Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
Event: Dinner at Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
When: Friday September 16th 2011, 7PM
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: Schloßstraße 27-29, D-66706 Perl-Nennig/Mosel
Chef Bau’s web site: http://www.christian-bau.de
Phone: 49 (0) 68 66/79-458
Type of cuisine: Modern French/Cosmopolitan
Food: 10/10 Chef Bau is a magician with the exceptional ability of those few who will always set the bar (the precision and depth of his cooking skills is of prime mention), for others to follow. He is to food what a virtuoso is to music. An exceptional virtuoso.
Service: 10 /10 They are mostly young, open minded and hard working. Their hard work shows.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 This is different from the grand Parisian 3 Michelin stars, and yet
it provided, on this dinner, an overall dining experience that is as exciting as the best ones found in France.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)
Before going ahead, a quick declaration of respect to one of the the world’s most exciting Chefs of our time, El Bulli’s Adria . As we all know, El Bulli has closed its doors (as a restaurant) in July. I am buying all your books, Chef, and shall practice all your tricks! So that the amazing artist that I saw in you remains present in my mind, the mind of a classic-cuisine gourmand, btw! Proof that even the most traditionalists among us have embraced your cult! Hasta siempre, Jefe! As for those who are looking after the next clone of Adria: forget clones, folks! Your best souvenirs are ..your best souvenirs. They perfume your memories till you lose it, and that is it.
Wow, this has been the shortest but most intense constructive trip I ever had in Europe: four little days of culinary congress, meetings, exchanges. Only a few knows this, but aside from Sciences, Litterature, Economics and Politics, one of my long time passion has been the research of enhancing flavor combinations in classic food. Basically, what Jefe Ferran Adria does with progressive cooking at El Bulli , I do the same with classic cuisine. Where the latest cook who has just completed his culinary degree tells you that he is excited to test progressive cuisine because there’s not much to discover with a simple classic filet mignon, I spend timeless moments in my kitchen finding the ingredients or best cooking technique to ‘rejuvenate’ that classic filet mignon. This is why you won’t fail to realize that my favourite Chefs mostly happen —- whether they’ve chosen to partake in the progressive cooking trend or not — to have a great depth of mastery in classic cooking. As soon as I have some time, I will try to write about those congresses I’ve just talked about (truly interesting for us, gourmands from all around the world). Then I had to end this European mini tour with —of course — a bit of self-pampering: I had either El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) or one of Germany’s top 3 star Michelin tables on my short list of tables I’d be interested to visit since a long time. Spain is my type of country. It’s a place where I’ll go back oftently anyways, it’s even a place where there are big chances that I spend the rest of my life. So I went for Germany this time. Destination: Perl. Perl-Nennig. My final choice: Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg.
The city of Perl-Nennig, where Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg is located, is in a geographical area that is famous for its vineyards, castles and scenic surroundings that I unfortunately did not take time to explore on this visit, but if this is of interest for you, I’d recommend you have a look at Rick Steve‘s article on that region. This trip there was the conclusion of months of been puzzled between Chef Bau‘s restaurant where it is located, and another German 3-star Michelin: Waldhotel Sonnora‘s restaurant. Waldhotel Sonnora was actually my very 1st choice for its more classical cooking, but since it sounded too remote and way too complicated to get there by train (my only mean of transport during this trip), I ended opting for Victor Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg. The thing that attracted me with both 3-star Michelin restaurants is their legendary reputation for consistency. I have rarely sat at a 3-star Michelin with food consistently good from the 1st amuse bouche to the last mignardise, one of the few exceptions being the last meal at L’Ambroisie in Paris, or the last meals at Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Fredy Girardet in 1995 (both are now closed, since) where each dish lived up to what I do expect at this level of dining. A quick personal tip: if you are in Perl Nennig and have hired a car, head to the tiny Luxembourg town of Remich for refuel (it’s at approx 3,4 kms from Nennig). I am sure you don’t need a picture ;p And Remich is a little town I’d recommend that you visit, especially in summer (it’s lively!).
My take on Chef Bau’s Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg: Known as one of the most brilliant 3-star Michelin Chefs around the globe, Christian Bau has chosen not to create a restaurant empire like many of his peers. Instead, he prefers perfecting his cooking in the kitchen of his triple-starred Michelin stronghold of Perl-Nennig. An aspect that I value a lot in a Chef’s philosophy (reminder: on top of being completely independent from anything related to the restaurant world, I do also insist on mostly dining at restaurants where you have the actual Chef behind his stoves instead of running after popularity contests and leaving his customers to name bearers). He first earned an initial Michelin star in 1998, followed by a second one in 1999, and was awarded his third in 2005. A third Michelin star that he retains since then.
Many, among some of the connoisseurs of world’s finest tables, argue that the only reason Chef Bau’s restaurant is not a worldwide attraction has got to do with its secluded location (the restaurant is located in the remote German’s Saarland state, a territory bordering France and Luxembourg). In my opinion, the location is far from being an issue: it is situated at 30 mins drive from the major urban area of Luxembourg-city. Those connoisseurs did also express their dissatisfaction over the fact that Chef Bau’s talent is not recognized by worldwide restaurant listings like the S Pellegrino’s Top 100 world best dining ventures, an observation to which I’ll append my personal opinion:
If you play attention at that list, you quickly realize that most of the featuring restaurants are ones that did set themselves apart by their persistent adoption of a given culinary trend: for ie, the molecular movement (Fat Duck, El Bulli, Alinea etc), the ‘rise’ of bosky cuisine (Noma, for ie), the unique progressive touches of Mugaritz or Quique Da Costa, the unorthodox style of Iñaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand, etc. But of course, being unique in a daring way does not necessarily mean being among the best (or does it? I’ll leave this to your discretion), which brings us back to our featuring restaurant review: Chef Bau is currently not making the headlines of world’s gastronomy perhaps because he is not trying to follow trends for the sake of popularity nor trying to reinvent the wheel, and that did not stop him from being, in facts, at the very top. Bau has spent years alongside legendary German Chef Harald Wohlfahrt (perhaps one of the few Chefs that I admire the most, for his amazing food, naturally, but also for one of the most fabulous Chef quotes ‘’Don’t cook out of ambition because this is what your food will taste like’’), prior to his appointment as Chef of Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant Schloss Berg in 1997.
The menu: it is a tasting menu, at the discretion of the Chef, that they call ‘voyage culinaire” for its international influences. You can be served 4, 6, 8 or 10 courses , but whatever set of courses you are opting for, they will also offer 8,9 free extra nibbles + an array of mignardises. And those are outstanding nibbles! This is one of the most affordable 3 Star Michelin tables.
Decor: Omnipresence of light warm tones in an overall decor that is nicely balanced between elements of victorian and contemporary design . Having myself spent time studying the influence of colors on a diner’s appetite, that specific aspect naturally caught my attention at this restaurant: whether it was their intent or not, color psychology is better mastered here than at any other restaurant that comes to mind. A beautiful and smart use of appetizing colors; for ie the light brown of their wooden floors or the discrete sparse touches of red (mini flower pots of gorgeous red roses on the table, on this evening) follow the principle of the ‘appetizing color’ theme.
I led off with a parade of bite-size savoury appetizers that showcased ingenuity:
As an ie, cornet with tenderloin, Räucheraalcreme (smoked eel cream ) & chives – finely hand-cut meat to a consistency that’s ideal for tartares, accurate seasoning and mix-ins; at the art of intensifying taste and flavor, you can’t go wrong when you pair a perfectly conceived beef tartare with the addictive richness of a well composed smoked eel cream. Not to forget the elegant and ideal aromatic substitute to onion: the chives. That was naturally eventful and it deserves its full 10/10 marks
The array of impressive nibbles went on with
- Jabugo Bellota ‘Puro’ (I’m a big fan of this ‘crème de la crème’ well praised ham; the bellota type is truly sublime – As I’ve learned with time, the Spaniards always back buzz with effective accomplishments. Not just blabla and wind just to cash in mileages of advertising non deserved visibility;) atop a flawless and delicious creative risotto-inspired mini ball of rice. 10/10
-Majorcan gamba with lardo and caviar had an addictive multi-dimensional parade of marine fresh flavors 10/10
- Crab cracker with hamachi, fennel & apple, green tea biscuit with lobster and kimizu was a show-stopper for its surprising balance of complex tastes and textures. It showed in terms of “culinary prouesse” the humongous depth of technical mastery of Chef Christian Bau. That depth kept shining throughout the entire meal, a rare occurence at any level of dining. 10/10
-Bio carrot with yogurt and coriander (the left side photo) was simply startling: I’d not be surprised to learn that it would be hard to find a better veloute of carrot than this. The kick of coriander adding an extra dimension of remarkable tastes. This came along a refined veggie sushi and phenomenal moussy take on carrots 10/10
There was also a plate of 5 creations based on bluefin tuna with Miso, soja and cucumber. It will be hard to put in words the level of impressive successful complexity at play on each of those 5 morsels. Startling! 10/10
Not one single flaw throughout that exposition of superb mini culinary concoctions. Nine mini courses before the main dishes arrive, imagine! Generosity is the motto.
The first main course arrived:
A construction around oyster. A succulent lucious and juicy poached oyster was paired with oyster-flavored refined chips, pearl-looking creations oozing of amazing fresh oysteriness, combava as the citrus enhancer and algae (passe-pierre) for a concerto of pure palatable amazement . Complex, exciting and so thoughtful 10/10
Sea spider took me by surprise. I expected some kind of tempura sea-spider. The sea spider came as a meaty roll, this was actually reminescent of crab meat imho but it was sea spider. Part of the appeal of this dish is its clever conceptualization: you can see that each item was diligently thought and carefully selected in relation to the next (I have rarely seen a Chef pairing so flawlessly and excitingly veggies with seafood. It sounds like an easy thing and most of the time it’s a common affair, but the way Chef Bau marries veggies and seafood make them pass as items of the same species). The flavour of the seafood is maintained in its pure form, its taste as delicate as it should. He adds lots of extra textural and taste dimensions to all his dishes (I could count at least 8 different components on that dish) and what turns usually as a big risk in most talented hands is like a piece of cake for him. To epitomize what I’ve just asserted, a creamy velouté of green veggies poured over this dish tasted like a tantalizing seafood enhancer to the sea spider rather than tasting of some futile veggie cream thrown against seafood. 10/10
The next offering (which I forgot to take a picture of ) was goose liver from the Landes (au torchon) wrapped by top quality seaweed. I have to admit that I was lucky to have sampled some stunning quality foie gras (duck and sometimes goose as well) in the past (in Quebec, France and in some other countries), but this one has a phenomenal taste that I won’t forget as long as my memory serves me. A modern take on a ragout of mushrooms with a citrusy hint of sudachi (a citrus fruit) complemented the dish. This course had great finesse with a mouthfeel worthy of superlatives. 10/10
A serving of artichoke from France’s region of Bretagne rose as the epitomy of the perfect artichoke-centric dish: it had jabugo bellota ham , parmesan foam and artichoke root sauce imparting an impressive depth of enticing flavours to this dish. The care, composition and cooking mastery behind this dish were herculean in scope, the presentation immaculate. As with each menu item that I was served all along this tasting, accurate cooking times were skilfully surveyed and the technique, impeccable. The taste, a pure bliss with each mouthful insisting on the next. 10/10
The next course exalted by a delicious meaty piece of irreproachable fresh prawn (the Gamberoni was cooked à la plancha and kept its genuine marine flavor). The small green “globes” you see on the picture are made of peas and were packed with unusual exquisite taste. A cream of Kombuseaweed had impressive taste sensation that stood out in a very distinct way and lightened the dish. Another item that was mingling so well in this successful concerto of tastes and textures was Jasmin rice broth with coconut infusion: it was a fun and creative take on what looks like rice crispy but would then give rice crispy a newly discovered refined state. Here’s a dish that attracts me towards its creativity. 10/10
A plate of Atlantic turbot was next. The fish on its own had perfect flasky consistency and the flesh, translucent. The exquisite moistness of the fish was superb. It was combined with sweet potato dots, the brilliant addition of a mouth watering gingery sauce, the crunchy nutty dimension of the hazelnuts that was topping the fish. A sensational culinary creation with ingredients which sourcing is exemplary and perhaps one of my lifetime favourite cosmopolitan dish (there was, once all items were mixed together, a middle Eastern feel to this dish that propulsed me in heaven – literally). Chef Bau count among the exceptional few who can offer some of the most creative and exciting cosmopolitan dishes of our era. 10/10
Bresse-Pigeon from Mieral – This preparation perfectly accented the natural flavors of the fowl. The pigeon’s meat retaining its natural ideal dark texture and a meaty juicy mouthfeel. Delicious pigeon that kept its enjoyable gamey taste vibrant. Another take on this bird also featured on this dish: a perfect pigeon-goose liver flan (you don’t see it on the picture because I ate it way before I thought of taking the picture..Rfaol..) which conception was simply stellar. On the right side of the pic, the little nutty-covered sphere you see was also pigeon’s meat surrounded by hazelnuts (well done). The dots are made of carrot cream (particularly delicious). There was also a jus of smoked tea and spices that — to my surprise — tasted like the best match to the meaty fowl. A bit as if I was telling you that a reduction made of smoked tea & spices & the meat’s sauce was far tastier and made more sense (in mouth) than just the meat’s sauce alone. That was the case, here. 10/10
Nebraska beef – This serving had lots of flavors imparted into the beef with the meat having a smooth melting texture, cooked equally thoughout, fully meaty and shining through pretty well due to non inclusion of extraneous ingredients and a judiciousness of the seasoning that is right on. The sauce is rich and deep, a square of back and short rib (you don’t see it clearly on the picture) was tasty, the Japanese egg plant puree well done, the dots of black garlic adding a nice kick, the overall clever and highly satisfying. 9/10
Champagner Bellini was a collection of sweet creations around peach and raspberry in various renditions: sorbet, mousse, a ragout (of peach). Champagne was additionally poured in the center of the plate. A ravishing dish (really beautiful to espy with its visually pleasant carefully constructed decorative features). Technically, not one single flaw. 9/10
This was the modern and refined take of the kitchen on the theme of a banana split. The chocolate elements had the accurate ratio of cream/chocolate and ideal texture (as firm as it should, with a rich chocolate colour). The chip of banana was packed with addictive fruity flavor. As with all creations of this kitchen: a lot of work is put in the details, the refinement and the delicious taste. A joyous inspired dessert 9/10
An array of top quality petits fours brought an end to this startling dinner experience. This was really stunning food after stunning food and the meal joins my 1995 dinners at JR and Girardet, 2009 dinner at Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) + 2011 meal at L’Ambroisie in my all time favourite 3 star Michelin dining occurrences
Service: It’s amazing to see such a young staff excelling in professionalism and showing such a genuine desire to please their hosts. I have rarely seen this since the exceptional service of Sidonie (XO Le Restaurant in Montreal) and the one I had in March at Ledoyen in Paris.
Pros: A table of exception where everything is pure exciting perfection. It’s one of those few tables around the world, where I would be tempted to go back again and again. I’ll never be in a position to humanly eat at all existing restaurants in the world, but deep inside of me, if such survey could make sense, this table would get my vote in the top 5 best restaurants of the globe. And it’s not even expensive!
Cons: Nothing wrong.
Conclusion: That was pure genius food. Sure, I love French food and International cuisine as well so I was seduced, but the real reason I felt for this restaurant lies in Chef Chistian Bau exceptional skills. Many Chefs are scared to go beyond the common boundaries. Or when they do it, it’s usually with inconsistencies. But Chef Bau goes ages ahead, blending an impressive quantity of ingredients with astonishing efficiency. Bau is a Genius with a big G!
WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: I gathered, from various emails received following this review, that some other restaurants do offer equal cooking performance. When asked what they were, I was in for a surprise: most were tables I was already familiar with and although offering Modern International cuisine, those places were in facts not even close to half of the skills showcased by Chef Bau. It was interesting to observe that the Chefs at the restaurants that are supposedly at the same height as VGSB would do great with 3 to 5 ingredients, but would perform poorly as soon as they would get to the count of 6 or 7 ingredients on the plate. In contrast, Chef Bau could align 8 to 15 elements with stunning precision and harmony as proven on this reported meal. A reminder that what could look similar at first glance do not necessarily have the same depth of mastery behind them. To me, that is how I measure the genius of a Chef : in its ability to offer a substantial depth of skills that his peers can’t accomplish as succesfully. Rest assured that Chef Bau has the skills for others to follow, especially his exceptional precise work of shapes, colors and flavors. I have no clue if he is there all the time behind his kitchen, but when he is cooking, which was the case on that evening, there is no doubt in my mind that he is among the few truely gifted Chefs of the globe.