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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.