Archive for avril 2009

Schloss Berg, Nennig

avril 30, 2009

 


Le chateau

 

 

 

Le chateau

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been 10 years now since Christian Bau and his wife have taken over the restaurant of Schloss Berg. The restaurant itself is set in a picturesque 12th century castle and is located a stone’s throw away from Luxembourg and France. The famous village of Schengen (where the treaty has been signed) is about 10km down the river.

 

le chateau-2

le chateau-2

 

 

Apart from a nasty little casino adjacent to the castle, the restaurant’s situation is wonderful. The vineyards are extending down to the Moselle, the weather is mild, sunny, nature is coming back to life…

 

My first visit had left me with the impression of Bau being a most intelligent, hard-working chef. Someone, who constantly seems to re-work dishes until they work, really work. The service back then was good too, only the horrible design of the room was a bit annoying.

 

Photo: Schloss Berg

Photo: Schloss Berg

 

 

Happily enough, they changed the whole interior a couple of months ago. Now, the diner is greeted by a light, warm, welcoming room, which suits the cooking so much better than the previous one. To get away from the international standard Coquet or Bernardaud crockery, Bau now mostly uses Stefanie Hering’s fantastic porcelain, which underlines his food beautifully.

 

 

The service, led by Yildiz Bau, the chef’s wife and Britta Jaeger, the sommeliere, has become much more personal, warm, relaxed, friendly, welcoming. They really know how to treat their guests. Put it in a few words: You feel very well there.

 

La salle

La salle

 

la table

la table

 

 

Bau’s concept of delivering perfection from beginning to end is already clear from the first bites that he sends each guest. In this case they consisted of a cracker with oyster and swordfish salpicon and apple foam; tomatoe/pesto tartlet; yellow-fin tuna with avocado cream. All of them already featured amazingly intense flavour explosions and showed how much effort is put into each element here. Bau certainly doesn’t take any shortcuts to achieve what he strives for. I couldn’t think of any better canapés, only those of Ledoyen come somewhat close, somewhat. Outstanding.

 

canapes-1

canapes-1

 

 

Following this came a melon soup, which tasted a little empty. Melon season isn’t quite at its height yet. It might have been the only miss of the meal, but one that isn’t too problematic. With it came very good chorizo cream-filled philo pastry cannelloni. The latter were excellent.

 

canapes-2

canapes-2

 

 

Still in the lounge, we were approached with a cornet holding a smoked eel cream, beef tartar and imperial ossietra caviar. It’s always nice to see someone use real caviar instead of the cheaper and less good, farmed versions from wherever they might come. Here the combination of flavours resulted in an orgasmic mix. You simply can not describe how perfect this little thing was: The crunchy cornet, smoky creamy eel, hearty beef and slightly salty caviar…heaven on earth. Give me ten of these and I’m fine for a (short) while.

 

canapes-3

canapes-3

 

 

One further little amuse came before we went to our table: A tomatoe and olive oil gazpacho with mozzarella and olive bon-bons, tomatoe sorbet and calamaretti. Having tasted this in December already, I knew what to expect. Not only was this as good as then, but it made much more sense as an amuse-bouche, being very fresh and light. A perfect palate-cleanser and starting point for the rest of the menu. Excellent.

canapes-4

canapes-4

 

 

After having been escorted to our table, we were approached with yet another amuse: A foie gras royale with a healthy serving of Perigord truffle and Parmesan air. Again, you simply can not describe how perfect the flavours were. The was truffle heated just enough to release its fantastic flavour, the royale smooth, silky and perfectly seasoned and the parmesan air just bringing both together. Another divine little creation.

 

amuse-1

amuse-1

The bread then made its apparition coming in various forms and varieties. All of them were very good, but the slice of focaccia served at the beginning, sourdough and the wheat baguette were by far the best.

 

les pains

les pains

The final amuse came in the form of a salmon raviolo filled with oyster, served with a salad of asparagus, salicorne, char-caviar and a wasabi/apple foam. I am no fan of salmon, but when it is used as well as in this dish, I’m happy to have it. The air deserves to be mentioned, as it was remarkably tasty for a foam. This could easily have been a whole course in any other restaurant, but here you get al of it as part of the prelude. Fantastic.

 

 

amuse-2

amuse-2

 

 

The first starter was Taschenkrebs & Melone/ Mariniert & Gebacken / 2x Wassermelone / Dashigelee. This was simply one refreshing, iodine dish, where sweetness, saltiness and acidity were balanced in the utmost perfect way. The marinated watermelon gave a little bit of crunch to the creamy crab salad and the dashi gelee a salty background, combined with the sorbet you had a piece of summer in your mouth. The little fried crab gave the whole dish a luscious, indulgent note. Excellent.

 

crab-1

crab-1

 

crab-2

crab-2

 

 

Following this came Gaenseleber aus dem Elsass / Gruener Pfeffer / Gelee und Knusper vom gruenen Tee / Mango. Well, what can you say about an ice cream made out of pure foie gras? Nothing. Only that it is out of this world. The texture is quite simply nowhere near anything I ever had before. I guess the Paco-Jet does help here, creating the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I have found so far. This however, should not make the little gateau stand back in any form. It was just as perfect and mind-blowingly well made. A slightly bigger portion would make it perfect. I do not like huge portions, but a little more can’t hurt. The appearance of the dish didn’t really appeal to me, but that is entirely due to personal taste. All in all, it was an outstanding foie dish.

 

foie

foie

 

 

Langoustine / Sushi / Tartar /  Spargel / Dashi. Lightly cooked langoustines, wrapped in spinach, with a tartar, dashi broth and asparagus resulted in a really well made fusion dish. The whole thing was simply centred around the amazing langoustines, which were of the same quality as the ones I had at Oud Sluis a couple of days earlier. Such products just dno’t need tons of butter or heavy sauces. A light broth suffices. Excellent.

 

langoustine

langoustine

 

 

To continue on such heights is a challenge, not many chefs would be able to live up to. Bau certainly can. Blue Fin Tuna / Tataki/ Gartengurke / Japanisches Gemuese mit Abalone / Kimizu raised the bar yet higher! Not only do I like to receive 3 different plates, but when they are all as perfect as these were, you simply can not argue. The tuna being as tender as Wissler’s but so much lighter and cleaner (taste-wise), the accompanying cucumber gave it some crunch and freshness and the dashi the great heartiness you sometimes miss in such light dishes. The little bowl of tuna tartar with apple/wasabi/sake sorbet and cucumber/tapioca soup was another little star. The third cup contained some thinly shaved vegetables and abalone. I didn’t really need the abalone, but can’t say it was misplaced neither. Divine.

 

tuna

tuna

 

 

Coquille Saint Jacques / gegrillt / Meereswasser Tapioka / Karottenchutney / Schaum & Aroma von Raz El Hanout. Now, you get some delicious scallops in London, Paris, Sluis, anywhere you like, but you rarely get some of this quality. The beast was of considerable size and perfectly, really perfectly cooked. Even if it was cut in half (oh oh oh), the reason here was clear: One half had to transport the carrot-chutney. The accompanying tapioca and quinoa (one crunchy, the other cooked with oysters) gave the dish a great textural stimulus and the raz el hanout foam some spice. Outstanding.

 

scallops

scallops

 

 

After all of these mind-blowing dishes, you wait for a less stunning one. Well wait my friend, wait for quite a while, because I haven’t come across anything that wasn’t 100% perfect here yet. The following dish too, wasn’t anything but perfect: Steinbutt aus der Bretagne / Sot-l’y-laisse mit Hoi Sin glasiert / Kraeutersalat / Anchoisaromaten / Krustentierbearnaise. A nice tranche of turbot, grilled to perfection came with a few spring onions, lobster béarnaise and chicken oysters. The absolute star of the dish were the chicken oysters. Just the absolute best piece of chicken you can find on these birds magnified in a most interesting way. The béarnaise, even if very classical, was a welcome partner for all of this. Wow, I don’t know when I had such a perfect meal since my last visits at ADPA or the Louis XV.

 

turbot

turbot

 

 

Hold on to your seats. I thought these dishes were good, but then came along a real beast. Blauer Hummer / in Butter pochiert / Spitzmorcheln / Dicke Bohnen / Vin Jaune. Breton blue lobster is probably my favourite ingredient. Morels aren’t anything I despise neither, nor are peas or green beans. The whole thing served with a little vin jaune beurre blanc makes it a nice little collection of some of my favourite things on earth. Good lord, this was good. Rarely do you get such perfectly cooked lobster, glased with jus and full of flavour. The morels were amazingly powerful as were the beans and the pea puree. All in all, I guess that this is as close to heaven as you can possibly get on this earth. Absolutely, outstandingly- divine (sorry for being repetitive, but go there and you’ll see why I am that enchanted).

 

lobster

lobster

 

 

Bresse-Ente von Mieral / Ravioli von der Keule / 2x Sellerie mit Orangenaroma / Entenjus mit Tamarinde & Café. This dish didn’t have the easiest of tasks. To follow a dish as perfect as the last one isn’t something I’d like to have to do. But, Bau being who he is, he managed to pull out another stunner. Jean Claude Mieral is probably the best eleveur in the Bresse region. He works with most of the better French 3* chefs and deservedly so, do they rely on his fantastic produce. It is from him, that Bau gets all of his poultry, to the great pleasure of his guests. The duck was cooked to perfection, both the breast and the braised thigh stuffed in the raviolo. The celery puree was a concentration of pure celery taste with a nice buttery touch too it. The rich jus had a slight hint of sweetness (from the tamarind) and a very subtle bitterness from the coffee. Divine quality, divine execution and divine conception and that’s it!

 

duck

duck

 

 

 

 

duck

 

 

But don’t think that we were done with our meal. The real highlight still had to be served. Golden Label Beef “Japan-Style” / vom Holzkohlegrill / Auberginencreme / Gemuesetempura. Now being served Wagyu beef is not something you are likely to get everyday. Here it was A10, American quality that was absolutely beautiful. Luckily enough Bau knows that such a product doesn’t need thousand bits and pieces to mask its outstanding quality. He simply grilled it over charcoal and served it with smoked aubergine puree, jus and vegetable-tempura. This must have been the absolute perfect piece of meat: Tender as butter, immensely  tasty, rich, sumptuously marbled and cooked to the utmost perfection (again). The very interesting aubergine puree gave it a nice background, as did the jus and the tempura. Such products just leave you speechless and stay in your mind for quite a while. I don’t think I’ll ever eat any other beef in Europe, that should say enough.

 

wagyu,pre-cooking

wagyu,pre-cooking

 

wagyu, post-cooking

wagyu, post-cooking

 

 

 

 

wagyu, post-cooking

 

tempura with wagyu

tempura with wagyu

 

 

 

 

 

The salty part of the meal being finished, we were more than willing to let the three desserts come. This concept of serving three little desserts instead of a big one, is one I really enjoy as it allows you to taste a much wider range of preparations.

 

But before this we were allowed a little ice cream. Some white chocolate-encased passion-fruit ice cream. Excellent.

 

pre-dessert

pre-dessert

 

 

The first one started on a good level:  Rhabarber mit Streusel / Mascarpone / Ingwereis. A perfectly made rhubarb-crumble, a little crisp filled with mascarpone cream and a quenelle of ginger ice cream provided a refreshing first step into the sweet world. Each element was well executed and had distinct textural aspects. Very good, even if it left room for improvement (taken up by the following two desserts).

 

rhubarb

rhubarb

 

 

The second part was a big step up the scale: Interpretation sauerer Zitrusfruechte.  The main plate featured a yuzu jelly and sorbet of dazzling cleanliness. To the left was a lemon tart and further left still, a kalamanci jelly on a bisquit, topped with different confit zests. All of these elements were of such clean, refreshing taste, with a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity that you only get in very, very few places.

 

citrus-1

citrus-1

 

 

With it came an Amalfi-lemon cream with some marinated blood orange. Here again, the bowl was just pure pleasure.  Such simplicity relying on spectacular products and great maturity from the cooks is something you would like to find more often. Divine

 

citrus-2

citrus-2

 

 

The third part featured some grapefruit espuma and salad. You won’t be surprised that this was another really well made little creation that simply is that much better than much else, even if it’s not as complicated as many other things.

 

citrus-3

citrus-3

 

 

The third and, unfortunately, last dessert was Valrhona-Schokoladen “Erde” / Maracujacreme / Knusper. Now this earth, which Ferran Adria and his brother Albert invented a few years ago in Roses can be very good, or less so. Here it worked beautifully with the slightly sour maracuja jelly and the coffee cream underneath it. The whole thing was an etude in bitterness and acidity. Not something the general public will enjoy, but I loved it, as it moves away from the sweet desserts you so often get. This and the citrus fruits were the better of the three desserts. Excellent.

 

chocolate

chocolate

 

 

To finish the deal, you get the obligatory petit-fours, marshmallows, pralines and cocoa coated, caramelized nuts. All of them show, once more, the incredibly high standards this patisserie has, as they were pretty much all perfect.

 

petit-fours

petit-fours

 

 

 

After having eaten at Oud Sluis, Vendome and Schloss Berg in less than a week, it was clear, that the last stop was by far the best. Whilst maybe not being as modern as the other two, Bau has the ability to marry tradition and avant-garde in a most impressive way. His dishes aren’t purely classical French, nor resolutely modern. They are much more a mix of the great combinations, that the classic French dishes use (the turbot, lobster, duck dishes show some of these), combined with some modern elements and techniques thrown in here and there for good measure (chocolate dessert, the various airs, slow-poaching of the lobsters). Also, it is great to see, that such a gifted chef is so open to new ideas. Having been to Japan recently, Bau introduced Japanese elements into many dishes in a most delightful way (dashi, yuzu, abalone, tuna).

 

One thing that struck me was the constant evolution here. From my visit a mere 4 months ago I certainly remembered a very good meal, but this was even better. It seems that Bau is going further and further in order to find the absolute perfect combinations. It is this hard-working, realistic, down to earth side to him, that makes him a most impressive chef.

 

After the refurbishment of the room, a meal here is simply a complete, rounded experience, as is Vendome. It is quite bizarre to see this place nearly neglected by the foodie community, whilst much less good restaurants are constantly in the spotlight.

 

 

 

Publicités

Spring is here, and it is good!

avril 28, 2009

During the last couple of weeks, I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen in Luxembourg playing around with this and that. Amongst the products that I found really interesting was a milk-fed lamb from the Pyrenees, which comes from the same grower as Peter Goossens’. This lamb, simply roasted with sariette and piment d’espelette was quite succulent, especially paired with some green beans, wild onions, grenailles de Noirmoutier and sand-carrots.

 

Lamb

Lamb

Another thing that was quite pleasant, were the first morels from France, which with some Asparagus from the Landes and peas made quite a nice little spring-dish. It is such a simple thing, but does taste quite good. 

 

Asparagus

Asparagus

Vegetables in spring do have some nice freshness, tenderness, that you rarely have at other times of the year. A simple turnip, glased in veal jus and fleur d’oranger essence makes a little feast with nearly nothing.

 

turnip

turnip

Whilst talking about vegetables, some heirloom carrots, a bit of sorrel from the garden and asparagus do get you to some nice little starter.

 

carrots

carrots

Restaurant Vendome, Bensberg

avril 26, 2009

 

La (grande) maison

La (grande) maison

 

 

Drving up the hill in Bensberg and reaching the very impressive Grand Hotel Schloss Bensberg, where the restaurant Vendome is situated, is quite strange thing. One moment you are in the most banal German little town, a few seconds later, you find yourself in a place that has about nothing in common with the rest of the town.

The restaurant itself isn’t even in the main building, but in the old stables, which are bigger and more impressive than most houses you come across nowadays. From the room you have a stunning view on Cologne and the sorroundings. The décor is very modern indeed, with photos of the place Vendome in Paris and the famous coloumn made out of the cannons, Napoleon conquered after the battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The tables are widely spaced and the napkins the biggest I’ve come across (they really are big).

 

La salle

La salle

 

 

The service is as good as it gets. Smiling, attentive, knowledgeable and charming. Miguel Calero is easily on of the best restaurant managers in Germany and leads his brigade in a most efficient way, that suits the cooking and the restaurant very well.

 

Joachim Wissler is certainly the most innovative and interesting chef in Germany, and one of the most singular chefs worldwide. His cooking is unlike anything else served in other restaurants of that level. He not only tends to use cuts that other 3* restaurants wouldn’t even dare to offer on their lunch menu, but he also goes for some really stunning, unusual, strange combinations, that work every single time. He also deserves praise for bringing pork into Germany’s 3* restaurants, with which he does some spectacular things.

 dscn0386

Recently, the whole menu structure has changed, and you are now able to enjoy a 24-course meal, which is quite printed quite similarly to Alinea’s big menu. The only difference being the bigger portions here. Driving there from Luxembourg, the shorter menus didn’t even look like an alternative and so I was in for quite a ride…

 

The arrival of the amuses already showed how far German cooking has gone over the last few years. All of them were extremely well made and of impressive complexity. From the top, they were eel with figs, goat’s cheese with cress, mackerel with baked polenta and seaweed and poularde braised and stuffed into a crisp round of pastry. All were excellent.

 

Amuses

Amuses

 

 

After this, the first course came very quickly. Knäckebrot Krabben | Muscheln | Frankfurter grüne Sauce. A thin layer of bread, with some crevettes grises, mussels and herb sauce (from Frankfurt) marked a light, very good first course.

 

Knaeckebrot

Knaeckebrot

 

 

Blätterwald Gemüsekrokant | Ziegenjoghurt – Dip was a very thoughtful and innovative way of presenting vegetables. Out of the various varieties, cauliflower was the strongest, with the others being too sweet. The goat’s cheese dip was very good. All in all, whilst being good this didn’t figure amongst my favourites of the day.

 

 

crackers

crackers

 

 

Coralle Parmesan | Foie Gras | Basilikum – Pistou. This was a combination of a Parmesan “coral” , a foie gras panna-cotta and a pistou, a form of the Ligurian pesto originating around Nice. All elements were perfectly well made, and worked together, even if I’m dubious about the link between the foie and the other two elements. They certainly did bring different textures to the dish: The Parmesan coral being crunchy, the foie panna-cotta creamy and the pistou somewhat between liquid and velvety. The other characteristic feature of Wissler’s cooking, that this dish displayed, were the very present flavours. All of the elements had clear, pronounced, well-seasoned tastes, that make them stand out from some wishy-washy dishes you might get elsewhere.

 

parmesan

parmesan

Auster Grüner Apfel und Sauerkraut | d’Aquitainekaviar. This, following course, certainly doesn’t exist in many other restaurants. It was the first time for me to get Sauerkraut (in the form of pearls) served with caviar and oysters. But I hope it won’t be the last, as this was spectacular! Each flavour working remarkably well with the others and lifting the whole dish to (nearly) unknown heights. The products Wissler uses are of course of the finest, which won’t have to be mentioned in every single course. The accompanying green apple and wasabi foam gave the dish un peu d’air sur terre as the ad for a French fashion house states. Excellent.

Auster

Auster

 

Langoustine Sushi gegrillt | Tonic und Ingwer. Here came another strange concoction. This time, there wasn’t any German element in it, but instead of serving some sort of Langoustine bouillon, Wissler made a sauce out of tonic and ginger. The combination with the langoustine (topped with a cream made out the corail) worked fantastically well. However, the quality of the langoustine was not as great as it could have been. Despite this, the dish was still very good, as were the accompanying Dashi/shiso crisps.

 

Langoustine

Langoustine

Next up was a Wissler classic: Octopus Sepia | Tintenfisch Marsh Mellow. This dish didn’t have any odd flavour combinations, but a Squid Marsh Mallow certainly isn’t part of your everyday feast. All of us were stunned by this little gimmick, that was at least as good as the “main” part of the dish. Here, again, he delivers the most fun and unexpected sensations for all of the senses, the dish being of great complexity and the flavours working remarkably well. Outstanding.

 

Squid

Squid

 

 

This was another German element. A rather posh, but very classic dish: Leipziger Allerlei Bachkrebse am Waldrand. All of the classic components of the dish were present, albeit in slightly altered form. The crayfish were pan-fried and accompanied by a bisque, the asparagus featured as a mousse and salad, the morels just pan-fried and some green beans provided another sign of spring. First of all, the idea of serving such a local classic in a 3* deserves praise. If it’s that well made, it really does stand out. The crayfish and the bisque were truly divine, the asparagus too, the only problem were the cold morels and the dominance of the crispy bread. As the photo shows, there was a bit too much of that. Excellent.

 

Leipzig

Leipzig

 

 

After these German products, came another German product: süsses Wasser

Seeforelle | Meerrettichkren | Saiblingskaviar . This lake trout from Bavaria was gently cooked and served with the Austrian Kren (which you traditionally get with the Tafelspitz amongst others). With it came some char-roe, the crispy skin of the fish, cucumber, rape-seed oil and a clear spiced broth. All in all the flavours were very clean and light, especially after the powerful dishes that preceded it. The skin was great, crispy without being greasy, the roe had the lovely exploding texture one always seeks in it and the cucumber  and horseradish gave it some fresh note. Very good.

 

Forelle

Forelle

 

 

After the sweet-water comes the salt-water (fish). salziges Wasser Rochen | Kurkuma – Koriandernage | Reisgnocchi. This piece of skate was of pristine freshness and delightfully firm. The coriander/curcuma sauce gave it some power and the rice-gnocchi and soy-sprouts could be described as decent garnishes. Excellent.

 

ROche

ROche

 

 

After some relatively big portions (for a 24-course menu), came a small serving of Weinberg Schnecke umhüllt . These snails were encased in their jus and served with vinegar caramel, morel powder and some parsley puree. Perfect combination of flavour and texture resulted in another excellent dish (can’t rave about it as snails don’t really make me that happy).

 

Schnecke

Schnecke

 

 

The following course sounds really interesting when being read: Thun Fish & chips | Pommes frites nicoise. However, the expectations were not met. Not at all. The chips were soggy and greasy. The tuna was oily, but remarkably tender and tasty (which I greatly enjoyed). The tomato powder, and the dip were very good, but the latter did come quite heavy. Unfortunately, this was a missed opportunity, as good chips really aren’t that hard to make and the dish could have been a nice little nod to the other side of the channel. Ok.

 

Thunfisch

Thunfisch

 

Fritte

Fritte

 

 

 

Kabeljau vom Kopf bis zur Flosse. Reading this, you might wonder what will come – at least if you understand German. Now, cod has some very tasty parts, it’s liver, kokotxas or tripe do feature on some menus, but I never came across cod tongue. This however, was amazing. The accompanying fillet, peas, lardo and pea veloute were equally well made, but the tongue just completely blew me away, both taste-wise and texturally.

Great to see, that Wissler still tries to look for other ingredients, that you might not get in any other 3*. Outstanding.

 

Kabeljau

Kabeljau

 

 

This next dish has a great title: Schweinerei zum essen. A Schweinerei is some kind of mess in German and you might know that Germans do like their pork. This was unlike anything porky I ever came across. One side of the plate held a piece of pork paper (made out of pork-jus), the other a spoonful of pork-liver “Berliner Art”. The paper was incredibly fragile but unbelievably tasty. The liver, with mash, fried onion rings and apple pieces was a spoonful of heaven. A serving of ten of these would have done me right. Divine.

 

Schweinerei!

Schweinerei!

 

 

Having started on the pork-orgy, we certainly didn’t want to miss out on another Wissler classic: Juvelin – Ferkel Liebstöckel | Flönz | Berglinsen. This dish presents three different cuts of pork, each of them treated differently. On the left, was a cutlet on top of a melon salad, in the middle the braised chin with crackling and Castelluccio lentils and behind this, a piece of black pudding with Jerusalem Artichoke. Besides this, was a bit of lemon salt. I do not know where to start as all of the elements were just beautiful. The crackling, which Wissler and his colleague Dieter Mueller serve are certainly some of the better ones you can find. The process is as complicated as a whole dish elsewhere and the result just knocks you off your socks. All of them, culet, chin and black pudding were as good as you could hope to get. Divine. Again.

 

Ferkel

Ferkel

 

 

Yet another German dish was to served before dessert: Sauerbraten vom Ochsen “sous vide” | Holzofenbrot – sandwich. This one really comes from the region and was beautifully modernized. The piece of beef is marinated in vinegar (hence sauer) and then slowly cooked sous-vide. Along with it came a sandwich filled with vinegar jelly, minced beef and the toasted. Also on the plate, a piece of delicious bone marrow and Stielmus-puree. Sorry for not having a translation for Stielmus, but I came across it anywhere but the Ruhr-region. Another outstanding dish.

Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten

 

 

Having a whole cheeseboard in a menu of such length wouldn’t really make sense, so Wissler serves a small cheese course, which shows equally interesting combinations than the rest. In this case, it was Fontina Auberginentatar | eingelegte makrele, which was very good indeed. The aubergine, mackerel and Fontina went together very well, even if this probably wouldn’t be everyone’s favourite. Very good.

 

Fontina

Fontina

 

 

Haut kross von der Milch. This first dessert was quite spectacular. The milk-skin was incredibly pleasant to eat and the mascarpone mousse going remarkably well with it. This really showed, how pleasant avant-garde cooking can be. Excellent.

Milchhaut

Milchhaut

 

 

After this came another German favourite: Käsekuchen Eis | Mürbteig – Krokant. Here the Kaesekuchen was turned into an ice cream and served with abricots. Simple but excellent.

 

 

Kaesekuchen

Kaesekuchen

 

 

It seems to be a trend among chefs to serve snowballs as desserts. This particular version must have been the best I have come across. Schnee ball gefüllt. It was just perfectly well made and showed how good a rhubarb dessert can be. The little macarons were just as amazing as the rest. Divine.

 

Schneeball

Schneeball

 

Ball-2

Ball-2

 

 

 

 

Having a cake as ice cream is a nice idea, at least if it is as well made as this one (again). Crème catalan tarte Tatin – Sorbet. This, second ice creamed-cake, with it’s burned milk panna-cotta was simple and excellent. The burned milk gives it some slight bitter background, beautifully counter-pointing the sweetness of the rest. Excellent

 

Milch

Milch

 

 

Speaking of unusal elements: Macaron Fourme d’Ambert | Himbeersorbet. I’m sure this too, isn’t what most would like to have in their dessert. The fourme d’Ambert macaron, filled with raspberries was remarkably well balanced. The raspberry “earth” next to it gave the dish some crunch. Excellent.

 

Mac-on the left

Mac-on the left

 

 

Schaum kussbeschwipst. You might have to be German to understand this, but it was very well made too (what a surprise!). The rum cream was simply encased in some dark chocolate. This was a acloholised version of a German sweet, that has the politically un-correct name of Negerkuss. Here Wissler plays with his clients’ childhood memories, as this wasn’t as good as the others. Very good.

 

Kuss

Kuss

 

 

The next part was equally reminiscent of our childhood: Magnum Vendôme am Stiel. I guess Magnum ice cream has traveled over Germany’s borders, but in Germany it is part of any summer. Here, it was coco ice cream with plain dark chocolate. Very good.

 

Magnum

Magnum

 

 

To close the deal, you get another German dish: Mohr im Hemd

Zartbitterschokolade | Eierlikör. This name is another racist dessert name, but in the end it is a chocolate cake (warm), which was served with Egg-nogg. Excellent.

 

Mohr

Mohr

 The petit-fours were as good as the rest. Here too, you could see, how much effort goes into this kind of restaurant, as there was a multitude of different varieties of pralines. All made in the patisserie.

 

Petit-fours

Petit-fours

 

 

 

Wow! After around 6 or 7 hours of such stunning food, you can’t be anything but dazzled. It takes some time to reflect on all of this, as the cooking here is taken to another level. Wissler is one of the very rare German chefs to really go into German culinary traditions and explore them. He does so with great intelligence and uses his (immense) skill to create little sensations. Another Leitmotiv of his, is the sensoric element in cooking and eating. Most dishes have some play on textures in them, which do make it that much more exciting to eat.

A third thing he likes, are cuts and flavours that not many other chefs dare to use. This and the essentially German dishes make Wissler and his cuisine truly unique.

 

Even if the portions might be a touch too big for such a long menu, this restaurant offers a complete experience, where service, kitchen and ambience all add up to something amazing. Wissler and Calero show, yet once more, how spectacular German cooking is these days. All I can suggest is: Go there!

Oud Sluis, Sluis

avril 20, 2009

 

La maison

La maison

 

 

Sergio Herman is probably one of the most influential chefs of the moment. Despite having studied at the Hotel-school in Bruges and spending some time in the  kitchen of a small restaurant in the region, he didn’t  work in many kitchens, other than that of his family’s restaurant in the small town of Sluis, around 15km north-east of Bruges. This is, most likely, one of the reasons for his very unique style. If one were to describe it, a few words might characterise it: Clear, clean flavours, complex textural plays, modern appearance and techniques, pure, light, entertaining with a healthy dose of Asian elements. The small restaurant’s rooms reflect these traits beautifully, as they are well lit, and contemporary and sparingly furnished.

 

La salle

La salle

 

 

 

The service is very good, but certainly isn’t very happy about someone who doesn’t drown himself in wine as we were asked at least three times if we didn’t want anymore wine. Apart from this, it was friendly, warm and efficient.

 

The bread is quite special. There is only one kind, not made in the restaurant, but made by a certain Monsieur Croquet from Lille. Just to give you an idea about how much he cares about his bread: Whenever he goes away, he takes the culture with him to monitor its development. The butter was from Bordier in Saint-Malo which says enough.

 The meal started with a procession of amuses. First up, were the Chips de legumes, crème de laitue et sauce BBQ. All of them were very tasty, each taste coming through very well with the lettuce cream and BBQ sauce complementing them beautifully. The fact that two of them weren’t simply dried pieces of vegetables, but made by a more complex way shows that no shortcut is taken in this kitchen.

Chips de legumes - Amuse 1

Chips de legumes - Amuse 1

 

 

 

The next element came on a very pretty plate: Sandwich de saumon en gelee de moutarde et d’aneth. Salmon, cured in house, a jelly of the very Germanic sweet mustard and dill were a nice play on a classical combination. Yet again, the different elements came through beautifully and were remarkably present without overpowering the others.

 

Sandwich amuse-2

Sandwich amuse-2

 

The third piece came on a remarkable piece of Crockery by Piet Stockmans, which you also see in a very good Monegasque restaurant. The Couteau marine au codium was a dive into the sea: The fine iodine tastes of the razor clam and samphire in combination with the Asiatic vinaigrette turned this into the third remarkable miniature.

 

couteaux amuse-3

couteaux amuse-3

 

Following these three came the fourth (obviously!): Boulgour a la crème de carottes, salicorne et coques. Spectacular use of the Boulgour, which came in two textures, one toasted, one normally cooked. The smooth, velvety carrot and samphire creams gave it a little creaminess, whilst the cockles were once more, of extraordinary quality and freshness.

 

coques amuse-4

coques amuse-4

 

Sardine, legerement fumee et artichaut surgelee. A remarkable piece of Sardine, paired with lemon gel, artichocke ice cream and puree. All of the tastes came together in a coherent, if rather classical dish.

 

sardine amuse-5

sardine amuse-5

The sixth amuse, Tomate, basilic, anchois, et olives was a play around the classic Mediterranean pairing of tomatoes (marinated), anchovies (creamed), olives (creamed, marinated and as a cake) and basil (as a snow and naturally). Being such a classic taste, it was rather unsurprising that these elements worked so well together.

 

tomate amuse-6

tomate amuse-6

 

Huitre, vinaigrette au kaffir et yaourt Thailandais was the seventh and last of the amuse-collection. It was also by far the best. The extraordinary oyster from Zeeland, different toasted grains, Thai-yoghurt and vinaigrette created a very complete bouchee. All of these were of extraordinary quality and made clear that this kitchen turns out some of the most original and complex food in Europe.

 

huitre amuse 7

huitre amuse 7

 

The actual menu started with the Coquilles Saint Jacques marinees, ficoide glaciale, bergamote, fenouil et vinaigre de chardonnay. The many different elements went remarkably well together and provided a refreshing, start to a long menu. All of them were of supreme quality and were represented in several forms, giving you different textures and tastes with every bite. Excellent.

 

saint jacques

saint jacques

 

 

Following this came a dish that Laurent already tried earlier this year. Langoustine legerement fume et marinee, lard chinois laque, betterave rouge et radis. First, the langoustine was of absolutely outstanding quality: Firm, nearly crunchy, perfectly cooked, very lightly smoked and beautifully seasoned. A second preparation featured raw langoustine wrapped in beet. With it came different structures (a word Herman likes to use) of radish and beets: Meringue, raw, jellified, marinated and as a vinaigrette. The raw, unseasoned radish and beet slivers were very unpleasant, as were the jelly cubes. They were just unbelievably dry- cut too long in advance – and overpowered the remaining bits. The meringues and pork fat provided some sort of reconcilement. The logic behind the dish did escape me, as I’d rather have the two langoustine preparations, the pork and sauce on its own. Outstanding for the langoustine, unpleasant for the vegetables.

 

langoustine

langoustine

Herman being Herman, the next dish was back on the level that one expects of him. The Crumble de foie d’oie featured various textures (terrine, cream, icea cooled, dried) of foie gras, Pedro Jimenez and apple, that created the unbelievably strong foie flavour with about any possible texture. Excellent.

 

foie gras

foie gras

 

 

The next dish was even better, featuring a local ingredient. Huitre de Zelande au concombre, artichaut et pourpier, vinaigrette de fleur de sureau, en croquette. The main plate was certainly one of the simplest dishes of the whole menu and didn’t need the textural gadgets the others had. The meaty oyster was simply poached, covered with a dollop of sabayon, accompanied with the vinaigrette, marinated cucumber cream and cucumber, artichoke cream and a few leaves of different herbs. The accompanying crisp is a Herman classic, that I already had tasted a year earlier. It is the most pure, refreshing oyster taste encapsulated in one mouthful. Here, the shell is made out of oyster juice, filled with oyster and apple salad and topped with oyster shots (iced oyster). Both of these were terrific.

 

huitre-1

huitre-1

 

huitre-2

huitre-2

 

 

 

 

Next up were two more local ingredients: Asperges blanches de Zelande, jaune d’oeuf legerement fume, crème de morilles et macaron a la biere, homard et jus de Bernardus et citron vert. The combinations in this dish might be a bit strange (caviar, truffles, morels, lobster, beer, asparagus?), but did work if eaten in parts. The farmed Italian caviar was rather forgettable, and barely noticeable on the egg yolk, which had a most interesting texture (in a good way). The lobster was slightly overcooked and therefore a bit rubbery, but the tartar inside the macaron was cooked just right. The morels obviously went well with the egg, asparagus and lobster but lacked a bit of punch. The truffle coulis was more of a decoration than anything else. The problem in this dish were not the many pars, which did go quite well together, but rather, the egg yolk overpowering the other elements. Overall good but nowhere near the two previous dishes.

 

homard, asperge

homard, asperge

 

 

The following dish mad up for it, as it was arguably the best savoury dish of the entire meal. Couscous epice au crabe, crambe maritime et zostere, vinaigrette de finger lime et jus de crabe et epices. This was truly spectacular. Real 3* food. Even if you didn’t find any couscous but boulgour in this plate, the whole thing was just a real pleasure to eat. The creamy, rich bisque, sea-grass, sea-cabbage, boulgour (again toasted and normally cooked) delivered a coherent dish that had strong shellfish flavour in its best form. Divine.

 

crabe

crabe

 

 

Unfortunately, the main course was unbelievably weak. Agneau de Lozere, barbecue aux tomates et assortiment de courgettes, burrata, basilic frais et roquette, jus d’agneau epice.Not only was the lamb partially completely overcooked (grey and dry), but also was it far from being anywhere near tender. The little fat, was nicely caramelized but had not been re-crisped after resting, which shows that the kitchen can be sloppy at times. The strangest thing was that they had forgotten to plate the burrata and tomatoe jelly, which was brought only after we had finished the dish. We then were left with empty plates and the little cup of burrata and olive oil. Something like this just shouldn’t happen, having a badly cooked piece of meat, and such a mistake in plating just doesn’t give the diner the best impression of the dish. The vegetables were fine, but far from being great (after all, tomatoes are far from being in season).  One should praise the lamb jus, which was very good. Sadly, the whole dish was poor.

 

agneau

agneau

 

 

The savoury part of the meal being over, it was time for the three desserts, Herman serves at the end of his menus. The first was Chocolate Rocks, galangal, menthe et citron vert. The chocolate mousse under the chocolate dusting had the most creamy, airy texture, which was complemented beautifully by the custard it enclosed. The mint sorbet sitting on a cocoa sable gave a refreshing little bon-bon that provided the needed acidity. Very good.

 

chocolat

chocolat

 

 

 

The second dessert was the best: Blanc pur, riz, coco et cheese-cake, mangue epicee. A smear of cheesecake cream was covered with a few towers conceiling a coco-macaron, a little ball of white cocolate filled with mango jus and a rice pudding with coco-sorbet and crumble. This was as good as I had remembered Herman from last year, speaking to all of the senses in equally high terms. Outstanding.

 

pure white

pure white

 

 

Trois herbes, basilic, citron-melisse, verveine, fleur d’oranger transparente et poudre d’amande. This was an interesting play on textures and tastes of herbs, resulting in another very good dessert.

 

3 herbes

3 herbes

 

 

The countless post-dessert snacks were all very, very good and finished the meal in the best of ways.

 

passionfruit, white chocolate

passionfruit, white chocolate

 

abricot, coco a gauche, rhubarbe sur la droite

abricot, coco a gauche, rhubarbe sur la droite

 

petit fours

petit fours

 

 

 

 

All in all, I had very great expectations for this meal. After all, the dinner I had here a year ago was truly inspiring, to this you had to add that the whole driving took 7hrs and the restaurant had received rave reviews recently. What did this 6hr lunch make me feel?

There was certainly some truly amazing food. After all, the crab, amuses, foie, oysters and scallops were outstanding: High-quality ingredients, complex but perfectly balanced combinations, technical perfection and a highly innovative approach to cooking.

The langoustine itself was also a fantastic piece of shellfish but the dish itself couldn’t match the beautiful presentation.

Then, there was the lamb. And that lamb was bad. I don’t believe I ever had such a thing happen to me, not even in a bistro. Bringing the lost part of a dish after having eaten the whole thing really doesn’t make any sense to me. Also the fact, that the lamb was of such poor quality really made me quite mad, as Herman can deliver some spectacular meat dishes. 

It’s this sloppiness that scared me a bit. The other thing was the trend of using a lot of sweet, sugary elements in the savoury cooking, which was quite a prominent feature in most of the amuses and some of the courses here too. Not that I didn’t enjoy the meal, the highs were high enough to let me love the place, but the lows were quite low for a three star. Herman just really doesn’t seem like a sloppy cook, nor is he one who needs to search for beauty over taste. It was just sad, that the garnishes of the lamb and especially of the langoustine, were very pretty but rather bland on the palate.

 

I hope this was just a bad day, as I really like this restaurant. Seeing Herman go down from here would be an enormous pity, as he is one of the most talented chefs in Europe. One who developed a truly unique style, that makes sense and isn’t only enjoyable after hours of research.

L’Arnsbourg, Baerenthal

avril 7, 2009

 

La maison

La maison

After my first visit here last year, I had mixed feelings about this place. The fact that it is in the middle of nowhere certainly adds to its charm, as does the very friendly welcome given by the chef’s sister, Cathy Klein. The cooking however, is rather modern, unlike what one might expect in the middle of the Vosges. Not that I dislike modern cuisine, but it was the cooking, or certain little technical mistakes that made me question the 3* attributed to Jean Georges Klein in the MIchelin. This being said, my family had some birthday to celebrate and we set of to Baerenthal, not knowing what feast would expect us there.

 

La salle

La salle

The room is delightfully bright, warm and you have lovely views on the Zinsel flowing by outside. A few words about the service: It was a very friendly brigade, that showed great enthusiasm but somehow there were quite a few mistakes being made here and there. For a very long time there was no bread at all, butter had to be asked for, further bread too, came only after having begged for it. Furthermore, there were mistakes in what was ordered and a few more sloppy mistakes, that just don’t belong into a 3*. Whilst these are small things, they are quite annoying at this level, especially the bread since it seems stingy not to reserve any without the customer asking for it. The sommeliers both were excellent and we chose an excellent Pinot Blanc from Josmeyer and a magnificient Riesling from Hugel.

A menu here always starts with the petits savoureux aperitifs, a succession of small bites that already display the great skill of the kitchen and also the relatively simple preparations Klein serves. First up was a Parmesan sandwich, very similar to Ferran Adria’s, a squid ink macaron and a macaron with cassis and foie gras. All of these were very pleasant displaying clear flavours whilst being texturally interesting.

 

apero 1

apero 1

The following one two bites were a deconstructed bloody Mary (vodka espuma and tomatoe sorbet) and a little sardine and tomatoe tart. The sardine deserves special attention as it was by far the best sardine I’ve had, and that in a fairy-tale like forest in Alsace! The cocktail too, did not disappoint, again making the flavours come out very clearly.

 

apero 2

apero 2

The third installment featured morels, egg, spinach and bread. A runny egg yolk, a few slivers of morels, a morel cream, croutons and some spinach created a  lovely bite of spring. Another prefect little amuse.

 

Apero 3

Apero 3

There was yet one more to come: A series of asparagus tastings, the bottom one with a classic vinaigrette, the second one with a (classic) hollondaise and the third being a ham mousse and asparagus tatar. All of them continued in Klein’s credo of bringing clean flavour in various shapes and textures that might surprise the diner. 

 

Apero 4

Apero 4

There was one last little firework waiting to be discovered. A Gillardeau oyster with passionfruit and Yuzu. This was simply brilliant, as the slight sweetness of the passionfruit and the acidity of the Yuzu gave a great counterpoint to the oyster and created a magical mouthfull.

 

Apero 5

Apero 5

Now, the « real » menu was finally beginning. It did so with a fairly simple dish: Carpaccio de Thon Rouge marine, Gel de Taboule, Granny Smith, Caviar de Finger Lemon, Perles de Feta. In the end it was good quality tuna with a few interesting toppings that created a coherent and pleasing mouthful. Very good, but not really that outstanding. It just couldn’t match the previous dishes’ greatness.

 

Thon rouge

Thon rouge

Next up was a dish that was truly memorable. Emulsion de Pommes de Terre et Truffes. An airy, buttery potatoe espuma was covered with a galette of black truffle and some Maldon sea salt. Simple, very simple, yet so rewarding. Two good friends, one noble, the other common united in the happiest of marriages. This was simply DIVINE with the truffles’ earthiness and the potatoes’ buttery note creating orgasmic pleasure. 

 

Emulsion

Emulsion

Le Pissenlit. This dish, with a simple name was another masterpiece. A few marinated pissenlit shoots (don’t ask me what it’s called in English, in German it’s Loewenzahn), a cream of pigeon liver anda few crisps of strawberry and yoghurt. The interaction the different elements truly displayed what can be done with a « simple » salad. It was another outstanding dish.

 

Le Pissenlit

Le Pissenlit

As main, we had a Poitrine de Canette Rotie, Croquant de Mures au Sesame, Jus reduit a l’Eucalyptus. The other dish I remember positively from last year was a duck breast which was remarkably tender and powerful. This version here was even better, if not the best duck I’ve come across. The jus was great, even though the Eucalyptus didn’t really get noticed by me, nor anyone else. The duck itself: tender, tasty and perfect. I was quite surprised that it was German duck, the first time I find a French restaurant using anything but French poultry. The little blackberries with coated sesame seeds were rather forgettable, but well who cares if the rest is that good. Being in Alsace, there were some more potatoes in the form of a wonderful puree, which Klein serves with pretty much every meat dish here. Wonderful.

 

La canette

La canette

 

 

 

 

As we had ordered some foie gras, which they mistook for the truffle dish (the little mistakes again), we decided to still have it afterwards. The Grillade de Foie Gras de Canard, Rhubarbe a la Plancha, Jus aux Epices was worth the wait. Perfectly cooked foie, seasoned perfectly yet again served with some grilled rhubarb that gave it a very tamed sweetness and tartness. The whole was another simple (this time really) dish that didn’t have anything modern about it, but was simply very gourmand. Excellent.

 

Foie

Foie

Dessert doesn’t come in a simple way, but is another succession of tastings called Invitation a la Decouverte. Some were, I must add, more memorable than others. The first part, a few bites featured only one that struck me: A meringue italienne (for those who want to know what it is, let me know) hiding a piece of marinated pineapple. The rest of these was rather boring, especially the sugar tuiles , which I really don’t understand.

The second part was much better: A rhubarb compote covered with some meringue, toasted brioche ice cream, cactus gel.  This was surprisingly very good and (less surprisingly) refreshing. Very good.

 

Rhubarbe/Cactus/Brioche

Rhubarbe/Cactus/Brioche

The third was all based on aloe vera. There was an aloe vera sorbet, an soup, some cream cheese mousse, tapioca and raspberry crisp. This was another refreshing, light dessert. Very well made again, even if I like tapioca to be cooked a little more « al dente ». Very good.

 

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

That was it. After 5 hours we were done, even though I could have had a few more courses. What can I say? 

The whole atmosphere there is just very comforting, hospitable, relaxed, down to earth (at least for a restaurant of that level). The service has strenghts, but some mistakes showed up too. The food was what really struck me this time. It was far better than last time, more precise, better composed and truly memorable, except for a few little things here and there. To call it molecular cuisine would be unjust. The cooking here certainly does have some modern elements, but there are many dishes that are quite classical. Klein manages to integrate modern techniques, ingredients from all around the world into classical French cooking in a way that not many French chefs can. He somehow creates light, yet indulgent dishes that leave you wanting more. One might be able to compare it to Bras or, in some respect El Bulli, as the trip to the restaurant takes you to a place that really is different and lovely. Arnsbourg is definitely a place to go back to, considering that it’s the cheapest 3* in France that I know of certainly doesn’t hurt. The lunch menu is a mere 60euros, not even the price of a starter in Paris. Another reason for going are the great chefs in the region like Erfort or Bau.