Joachim Wissler is without doubt one of the finest chefs in Germany. Alongside Christian Bau, he serves arguably some of the most interesting and innovative food this country has to offer, as far as I can tell. Both serve decidedly different food, which really shows how diverse German cooking is these days. Whilst a number of Flamish and Dutch restaurants all cook in one more or less similar style, in Germany one finds a variety of different cuisines: From classical French (say at Thieltges, Wohlfahrt), to more contemporary renditions of the French classical cooking at Erfort, over to Spanish contemporary cooking at Amador, over German haute cuisine at Elverfeld and Wissler to the Asian influenced cooking of Bau.
Vendome still is in this very grand setting of Schloss Bensberg a few minutes away from Cologne and the room is very beautiful, with huge gaps between the tables. Service was great throughout the entire meal, despite its length.
The menu here, in the 24 course edition costs 245euro, which is the highest price in any German restaurant. However, it is not that much, if one considers what one gets for that money. Shorter and cheaper versions do exist, but if you come all the way from Luxembourg for a meal like this, you go for the full thing. I started off with a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvee, which is probably my favourite brut non-millesime of the big Champagne houses. The wines for today were very fines ones indeed, and represented rather good value for the otherwise pretty pricey wine list. We started off with a bottle of 1998 Puligny Montrachet from Louis Carillon, after which we had some 2007 Sancerre Les Monts Damnes from Pascal Cotat and finally had a bottle of 2001 Chateauneuf Du Pape Les Cailloux from Brunel. All of them were fantastic, but the most amazing was easily the Carillon. A truly outstanding wine, which isn’t even that expensive for what one gets.
The meal started with a croquette of pork snout, a ball of mussels and two crackers. One was topped with mackerel and the other’s topping I have forgotten to write down. Those were a very fine start, and the pork snout a truly outstanding piece of cooking. Excellent.
The meal itself started with Brachfeld [Steinpilze: Haselnussmilch : Esspapier]. This was a resolutely modern dish. From the look, to the conception up to the execution, it really was a most intriguing plate of food. The different cepe textures and preparations gave a very contrasting image of this fine mushroom. In combination with the very concentrated hazelnut cream, the length in the mouth was phenomenal. After having eaten one bite of this course, one had the flavours in the mouth for a very, very long time. From looking at it, it didn’t seem like anything I would love, but the taste delivered, it really was an exceptional, unique dish. Outstanding.
Second part of the meal: Zarenfrühstück [Tatar: Wodka: Kaviar]. This was another picture on a plate, and a very delicious one it was. Two thin crisps of country bread sandwiched a very thin layer of beef/vodka jelly, beef tartare and caviar. On the other side of the plate, one had a quail’s egg yolk with a little dollop of caviar and a herb oil. This was an incredibly light, refreshing course, which presented the most delicious association of beef tartare and caviar in a slightly different way than Bau does it. Of course, quality of products and execution were faultless, and one of my friends just said, that he wanted to be a Tsar, if they had breakfast like that everyday. That’s a compliment in the best possible way. Excellent.
Rollmops [Sardine: Ochsenmark: Feldsalat] was one of the very few courses I found a little less unique. It was still a very very good plate of food, but less intriguing, compelling than the others. Not that that was a problem, as the plate was absolutely delicious as such. The idea of the German Rollmops was taken up, and turned into something much more refined and delicious. This adaptation of German dishes is one of Wissler’s greatest strengths, and something that makes his cooking so unique (although there are many other things too). In short, this was a delicious dish, although less special than the others. Very good.
Kalbskopf [ Königsberger Art: Bachkrebse a la Nage]. Another traditional German dish, the Königsberger Klopse was dressed in the finest of dresses, as this was a stunning dish. A Klops made out of veal head was served with crayfish, a creamy crayfish sauce, and a few capers, to have all of the traditional elements on the plate. The veal head was simply delicious and with the incredibly tasty sauce and perfectly cooked crayfish, it was a stunning dish. One can hardly think of a better way to present such a classic. Stunning.
Kraut und Rüben [ geräucherter Hüttenkäse] was an interesting course, but not really that great after all. However, at the table, 2 out of three loved it, just to let you know how subjective things related to food are. Different preparations of beetroot were served with a slightly acid sauce, a smoked cheese and a little balsamic vinegar. Everything was, as always here, perfectly executed, although the whole thing used this nowadays pretty common idea of marrying beetroot, balsamic and some kind of fresh cheese… Very good.
Kraut und Rueben
Shrimps [Seeigelcreme: Chicoree: Madras Curry] was a stunning dish. Small shrimps deep-fried in their integrality sat atop a sea urchin cream, a few raw sea urchins and some shrimps. Tableside, a curry oil was added. The slight spiciness from the curry went beautifully with the strong sea urchin and the slightly less powerful shrimps, but the real star were, besides those urchins, the deep-fried shrimp carcasses. Their texture is just a pure crunchy pleasure. The idea of using the carcass as well, instead of only using a little part of the shrimps, is great, and so rarely seen in high-end restaurants. This dish was stunning.
Gänseleber [ Popcornschaum: gestockter Poulardensaft]. Not that pairing corn and foie gras is very new as an idea (after all the beasts get fed corn only), but the dish here, really was bizarre. A popcorn foam of a surreal texture came with a little praline of popcorn, a piece of pan-fried foie gras and a chicken stock. On top of the foie sat a few marinated pieces of some kind of root vegetable. The foam on its own wasn’t that stunning at first, however, if eaten with the liver, it was brilliant. The liver itself being of a most perfect texture. This was even better than the hot foie gras at the Greenhouse, as it had a very homogenous, supple but firm texture, which is what a perfect pan-fried foie gras should have. I suppose a method, similar to that Heston Blumenthal describes in his book is used here to cook it, as this produces some stunning results (it’s relatively complicated, but the most effective way of cooking this very fragile product). Outstanding.
If 24 courses are not enough, you need a little more. As one of us had eaten one of Wissler’s signature creations before already, we asked if we could have a little extra. Here finally came the mottled mascarpone raviolo with black truffles, old balsamic and white tomato foam (white due to clarification of the tomato juice, not the fruit’s colour) . A true masterpiece of comfortable flavours, which were outright perfectly balanced and beautifully brought together. Unreal, although a slightly older balsamico would even have been better for this, as this relatively young one, was a little too acidic. Outstanding.
At this point of the meal the Carillon was desperately empty, so I had a glass of Sancerre to go with the few fishy dishes.
Süsswasser [Donaulachs: Rote Beete: Maronen Cous Cous]. A piece of Waller, or a kind of salmon from the Danube was served with chestnut cous cous, salmon caviar, Chioggia beetroot and a broth. This was perfectly fine in every sense of the word, but it didn’t really amaze me. The interesting thing about this was the pretty well cooked salmon (nearly well-done), which was unusual for such a “modern” restaurant. It did not disturb much, but the flavour was a little muted due to this degree of cooking. Very good.
Salzwasser [ Schwertmuschel: Meerrettich-Apfeljus] was much more successful again. A few razor clams, scallops and oysters came raw, sandwiched between some leaves, topped with an oyster air and sprinkled with apple/horseradish jus. A very light, very direct, and very clean dish, which I absolutely loved. The others however found it a little less exciting. Apart from the slightly iodine flavours, the perfectly balanced acidity was remarkable in this dish. This was great, natural/modern cooking. Fantastic.
Austern und Muscheln
Aal [Himbeerstreusel: Rosenkohlpüree] was one of those combinations, which just make you feel a little dubious. Wissler is a master of bringing together things, which you wouldn’t imagine to work at all. The lackered eel was given a little peps from the raspberries, and the Brussels sprouts puree gave it a little earthy character. Excellent.
Kalbsbries [Misocreme: Schwarzwurzeln]. A piece of roasted sweetbreads, with a Miso espuma, beef broth jelly and salsify made for a stunning little course. A glorious piece of sweetbread, paired beautifully with the foamy Miso mousse, and the fork with the jelly and salsify opened up the palate for the slightly more intensive, richer plates to come. Excellent.
Landei [Jabugo Bellota Schinkensaft: Nussbutter: Albatrüffel]. Another classic of Wissler, and yet one more truly memorable dish, was served at this moment. A poached egg yolk was layered between some parsley or spinach puree, Iberico ham jelly, brown butter foam and white truffles. The whole thing just was like diving into pleasure. When one took a bit of everything, one had an absolutely stunning taste explosion in the mouth. I don’t know how I can qualify this some other way, but this really was amazing. The combination of such delicious elements alone is enough to make one salivate in advance, and when it is done in such a convincing way, one can’t help saying: DIVINE. One of the best dishes of 2009.
For the meat, we drank a very enjoyable bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape (details above).
Ente [ Sesamcreme: Spitzkohl]. This dish came on two plates. On a first one, a piece of crispy duck skin, in the classical Chinese way was powdered with a leek powder instead of the traditional granulated sugar, and next to it came the dish itself, with various pieces of the duck, a sesame cream, some pointed cabbage and a strong duck jus. The skin was mesmerising: Incredibly crunchy and soft at the same time, the leek was noticeable, and gave it an interesting touch. It was so good I had to have a second helping. The main plate, with the duck was no less good. I particularly enjoyed another piece of crispy skin, served with a little cabbage. This was another great combination, as were the pan-fried cepes and duck leg. The breast meat was of course perfectly cooked, and as tender as duck gets. The only slight problem was the rather heavy sesame cream, which had a consistency resembling that of a mayonnaise. Otherwise, it was excellent.
Hase im Pfeffer [geschmorter Sellerie: Datteln]. A piece of hare loin came with date puree, braised celery, a little braised shoulder, and a biscuit, soaked in the hare’s cooking juices. This was an incredibly light way of serving a hare, both in terms of calories and taste, as the dish was much less powerful than, say a lievre a la royale. Here, one had incredibly tender hare loin, which was less strong than the braised shoulder, and to balance these, there was the sweet date puree. I love hare, and this was easily the best of the meat courses we had. Excellent.
Vacherin Mont D’Or [Kartoffelschaum: Pumpernickel]. Atop black bread jelly sat some potato foam, with Vacherin at its centre. This was then topped with crunchy black bread, to give some texture to the otherwise rather creamy dish. I enjoyed this cheese course, and found it very interesting, as it made use of the traditional potatoes, which are often used with this cheese, and incorporated regional brown, or black bread, in a very successful, light way. Or at least, as light as possible way. Very good.
Butterkeks [Tamarillo: Kaffee: Kekseis]. Every German child has eaten these rectangular biscuits in their youth, so to use them inevitably brings back memories. This dessert, served in a Martini glass brought this biscuit into the dish in a most interesting way, and the ice cream had an incredibly buttery feeling, just like the biscuits themselves (which is what it was supposed to taste like anyway). The dessert remained light, and fresh enough to be served after such a long meal. Very good.
Next to it, we were served Dörrobst [Renettenlimonade: Muskatnusseis], which was an ice cream made with nutmeg, a foamed apple lemonade, and a little bit of dried fruits. Another very fresh little dessert, using the sour apples (this variety of apples is pretty sour, compared to a number of other apples) to give the dish a very light feeling. Otherwise, it certainly was very good, but not the best of the desserts served. Very good. (see pic above)
Hokkaidokürbis [Joghurt: Kreuzkümmel]. I think that this was my favourite of all the desserts served, and easily one of the best, I’ve eaten last year. Not only was this a stunningly beautiful plate, the way that the elements were brought together was equally stunning. This was hardly sweet, just enough to satisfy the taste-buds, and the cumin spiced things up a little. The incredibly fresh feeling of Wissler’s desserts was very present here again, which makes these little plates so easy to eat after a menu such as this. Outstanding.
Meteorid [Grapefruit: gestockte Hefecreme: Sake]. Another highly interesting dessert. Again, a picture on a plate, here, the main theme was the bitterness in the levure, and that of the grapefruit. When eating all of the elements together, one had a completely new taste in one’s mouth, something that grew on me, whilst I ate the dessert. Excellent.
Schaumkuss [Mandarine: Pistazie]. A beautiful dessert this certainly was, but a pretty forgettable one too. The idea was good, using the different parts of the mandarins to create something that resembles it visually and in terms of flavour. However, the flavour in the mousse, which was all that filled this fake mandarin, was a little muted. Somehow, there was too little acidity and sweetness to make this a very successful affair. Good.
Trüffel [ aus dem Perigord: Manjari]. To combine chocolate truffles with “real” black truffles is a highly interesting idea. As both can be brilliant together, this can really work, but as the truffle season was just about to start, Wissler must have used some cooked truffles, which didn’t have the punch of a fresh truffle during the season. Otherwise it was a perfectly executed, rather classical chocolate mousse, with not much more. Very good.
To finish things, we had a Pina Colada, served in a fun, and interesting way, and the inevitable Magnum [Vendome am Stiel]. Both were good fun, and very good.
Mignardises are on the same level as the rest here, and one can only say that this really remains one of the best restaurants in Germany and the world.
The food here was even better than what we had in April. Just like Bau, Wissler seems to get more and more focused on concentrating the flavours, and making the dishes lighter. In this 25 course menu, I had only a couple of courses, that I did not like that much. The rest was so good, that it would not even have been an option to leave them out. The most stunning dishes were easily among the best I’ve eaten last year, and the overall quality of the meal was stunning for such a long menu. With the remarkable wines, that we drank, and the great service, I spent a very enjoyable few hours. Wissler should belong on the wish-list of everyone who has a serious interest in the very best food served on this planet, as this restaurant is easily among the world’s elite of avant-garde restaurants, which serve incredible food, in a most relaxed, but sophisticated way.