L’Arnsbourg – Back on the Block

I must admit, for me, L’Arnsbourg is a special place. Memories from absolutely stunning meals (I still remember the roasted foie gras with Wakamé tee and lemon structures from 2007), a beautiful interior in a quite remote almost enchanted location and a warm-hearted special, almost family-like service. But, in 2008 I (and several other frequent visitors) had the impression that Jean-Georges Klein did struggle and couldn’t live up to his previous performance. The always delightful blue lobster showed up in rather mediocre quailty and the whole menu dramaturgy (one of the key points in Klein’s cuisine) wasn’t that convincing anymore, coupled with some quite questionable dishes. So, it was time to revisit…

L'Arnsbourg

Located in Baerenthal in Alsace, L’Arnsbourg is a family business. Back in 1900 the Arnsbourg was a restaurant and hostel for forestry workers. Klein’s grandmother then turned it into a small boarding house, his mother into a gourmet restaurant winning its first Michelin star in 1989. After Jean-Georges got back from hotel management school he worked about 20 years in the dining room before succeeding his mother at the age of 37(!). Remarkably, he is a self-tought three star chef (since 2002), an autodidact who, very similar to Michel Bras, has found his own way of cooking: innovative, but not technique-obsessed, always interested in creating unique dishes and composing harmonious menus in an opera-like dramaturgy. His sister, Kathy oversees the service brigade and his wife, Nicole, joined them to open the beautiful Hôtel K in 2006, newly built across the street.

Jean-Georges Klein (©Arnsbourg)

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Maison Troisgros

France has a rich culinary tradition – shining names like Carême, Escoffier and the protagonists of Nouvelle Cuisine (most importantly Michel Guérards und Fernand Point) have left most important marks on Haute Cuisine all around the world. Michelin and Gault-Millau are the guidebooks for any foodie… And, there are places of culinary pilgrimage with a long tradition, most notably L’Auberge de l’Ill (the third star sind 1967), Maison Troisgros (three stars since 1968) and Maison Pic (where three consecutive generations were awarded three stars). Truly impressive, given that outside of France Winkler held three stars for highest number of years…

My affection and love for these ‘great houses’ began in Alsace at the Auberge de L’Ill where the atmosphere, the pride of the culinary heritage, the dedication to the diner and, most strikingly, the implicitness of being top-notch without being arrogant was just impressive. The whole gastronomic theatre is celebrated in the best possible way. For me, the overall experience was just moving.

Being infected with this virus I planned to visit the other ‘great houses’ to see whether they can live up to their reputation and manage to create special moments. Last autumn I finally got the opportunity to do so… Somehow I feel that a report about my lunch at Maison Troisgros should come first…

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Identity Crisis? – Not in Flanders!

Crisis – what crisis? Sure, there still is something like a financial crisis which hit also the fine dining world quite significantly…

But an identity crisis? Hmm.

The so-called ‘new naturals’ have left their own footprint by continuing the tradition of Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat to fully embrace the regional produce and its distinct character. Important protagonists are Antonio Aduriz (Mugaritz), David Kinch (Manresa), and, most importantly, Rene Redzepi of noma. Basically, he managed to put Scandinavia on every foodie’s map. It represents a re-focus on regional products (here Scandinavian) in a modern and authentic way. Having dined at noma, MR and Geranium I must say that this a quite distinct and unique approach to the fine dining experience as it clearly abandons with the usual suspects of luxury ingredients which I find more and more boring.

The interesting question for me is: can the Scandinavian new naturals model be transferred to other regions?

After the dinner ‘Service a 6 mains‘ at In de Wulf the answer is undoubtedly yes. There is no identity crisis, at least not for Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf, 1*), Filip Claeys (De Jonkman, 1*) and Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillère, 1*) who joined forces to present a cuisine rooted in Flanders focusing on their regional products.

Filip Claeys, Alexandre Gauthier and Kobe Desramaults (left to right)

Filip Claeys, Alexandre Gauthier and Kobe Desramaults (left to right)

But not only the approach to cooking was novel but also the way of bringing their message across. To disseminate their agenda they invited bloggers from all over the world (Trine, Laurent, Bruno, FoodSnob, Bernhard, and Stephen Harris (the owner/chef at The Sportsman, representing Steve P from Opinionated About)) along with traditional food journalists. Not to forget the one and only Piet de Kersgieter who took those brilliant photos (however, most of the photos on this post are mine unless indicated).

And here it links up to the financial crisis – both a clear differentiating profile and new ways of ‘marketing’ are good answers…

Sundown in Flanders

A special evening in Flanders

To cut a long story short, the dishes, the presentation, the vibrant atmosphere of this very special evening were unique and very much authentic. It lived and breathed the spirit behind the concept and dishes as well as the pride for their local produce. A pride, I have to admit, I had only seen at noma before… And, most importantly, the dishes of the three different chefs integrated seamlessly in one menu even though each has his own handwriting…

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Auberge de L’Ill

The Haeberlin family and their restaurant Auberge de L’Ill is a culinary monument carrying three stars since 1967. Generations of chefs have been trained by Paul Haeberlin who died last year in May at the age of 84. A big chapeau for his lifework!

Our experience? Well, it was Spring and we had the pleasure to have our champagne outside on the terrace with an amazing view on the Ill. It looks like they have created this postcard romantic especially for the restaurant. Across the river there was a small boat and some fisherman and we really wondered how much they get paid for being so authentic.

On the inside they have modernized the ambience in 2007 – now it is really a benchmark location – just have a look here.

The Menu

I opted for the Menu Haeberlin – six courses for €148 and exchanged the lamb main for ris de veau. As a first course I had Le cocktail de chair de tourteau, guacamole, mousse légère d’oursin et gelée de crabe. This was probably one of the best cold starters I had so far. Different textures, light sweetness (the gucacamole), acidity and amazingly fresh elements and a rich and intense crab gelee on the bottom made this dish really outstanding.

Chair de Touteau, Guacamole, Oursin et Crabe

Chair de Tourteau, Guacamole, Oursin et Crabe

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