, spring onions, blueberries and dill flowers.
Caspar Plautz opened in 2017 with a young team just like the one at the Mural Restaurant. The potato stall revolutionised Viktualienmarkt back then: suddenly there were more and more young people at Munich's 200-year-old market. Since that time, more and more young stall owners have followed suit, such as Lea Zapf with her patisserie, the kiosk run by the independent publisher Sorry Press and the fruit and vegetable stall Resi am Markt. Caspar Plautz has held its own for over five years now: the queue is always long, and the potato of the week is regularly in great demand. Unfortunately, we miss out on the dish of the day, but the standard menu offers great combinations, too. Joshua is able to give me some recommendations – he often comes to eat here.
Despite the fact that he's neither a breakfast fan nor a big lunch eater. He really only sits down to eat at the staff dinner in the restaurant, once everything is prepared for the evening. But sometimes when Joshua leaves his flat in Haidhausen to go to the Mural in the Altstadt district and has to pick up some things for the restaurant on the way, he stops by at Caspar Plautz or has an espresso at Kaffeerösterei Viktualienmarkt. “We get our mushrooms and berries from Zollner. And since the Mural only works with small-scale suppliers, it sometimes happens that a bunch of chervil gets missed or the farmer wasn't able to harvest enough – in which case I might have to pick up a few more items at Viktualienmarkt.”
The fact that Mural is located close to the market with its regional products is very much in line with its philosophy of working exclusively with suppliers from the surrounding area: the restaurant now has more than 30 local firms supplying items such as Bavarian cucumbers and shrimps from Erdinger Moos – which is not just labour-intensive, it's also a considerable logistical feat. The menu at the Mural changes every six to eight weeks, with seasonal produce determining what is served. Sometimes a dish for June will be created as early as January, while at other times a farmer will be on the phone to Joshua a couple of weeks before a change of menu is due saying he has large quantities of fresh peas right now – that's when it's time to get creative.
"Since the Mural only works with small-scale suppliers, it happens that a bunch of chervil gets missed or the farmer wasn’t able to harvest enough – in which case I might have to pick up a few more items at Viktualienmarkt.”
The Mural and the neighbouring Viktualienmarkt also reflect a typical contrast to be found in Munich's Altstadt district: familiar, long-established Bavarian culture set against contemporary urban, alternative flair that tends to get rather hidden away. The Mural Restaurant is located in the Street-Art-Museum MUCA in a small side street in Hackenviertel. It's an amazingly cool, colourful and distinctive place, but one that even some locals don’t know about. Joshua Leise appreciates precisely this contrast that you wouldn't expect in Munich’s historic old town. We get on our bikes and cycle over to the restaurant.
We arrive at the restaurant and the tasks for the day are assigned – there are four specialist chefs at the Mural. The saucier takes care of the sauces each day, as well as longer-term projects such as the pickling and preservation of vegetable and fruit, and meat maturation. Since there's a limited choice of fresh fruit and vegetables in winter, a lot is prepared in summer. Yesterday, three boxes of thin peppers arrived which the team pickled. Since the kitchen is small, they're now in storage in one of the refrigerated warehouses in the rear courtyard. The Mural was originally only intended to be a museum café.
The team also prepares most of the sauces: these are thickened and reduced for several days before being freshly seasoned and refined each day as needed. The patissier makes ice cream, pastries or biscuits and the entremétier cleans and blanches the vegetables, while the garde manger is responsible for the cold items: herbs, marinades, mayonnaises. Joshua provides assistance wherever it’s needed.
“You can tell quickly whether someone’s heart is in it. It’s not that everything on the plate has to be absolutely perfect in technical terms, but you have to be able to sense that it’s been prepared with love and affection.”
On the current menu, his favourite dishes are calf's head and calf's heart, because they clearly reflect the philosophy of the Mural. In order to make the most of the calf, one dish is also accompanied by a veal tartare tartelette. Top-level cuisine doesn’t always have to be about luxury products: at the Mural, regional produce and sustainability are key aspects too, as well as tradition. After all, offal – like the head and heart – are actually typical Munich fare: at the Mural they're simply reinterpreted with lots of vegetables added – so the calf's heart is served as more of a salad-type dish in wafer-thin slices on tomatoes and chicory.
Even as a child, Joshua would help his grandmother in the garden: he has always loved eating and cooking and did his first internship in a professional kitchen at the tender age of 15. Even though his family had no connections with exclusive cuisine, he knew right from the outset that that was the area he wanted to work in. Hence his application to a five-star hotel Söl'ring Hof on the island of Sylt: it was exactly what he was looking for – a small hotel that offered fine dining. After his apprenticeship, he worked at the two-star Atelier at Bayerischer Hof, then came the offer at the street art museum: “There are plenty of classic gourmet restaurants with white tablecloths and a luxurious atmosphere, but the Mural is pretty unique.”
It was not just the restaurant's distinctive atmosphere that impressed Joshua, but also its regional concept and ample wine selection. Even if he hadn’t become a chef, he says, he's sure he'd be working with food today – in agriculture or viticulture. He won't commit to a favourite wine, but he does like his red wine on the cool side: “I love good wines where you can tell the winemaker is passionate about their work.” That's important to Joshua when he eats out, too: “You can always tell quickly whether someone’s heart is in it. It's not that everything on the plate has to be absolutely perfect in technical terms, but you have to be able to sense that it's been prepared with love and affection.”
“We have regulars who say after every visit: today was even better. That’s nice, that’s what we aim to achieve, and I don’t think that ever stops – whether you’re 27 or 50, you have to get better all the time, especially in the area of Michelin-starred gastronomy.”
And that’s certainly something that comes over with Joshua – whether he's filleting a fish or talking about a courgette. To him, the underlying attitude has to be that you respect the food – no matter what it is you have in front of you. Another important thing is to be able to take criticism and try to surpass yourself every day: “We have regulars who say after every visit: today was even better. That’s nice, that's what we aim to achieve, and I don't think that ever stops – whether you're 27 or 50, you have to get better all the time, especially in the area of Michelin-starred gastronomy.”
Taking up a career in this industry at such a young age, Joshua was well aware the pressure was on. But he gives the impression of being relaxed and fully able to handle it. And being head chef is something he's taken in his stride, too: the fact that he was teamed up with a partner for the first few years gave him a chance to grow into the role. “When we have a student trainee with us, it always reminds me of when I was at that stage myself. It's great for me to be able to help young people get started in top-level cuisine.” Why does he like the job so much? You get feedback from the guests every day, he says – either directly or indirectly through the service.
“Haidhausen is home for me. It’s a great neighbourhood with some lovely spots. It’s quiet here and yet lively here – and it has something of a village about it, even though you’re in the middle of the city.”
Joshua Leise also won the Guide Michelin's “Young Chef Award” in 2020. But he's modest about this, too: “Of course it’s nice to get an award like that. In a sense it's something you work towards – not for yourself, but for your guests. But if it means we have one more guest in tonight who leaves feeling happy, then that's really the most satisfying thing about it.” Joshua seeks to arouse emotions in his guests – and that's how he approaches menu planning: what brings back childhood memories? What makes people think of holidays?
Joshua is well able to handle criticism too, he says. He's not a noisy cook – and that's something you can instantly imagine when you see how thoughtful and calm he is as he talks about his work and shows us around the kitchen. Only if someone causes any disarray in the kitchen does he start to lose his patience – which is exactly what Joshua's mum used to criticise him for when he cooked at home at the age of 16 or 17. And he still does today: at Christmas he makes his best fried chicken with seasonal side dishes such as lamb's lettuce and potato salad – though now he leaves the kitchen spick and span, of course. That's one of the first things you learn in training, he says.
Joshua's family lives in Haidhausen – he grew up on Wörthstrasse, and when he was looking for an apartment a few years ago, he happened to end up just a few streets away on Pariser Platz: “Haidhausen is home for me. It's a great neighbourhood with some lovely spots. It's quiet here, yet there’s always something going on – and it has something of a village about it, even though you’re in the middle of the city.”
But he has plenty of dining tips for us in Haidhausen: “I go to the Italian restaurant Dal Cavaliere. The pizza there is very good, but so is the steak – they even have their own butcher's cabinet in the restaurant. On Sundays I like to enjoy my roast pork at Restaurant Zum Kloster in Preysingstrasse. And I can highly recommend Song’s Kitchen on Rosenheimer Platz, too! Another great thing about Haidhausen: there are lots of cafés and bars, so there are all kinds of places you can sit and enjoy a Campari and soda.”