Most chefs at high-end restaurants are obsessed in a very positive way – either with execution, product quality, presentation or creativity. Michael Hoffmann of Margaux in Berlin is all of that but maybe to an even greater extent. In the last couple of years he built up an immense knowledge of herbs both known and forgotten and developed a touch for vegetables which overall results in a very unique cuisine. Unique not only with respect to Germany (only Kellermann is similar) but worldwide. Let’s go…
Margaux is located in Berlin-Mitte (Unter den Linden) in the previous Eastern part just behind the Brandenburger Tor. It is different and one of the most progressive and unique interiors I’ve seen so far. It is posh but with distinct style and touch in arranging the different elements whereas precious material dominate. A lot of care is devoted to details – the bar, the Himalaya salt installation, the antique mirrors, the marble illuminated from behind… Like the cuisine you must get accustomed to it but after a while it feels quite natural…
Very early Michael Hoffmann had been infected with the cooking virus as he spend the larger part of his childhood with his grandmother who had a large garden of fruits, herbs and vegetables. So it was natural for him to help her out in the kitchen and the garden. Becoming a chef was only the next logical step.
After his apprenticeship at a small Gasthof in Northern Hesse and three posts in Switzerland his “awakening” for haute cuisine came at the Hilton Grill where Dieter Urbanski was chef de cusine (a Winkler disciple). Somehow enlightened he started working for Eckart Witzigmann at the Aubergine in Munich – clearly the best German restaurant in the early 90s. Sous Chef for Lother Eiermann at the Waldhotel Friedrichsruhe was next before he went back to Aubergine as Sous Chef and working closely with Gesumino Pirredu who is now the maitre at Margaux.
Some years in Hamburg followed at the legendary Le Canard (Josef Viehauser) and the Haerlin in the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten as Chef the Cuisine. Then, in 2000 he got “called” to Berlin to start the Margaux in Berlin-Mitte and bought the restaurant in 2003. Margaux carries one Michelin star and 17 points in the Gault Millau.
Since early April Hoffmann offers a vegetarian menu (Voyage de Legumes, 7 courses at €140) besides his Voyage de Cusine (7 courses at €165). Quite a price for a one star restaurant but, given the quality of ingredients, preparation and overall creativity it is worth every cent. We had a slightly enlarged version of both menus:
As one of the only chefs he writes out all the ingredients and preparations methods on the menu. Maybe a little be daunting for the usual diner I thought in the beginning – but after a while I got the notion that this enables the diner to understand and appreciate all the effort and passion put into the individual courses. And, it makes it much easier for me to write a review without having to ask questions about this and that… Moreover, the impression of an intellectual and very well thought-through cuisine is correct but it never overburdens the diner – taste is at the forefront and not the intellectual appeal.
It started with a pain printemps which was a cracker with different vegetables spreads beautifully assembled – a fresh and very unusual start. Along came a cucumber jelly with liquid vacherin which was a good palate cleanser.
Then the first wow – an interpretation of Salade Nicoise. Admittedly I do like deconstructions of classic dishes a lot but this was just outstanding. Roasted Romana salad, bell pepper jelly, tuna flavoured with Mole (an African spice blend), dried lomo, black olive confit and an amazing Romana emulsion. What an intensity in flavours, interplay of textures and a smooth and silky binding element – outstanding!
First course of the Voyage de Cuisine: foie gras de canard with mackerel, medlar and ashes of spruce sprouts. The medler was the hidden star as it provided a never before experienced depth of flavours (sweet, fruity, juicy, some acidity) and was the perfect companion to the foie refined by the ashes. The mackerel on the other side was the sour and slightly spicy (marinated with soy sauce and ginger) as well as textural counterpart. Last but not least the apple relish added richness and another ginger touch together with some raisins. Wowwow – outstanding. At first you do not know how to combine the different elements but every combination makes sense and the overall combination is sooooo in equilibrium and simply delicious…
The Riesling of Kessler had the fruitiness, slight sweetness and minerality to really stand the dish. It formed a a wonderful accord especially with the medlar.
2006 Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg Riesling Spätlese Goldkapsel, Weingut August Kesseler, Rheingau
The Voyage de Legumes presented broad beans, mole and avocado. A simple salad can be quite delicious if it appeals to all senses… Serving this in a bowl enables the diner to experience different spatial dimensions: on the top you have a salad of marinated chickweed, fat hen, lovage (fresh, delicate, crisp) together with broad beans, peas, candied citron and avocado (rich, earthy, slightly sour). The bean jelly served as the basis with its smoothness on the bottom and the avocado jus acted as a kind of a dressing. And the interior was a bit dust with mole to add the point to the i in bringing in some strength, slight sweetness and spiciness. Immensely clever and outstanding (my companion really loved it)!
2005 Weissburgunder QbA, Weingut Kirsten, Mosel
Second for me was king crab with sweet potato, cress and papaya. Maybe the best king crab dish ever – the king crab was incredibly tender, juicy and tasted like a dive in the sea. This is only possible if you use the best product available – here it became apparent that Michael Hoffmann is crazy about product quality. The dish was oriental (maybe raz el hanout carried by the sweet potato cooked sous-vide?) and impressed by its sweet/sour/spicy accord – the crustacean jus with curry was fantastic and not dominating at all. Why? Because the marinated cress, algae, ginger, onion leek and candied papaya introduced some herbal lightness and a sweet contrapoint. Outstanding and yummy, what can I say? Excellent pairing with a strong Stielweg from Künstler.
2007 Hochheimer Stielweg Riesling Alte Reben, Weingut Künstler, Rheingau
My companion had a declination of celery – cooked in sea salt, as gnocchi and cremé served with chives and almond oil and an excelent celery soup a part. Surprising how much one can get out of a celery with creatitivity and enthusiasm. Excellent to outstanding.
2007 Verdejo José Pariente, Rueda
My third course was Brittany sole with roasted artichokes and grilled paprika served in pure vegetable broth with lemon. That was another step-in in intensity and the jus made of confit vegetables was the star. Maybe it was a bit too much jus in my opinion. Together with the paprika and the artichoke you can imagine yourself sitting on a terrace in southern France. For me this dish evoked emotions and precious memories… Excellent!
Did I ever mention that I love white wines from Fürst? The love began at Amador when Lavinia Neumann served this wine to accompany some fish and seafood courses. Although Fürst is famous for red wines his whites have immensly improved in recent years. Rich, elegant and succulent with minerality and fruit. This wine clearly elevated the dish even further.
2007 Centgrafenberg Weisser Burgunder, Weingut Rudolf Fürst, Franken
Fourth course for me and third course in the vegetarian menu was spring vegetables (served with cockles for me) What a masterpiece – it somehow reminded me of Bras’ gargouillou but it had limited ingredients and appealed by the interplay of textures of the cooked and dried vegetables undermined by a lovely creme of chick peas and olive oil. A part we got a roasted vetetable bread and a fantastic vegetable jus.
This composition with different plates was a bit like a tamed Gagnaire. Each and every part was impeccably prepared with utmost dedication. Here Hoffmann shows his unwillingness to compromise, his love for every detail and his accuracy which alltogether I only find in three star restaurants… Just outstanding – another entry in my personal hall of fame.
I never had a Grauburgunder from Müller-Cartoir but maitre-sommelier Gesumino Pireddu pulled out all the stops on this very evening. Müller-Cartoir is one of the best winemakers in the Pfalz (Palatinate) but focuses on sweet and dry Rieslings with a wonderful balance of fruit and acidity. Transferred to this Grauburgunder it results in a great wine and a perfect companion to the all the vegetables. It worked so well I was in heaven.
2007 Hardter Herrenletten Grauburgunder Spätlese trocken, Weingut Müller-Cartoir, Pfalz
Fourth course in the vegetarian menu was curry of endive. Not without a wink they brought out a big pot like for a big chunk of meat but it turned out to be endive braised in curry. I liked it a lot as it created an explosion of flavours. Excellent!
My next course was an insert from the chef: pork belly marinated in Riesling with wild garic puree and szechuan pepper. From the picture can almost taste the fatty and rich pork belly… Hmmmm… The puree brought balance without being dominating, strong and yet fresh. The special kick was the pepper in the upper right corner which created suspense. Excellent to outstanding.
1989 Château Ogier de Gurgue, 1er Côte de Bordeaux
Palate cleanser for my companion – a perfect basil sorbet with a cake (of cherries?). Just delicious.
Main course for me: kid with morels – three variants of kid (back, sweetbread and joint) sautéed with tarragon served with steamed turnips, carrots, Cima di Rapa, small onions and wild garlic flavoured with nana mint and sumak. Of course, the kid was perfect and the three variants had different taste and texture. What made this special was once again the interplay of herbs, namely mint, sumak (a turkish salt used for Lahmacun) and the tarragon.
A part I got glazed morels with onion leek and chives. Morels were of outstanding quality but 2-3 would have been sufficient and, unfortunately, the jus was a bit too strong for the subtle kid. All in all an excellent dish!
The 1964 Gran Reserva was to die for. It was so amazing how alive this wine still was with its fruit of cherries and blackberries still present. Made as a very traditional Rioja this an example of perfect craftsmanship in wine-making. And, the beginning tertiary aromas weakened the wine a bit such that it was not too strong for the course. What a perfect match – chapeau!
1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva, Bodegas Riojanas, Rioja Alavesa
In the vegetarian Voyage there were morels and leek – sautéed morels and braised leek, stew of small artichokes and marinated violet potatoes and broccoli. Another stunning dish – this was Gagnairesk in the best sense serving three different distinct elements. Each elements was superb but the combination was perfect: one starts with the main plate and opens up a delicate depth to be filled with the richness of the stew and the crisp potatoes and broccoli. Wow.
2006 Pinot Noir „Margaux“, Weingut August Kesseler, Rheingau
A degustation of goat cheese was next – clearly the highlight of the evening: marinated and fresh goat cheese with dried olives, hibiscus (jus) and herbs de Provence; salad of tardiva and rhubarb; croustillant of pumpernickel with goat curd and lavender and a sorbet of fresh goat milk. Amazingly delicate, well thought-trough with every conceivable texture. The lavender with the curd was king. Outstanding (20 points!)
2002 Kallstädter Saumagen Riesling Auslese, Koehler-Rupprecht, Pfalz
Desserts are served in different elements and in three stages – first we had an elder sorbet with its soup (excellent), then a panna cotta of earl grey with star anise and vanilla (excellent to outstanding) and then the main dessert. For me this was an ingenious interpretation of angelica consisting of a mini soufflé, ice cream and some amazing sirup (outstanding). Too greedy so the photo had to suffer;-)
2005 „Pölicher Held“ Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Kirsten, Mosel
What a meal! Needless to say that the quality of the ingredients was absolutely top notch and the preparation perfect. Moreover, it was surprising, playful, intelligent and truly unique. Technically the cooking is classic French but the intelligent use of herbs and vegetables makes this cuisine quite special. As I said before the way of building up a course sometimes reminds of Pierre Gagnaire (also the waltz of desserts) but the style of cooking is quite different from Rue Balzac. I have never experienced this creativity paired with such a technical perfection. In a theatre we would have given standing ovations.
When we got to know Michael Hoffmann after the meal it appeared that he is even a bit more obsessed than other top chefs – as John McEnroe always said: “If you go out on the court, take no prisoners” – in a way Michael Hoffmann is as uncompromising and passionate when it comes to the quality of his cuisine. He is truly on a quest to further elaborate his Cuisine Avantgarde Classique building on his vast knowledge of herbs and vegetables. The new vegetarian menu is only the next step.
Service was truly flawless, warm, personal and comforting thanks to Madame Hoffmann and the ‘elder statesman’ Gesumino Pirredu who both guided us through a wonderful evening.
Margaux is worth any trip. Whoever comes to Berlin this is a must – by far the best and most interesting restaurant in town.
A three star meal. There is nothing else to say. I simply can’t wait to go back.