I had the chance to spend a few weeks in Christian Bau’s kitchen lately and will write about my experiences, if time permits. My last meal there, a few weeks ago was as good as the one in April, and the restaurant is definitely among my top 5.
A few words about the chef should be said. During my two weeks in his kitchen, he was there at every single service, during the whole 16 to 18 hours of the normal day and closed the restaurant every night. Not only was he there, but he also cooks most of the sauces, prepares and cooks the fish and many other things. Nothing leaves this kitchen without his blessing. I was certainly impressed when I stood in front of three boxes of tomatoes waiting to be peeled, when suddenly the chef came along and peeled them with me. Such things only show too well how much this man and his brigade work.
Now, to the meal, which is the reason for this post after all. We started with a glass of the house Champagne, which is a very pleasant blanc de blancs and not too costly for a 3* (I think it is 14euro). The first nibbles that arrive at the table already show the immense attention to detail and complexity of the cooking here. The diner is presented with a few brik-tubes, filled with Parma ham mousse today, a cold soup with some air (today it was a beetroot gazpacho with buttermilk air), a few almonds and a little selection of canapés. The crunchy cannelloni were very enjoyable, as were the almonds. The soup, which at the last visit was a little underwhelming had great intensity and power this time. The combination with the buttermilk worked marvelously well too. The stars of this first round of treats are plated on the slate board though. At the top left, one has crab bread with swordfish/oyster tartar and apple foam. This is very fresh, with great textural (crunchy, creamy and airy) combinations. In short, a great little bite (and classic here). Also on the plate was a tomato, pesto, mozzarella tartlett, which was very good, as usual. The last part was a cracker with cream cheese, two kinds of tobiko caviar and a chicken skin crisp. This was not bad at all, but I don’t fancy cream cheese that much. Excellent.
Next up was a new version of the little cornet, I had eaten at the previous visit. Today it was filled with avocado cream, yuzu sorbet (a slightly salted one), hamachi tartar and wasabi foam. This was just one fresh, rewarding mouthful. Amazing in every sense, if a little less gourmand than the beef/eel/caviar version, I had tried in April. Excellent.
Moving on with the next round of amuses, we had a Bau classic: Two spoonfuls of foie gras. One was an ice cream with a little cherry compote and the other a gateau, with coffee, hazelnut and cherry. The foie here always impresses. This time it didn’t fail to do so neither. It was tasty, creamy, perfectly prepared and great with the slightly bitter coffee jelly. The hazelnuts gave it a little crunch, which I always adore. The ice cream of foie is another winner. It is very intense and unbelievably creamy. Once you have it in your mouth, you wonder how a thing this unctuous can actually stay in shape that well (on the plate). Outstanding.
Up next was another Bau classic, in a different version this time. The clarified gazpacho came with olive and mozzarella drops, cucumber sorbet, sea cucumber and carabineros. The flavour of every element was outstandingly present, fresh and clear and the combination of the different parts worked marvelously too. The stars of the show were undoubtedly the sea cucumber and carabinero. I had the opportunity to try a little sea cucumber in the kitchen a few days earlier, so I knew what amazing texture to expect, but I was still startled. It is only poached in grape seed oil, and thus remains very clean in terms of taste, and possibly the best way to discover a product such as this. This was one of the most interesting and satisfying, completely new textures I have come across up to now. The carabinero (large red shrimp that live off the Spanish coast) was as good as they get (which means very, very good). The only problem with such products is the exorbitant price. However, if the chef serves it, all you can do is eat it, no? Outstanding.
Another serving of spoons came right up. This time it was a langoustine variation. A base of tartar with trout caviar was topped with some deep-fried langoustine. The second spoon featured a “raviolo”: tartar wrapped in lardo di Colonnata and crowned with Ossietra caviar. This is an absolute masterpiece. One can’t say anything about this dish but note that it gets pretty damn close to what perfection could taste like. The deep-fried langoustine is coated in the thinnest, crunchiest of batters and gives the creamy, rich tartar both crunch and a different structure. This is really worth a trip on its own. This was one mouthful for which I wouldn’t have minded a couple of hours driving. I really can’t say just how unbelievably good this was. However, there was another spoon awaiting me. This one wasn’t exactly what I would call disgusting neither. Despite being based on the same tartar, the lardo/caviar combination gave it a totally different feeling. The melting lardo, the briny caviar complemented the tartar utmost perfectly. Another outstanding dish based on langoustines within a month’s time (after Hof van Cleve’s terrific langoustines). DIVINE.
Just to remind you, we are still at the amuses. Yes, maybe you can see how much effort is being put in to every part of the meal here. These creations are more complex than whole dishes at other high-end restaurants and don’t even make up a big part of the meal. The last plate to come as a “greeting from the kitchen” was a salmon/oyster raviolo with asparagus and wasabi/courgette cream. This was a slightly modified version of the version we had eaten in April. A subtle change can make a huge differnce, as we were about to see. The raviolo was lukewarm this time, which made all of the tastes come out beautifully (oysters are best eaten at 36 degrees Celsius as they have much more complexity). Also added this time was a wasabi cream, which I must say, was very welcome due to the spiciness of it. This was absolutely delicious again.
The first few courses were the same as the ones I had in April, so I will only give brief explanations about these.
The first was the Crab Marinated and Deep-Fried/ 2x Watermelon/ Dashi Jelly. It comes as a croustillant and as a salad. The watermelon is served in the form of a sorbet and as a grilled slice. As the watermelon is relatively sweet, this dish is a little too sweet for my taste, if eaten without the sorbet. The freshness of the sorbet however, balances the whole thing beautifully. The fritter is one adorable mouthful, which was the star of the dish. Excellent.
The next course was as good, if not better than last time. The blue fin tuna tataki/ Crispy & Sour Vegetables/ Ponzu/ Japanese Essence with Ginger Ale is a classic of the house, and rightfully so. The dish doesn’t only present you with the ever perfect quality of the ingredients, but is also very clever in terms of the construction. The tuna itself is slightly grilled, tender, tasty,… The vegetables (without the abalone this time, which I found a little annoying in the first version of it) were perfect, as was the soup with tuna/avocado tartar. The vegetables gave you a slightly acidic note, whilst the soup had a most complex taste, which complemented the tuna very well. Excellent.
Here comes a new one: Blue Lobster/ Tepid Quinoa/ Passe Pierre & Green Apple/ Cream of Corail/ Aroma & Oil of Curry from Madras. This is another accomplished dish. It is very complex as it features a salicorne puree, curry mayonnaise, pan-fried salicorne, green apple sticks and foam, the lobster, a lobster jus, the corail cream, cury oil, quinoa both popped and cooked with the lobster claws and chicken skin. Taste-wise the different aromas work very well, as each gives a little bit to the whole thing. One can mix the diverse elements in any way, and will never be disappointed. I particularly enjoyed the corail cream, which has incredible power and very pleasing texture. Another great dish. Excellent.
Up next was another classic. Coquille Saint-Jacques/ Seawater Tapioca/ Chutney of Carrots/ Foam & Aroma of Raz el Hanout. The scallops were of very high quality (as French ones are out of season, the chef uses Scandinavian ones) and were cooked perfectly. I was kind of sad about the fact that they were halved, but one can’t do much about it. This crime seems to invade the continent too. The tapioca has an interesting, but pleasing taste, which again, works well with the other elements on the plate. This was excellent (sorry for being repetitive, but that’s the way this food is).
Now came one of my favourites. A tempura of frog’s legs, with enoki mushrooms, a watercress soup, spinach and wasabi cream. The main part is made up of the deep-fried legs, with raw and deep-fried enoki mushrooms, spinach, wasabi cream, parsley and garlic. The little cup contains some of the smallest ravioli I have seen so far (they must be about as big as a 2cent coin), some boned frog leg meat and watercress soup. The legs were brilliant, crunchy batter, tender,tasty meat and a great cream to dip them into: all one can ask for. The spinach seemed to be a base for the little beignets to stand on more than anything else, but that didn’t matter at all. The wasabi cream was lovely and spiced things up a little, which isn’t a bad thing seeing that it was a dish which contained mostly deep-fried elements. Watercress isn’t something I have liked for a long time, but this soup was stunning. Every leaf is hand-picked to produce a soup of an intensity and tastiness that is unheard of. I guess a healthy dose of butter and/or cream helped to get to this, but I really didn’t mind. This was terrific. Outstanding.
Turbot is a fish I particularly enjoy if it is very fresh (thus very firm). I know that most people will prefer it slightly matured, but that doesn’t interest me in the least, as I find this firm, meaty texture most impressive. The best piece of turbot I have tasted in my life was at ADPA, where the thick cut completely redefined what turbot should taste like. Here it was very good, but not quite there yet. Bau buys fish that are about 5,5kg and therefore deliver some meaty fillets. The current version is called Atlantic Turbot/ Smoked Eel Glazed over Charcoal/ Eggplant-Miso/ Shiso Pesto/ Deep-Fried “Ladyfingers”. This dish showed Bau’s penchant for Asian and Japanese cuisine in a good way. The techniques are clearly French, but the spices, condiments, and combinations are inspired by Japanese cooking. The turbot was, as I mentioned, of top quality and had great flavour and texture (not to mention the perfect cooking). The real star of the dish was the smoked eel. I absolutely adored its strong flavour, which was only enhanced by glazing it over real charcoal. The highly complex vinaigrette and aubergine miso cream complemented each element beautifully. Excellent.
Up next was a fantastic local product: Saddle of Venison from Eifel/ 2x Pointed Cabbage/ Apricots& Chanterelles/ Jus of Venison with Bitter Cocoa and Mild Chili. These are wild animals that are being brought to the restaurant by a game dealer based around 50km north of Nennig, in Trier. Bau served the rack covered with a slice of foie gras, which starts to melt as it is presented to the guest. This doesn’t only enhance the dishe’s flaovur, but also makes the fat-free meat a little more interesting. The cooking was perfect as always during the weeks of my internship. They hardly use any sous-vide here and manage to cook every piece of venison or lamb to an exact temperature; every day. I must say that sous-vide is great for an amateur, but a 3* restaurant should take the effort to cook meat traditionally, which many, sadly, don’t do anymore. The perfect cooking results not only in very tender meat, but one also has the lovely gamey flavour, which worked beaufitully with the cocoa/Piment d’Espelette sauce. The garnishes were girolles with dried abricots, a combination I adore, as girolles smell of exactly these dried abricots. The cream and sushi of pointed cabbage were as good as in a hare dish I had eaten last December. All in all, this was another excellent dish.
To move to the sweet side of things, one is served lemongrass ice cream coated in white chocolate. On the base of the little bon bon, one finds zeta peta, which came rather unexpected for my companion, who couldn’t help displaying a bright smile. Very good.
Moving on, we had the first of three desserts. I must admit that I find the look of that spoon, crowning the “Small Iced Coffee” a little too classic, but the dessert wass highly interesting. First of all, it is nearly devoid of any sweetness. When one starts to eat it, a very strong taste of coffee dominates. As I progressed, I got to like it more and more, as the subtle sweetness of the mascarpone cream does come through eventually and balances the dish in a remarkable way. The spoon gave the whole thing some crunch and further sweetness, making this a perfect little pre-dessert. Very good.
The Gariguette Strawberry/ Mild Ginger/ Yoghurt/ Sorbet of Yuzu was a real winner. There is nothing in the dessert world that I despise more than some kind of soup as a dessert. I just don’t have any good memories of sweet soups. This time, the story was a little different. The strawberry soup was spiced with a little ginger, which gave it a kick and made the whole thing delicious if eaten with the (sweet) yuzu sorbet. The little strawberries with their different balls on the side made me think of Hof van Cleve. On the other side sits the yoghurt bonbon, which is yoghurt sorbet, sandwiched between crunchy sugar. This was a most refreshing, spicy, interesting dessert. Excellent.
Nothing against the two previous ones, but the last one did steal the show. Chocolate & Passion Fruit Canache and Cream/ Salpicon of Exotic Fruits/ Marbled Coconut Ice Cream. It was a play on Bau’s classic, which I had in December last year. Today the chocolage ganache was paired with a passion fruit cream or jelly of sorts. A base of praline gives the dessert crunch, as do the tuiles. I was astonished how well the different pieces of fruit worked with the bitter chocolate. After all, such combinations are often unsuccessful, so to see one, that actually does taste marvelous was pretty much new to me. The little tower contained a brunoise of the same fruit, the marbled ice cream and some sort of chocolate cream. All in all, this was a fantastic dessert, which closed the meal more than beautifully.
To accompany your coffee you are of course presented with a few petit fours and mignardises. On the slate you see from the bottom to the top: An after eight Negerkuss, an olive pate de fruit, a cherry filled with some kind of rice and a lemon tart. With it come a few nuts covered with chocolate and two kinds of marshmallow. Also served, but not pictured was a wide selection of pralines. Out of all these treats I disliked the cherry/raspberry combo, but the rest was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the lemon tart, the Negerkuss, the pralines and the pate de fruit.
This meal only demonstrated too well how good Christian Bau cooks. Not only is there an immense amount of work in this food, but also a passion for cooking and gastronomy that is driving things forward here. He travels to restaurants, spends as much time as his cooks in the kitchen, closes the restaurant and doesn’t let anything happen without his personal ok. This is a serious cook, who deserves to get much more attention, not only in Europe, but also world-wide.
A trip to Nennig will always be worth any distance traveled. The cooking and seriousness here is just mind-blowing. Coupled with the great service and fantastic sommeliere, Britta Jäger, your time spent here, will be time well spent.