“What is a three star experience like?”, some foodie and non-foodie friends use to ask me. What is the difference between a one, a two and a three star restaurant? In Michelin terms the answer is straightforward:
In essence the Michelin ratings pave the way of planning trips. Sitting in the very restaurant, however, is a different matter – how to really say a meal or dining experience would be worth three stars? First, let me stress this is a very personal matter – I am not a professional tester (good for me as I can choose rather freely what to eat) but I think I have eaten enough to be able to tell the differences… Second, I have personal likes and dislikes but in any review I try to point out where this might ve relevant. So, it shouldn’t affect the statement made and I prefer to give solid reasoning when praise or criticism is appropriate.
Personally, without going into much detail and without elaborating on a sophisticated 100/100 scale (which I do not use anyway) the overall satisfaction is a function of the product quality, cooking precision, composition of dishes (pairing of flavours, sensible use of textures, dimensioning), creativity (unique/novel pairing of flavours, new techniques, unique handwriting), menu composition, consistent quality, service, ambiance. What I ‘borrow’ is the grading system (very good – one star, excellent – two stars, outstanding/exceptional – three stars).
At a three star restaurant I just take product quality and cooking precision for granted – there is no excuse for faults here. If one just takes the best products available, cooks them impeccably and composes dishes in a stringent way, that can be very well three stars as numerous examples (like L’Ambrosie, Ducasse, Auberge de L’Ill or Thieltges here in Germany) show. Some might find this boring but it is just an immense pleasure to eat something which cannot be made better. Kind of risky because this approach dramatically fails if there are only minor deficiencies. Readers of my blog might have noticed that I prefer a cuisine that surprises my in a distinct way and shows some uniqueness, be it a unique style in pairing flavours (like Amador or Bau) or a unique approach to cooking (like Redzepi or Achatz).
Where was I? Why am I telling you this an intro to another visit of Christian Jürgens at the Überfahrt? Because, in Germany, the highest laurels seem to be in sight for him and Thomas Bühner. (Personally I would like to count in Michael Hoffmann of Margaux but he needs to get the second star first…) Maybe these thoughts can help in evaluating my recent experiences and make it transparent why I think there could be a promotion or not…
After my last visit at the Überfahrt about a year had passed – it was Jürgens’ first year at the Überfahrt and his early steps at his new domain were rather impressive. So, time for a short update – before the new guides come out…
We decided to let Jürgens cook for us and he proposed a menu of his current highlights:
As it is apparent from the menu there are some classic dishes in a modern robe (Forelle “Müllerin” and part of the beef main – Fillet “Rossini”) – interesting…
It started with a twinkling eye as the first nibbles were pebbles (Kieselsteine) from the Tegernsee. Served in a small bowl with real stones the three eatable ones were made of creamy potato mousse (surprising if you bite in the first time because you don’t expect that softness) coated with a mix of squid ink, truffles and potato. An interesting and nice start but no culinary revelation.
The second amuse was a visual stunner: tomato served with a green gazpacho and olives. It looks like a tomato but it’s not a real one – another nice example that molding can create new ways of experiencing a known element. Inside the ‘tomato’ there is a tomato mouse which is filled into a tomato mold (don’t forget to cover the mold with kitchen film first) and then put into the freezer. To apply the outer tomato jelly, the mousse is released from the mold, then bathed in liquid nitrogen to enable the coating with the tomato jelly.
How do I know all this? Well, I didn’t talk to Jürgens about it – I found if here. More importantly, the tomato has been used in another dish by Dani Garcia since 2007. Yes, it was another dish, but the main effect of Jürgen’s dish is the tomato. The overall taste is good and the flavours work fine but the technique did not enhance the taste as in Amador’s virtual asparagus or the spaghetti of green beans in Wissler’s red mullet with bouillabaisse purée.
So, I have mixed feelings here – do I expect “no copying” in a two or three star restaurant? Where is the borderline? I leave it to you, dear reader…
One word about the bread – frequent readers of this blog will have noticed that I am not writing pages on bread and butter. But, this time the potato focaccia served and the multi-grain bread were just divine. Fresh, served hot, tender and juicy.
Then the menu started with Cu-Bar which consisted of a foie gras mousse with cuba libre jelly and a “cigar” served a part. Inside the caramelized cigar there was a foie gras terrine accompanied by ashes made of dried celery and green apple. An excellent dish with the foie being of superb quality, the jelly enhancing the sweetness by adding bitter notes of the rum and coke and acidity from the lime juice. The cigar was a bit too sticky and sugary for my taste but complemented the textural spectrum. Moreover, the foie inside could not really stand the caramel outside. If Jürgens would add a temperature element and get the cigar balanced out this could be really outstanding.
Another slight problem here as Dacosta serves a similar foie mousse, coke/rum jelly combination for some years now? Not that relevant as the cigar element made it kind of unique (well, the Roca brothers have a Cuban ‘cigar’ in one of their desserts, also with ashes, but with a totally different taste)…
Wonderful pairing with the Kabinett from Schloß Lieser which had exactly the right sweetness and acidity to be a perfect companion!
2007 Riesling Kabinett, Schloß Lieser, Mosel
Next was Forelle “Müllerin”, a trout from the Tegernsee with lettuce and parsley. Another stunning dish in presentation – I almost had the feeling of an encounter with some strange insect… Traditionally the Forelle “Müllerin” (à la meunière) is covered with flour and then baked (to achieve the Maillard reaction), typically served with potatoes and lettuce salad. Jürgens’ interpretation was quite different – he filled the trout with a cream of horseradish, potato (I guess) and parsley, put it on a roasted onion (to emulate the Maillard I guess as I couldn’t figure any flour around the trout) and topped it with some lettuce and trout caviar. Last but not least, a small stripe of parsley jus …
For me, this was the weakest dish of the lunch. Not that it was not good, but the horseradish filling dominated too much and the cream in combination with the tender but not too juicy trout was rather dry. Somehow I was longing for some moisture which the tiny parsley jus could not add. Additional parsley would add this moisture and build up a nice herbal counterpoint.
2008 Weißer Burgunder Muschelkalk S, Dr. Wehrheim, Pfalz
A rather classic dish: “Fluß und Weide” – crayfish on veal head with peas puree and chanterelles. This was just yummy with the crayfish (I assume local Bavarian ones) being really excellent, veal head providing depth and intensity and the puree some nice creaminess. But the real king of this dish was the crustacean jus (à la bouillabaisse) which was intense, dense and build a nice fundament on which all the other ingredients could dance. Excellent to outstanding. Simple, but impressive.
The Gemischter Satz is an old specialty from Vienna: on the Nußberg there are more than 25 years old vines comprising Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris which are harvested and pressed together. The result is a wine of exotic flavours with clear Burgundy notes, slight minerality and enough fruit to mirror the sweetness of the peas and the crayfish. Wonderful.
2007 Nußberg Gemischter Satz Alte Reben, Wieninger, Wien
“Meer und Garten” – Brittany plaice on citrus risotto with Bouchot mussels and basil. Mixed feelings here – on the one hand the risotto was masterly prepared – creamy, still al dente with the lemon flavours spot-on without being too acidic. On the other hand, the plaice was almost a bit too thick and a bit dry and would have needed some more seasoning (a touch of salt maybe?). Still, when I think of this I have the feeling that the elements did not really bond – it felt like eating three dishes. Moreover, the basil could have been more present.
You know what? I love Planeta’s Chardonnay – it’s rich, succulent, intense and yet so different to Chablis/Burgundy or the oaky New World Chardonnays. Excellent choice with the lemon risotto with enough power to stand both the intense mussels and the risotto.
2007 Chardonnay, Planeta, Silzilien
“See und Acker” was a masterpiece of balance: such an equilibrium of sweetness (beetroot), acidity (radish and cucumber) and spiciness (horseradish jus) is rare. Needless to say that the local zander from the Tegernsee was impeccably cooked and nicely enriched with some salmon larding. For the first time, texture was becoming important – both the radishes and the beetroot cannelloni added different levels of firmness and slight crunchiness. Excellent to outstanding.
2008 Grauburgunder, Dönnhoff, Nahe
A gift from the chef was the highlight of this lunch: Joselito, ceps and peach. Simple, puristic, divine! Served warm the Joselito was just melting (there is no oil on the plate) paired with ceps of outstanding quality whereas the peach made this extraordinary. This is exactly the purist Jürgens as it already showed in the Froschkönig or the Kartoffelkiste on my last visit. Bravo!
The main “Des Bauern Stolz” (the farmer’s pride) comprised two plates: first, a beef fillet poached in red wine accompanied by bone marrow, spinach à la “Bordelaise” and red wine jus. For me, the bone marrow espuma was a bit too strong, too dense and dominating and the beef was missing some texture (a bit too soft overall). Excellent+.
Second came a braised steak a la “Rossini” with foie gras, summer truffles and a stuffed onion (can’t remember the filling, uh). Rossini was not only an ingenious composer but also one of the first foodies😉 The braised beef was amazingly tender, almost subtle in taste (not as overly strong as Argentinian beef) – a real winner! The whole dish was generous – maybe a little bit too much as I found the foie slightly overpowering and too cold such that the temperature contrast was almost unpleasant. However, flavours were strong and precise, the pairing with the onion was nice as the sweetness of the foie was taken up again. Overall, an excellent to outstanding course.
Desserts: a new interpretation of Sacher “Edition 2009”. Jürgens preserved the traditional taste of a Sacher Torte (chocolate, jam and rum) and converted it in a modern pastry masterpiece with liquid chocolate inside flavoured with the key Sacher ingredients. A part I got an iced Melange (kind of Vienna coffee) which provided a nice temperature contrast and was outstanding.
A true finale: Zitrone “Edition 2008”. At first it seems like a second molding experiment but the exterior of the ‘lemon’ is truly candied peel from an Amalfi lemon (Jürgens boils the peel in sugared water a couple of times over a few days) filled with lemon mousse and ice cream. The lemon rests in a Champaign infusion flavoured with a lemon broth and gets texture from a lemon sable with crusted zests on top.
A lot of lemon, you might think. Right, but the dish was playing with the variants – soft sweet mousse with almost no acidity, textural interesting peel with intense lemon flavours without overdoing it and the crunchy sablè which I found truly wonderful. The zests were the only element were less would have been more – maybe I would have inserted less of them in the sablè. Fresh, intense, light – an outstanding dish.
A meal at the Überfahrt cannot end with the outstanding board (well, two tables) of maybe the best cakes you can get in a high-end restaurant….
Service was fantastic and Sonja Schollenberger presented a more than fitting wine pairing – thanks!
Since my last meal, progress was most visible in the dessert section which was truly unique with utmost technical precision and a twinkling eye. Clearly warrants three stars.
The savory courses had some real heights the Joselito/ceps/peach dish followed by the crayfish and the zander. And the Cu-bar… No a single dish was bad, the overall quality was more consistent with less ups and downs as last time. Forget the slight borrowing in the beginning, this was an overall excellent meal with some upside potential.
In essence, Jürgens’ style is modern without the widespread avantgarde techniques and elements, his cooking clearly rests in the French tradition but abides with traditional flavour combination. He deserves praise for his intelligent use of local products and the re-interpretation of classic dishes. And, his cooking shows a certain humor which is not obvious on the forefront but rather hidden and visible at a second glance. Interestingly, there is not complex textural interplay on every plate (as many of the modern chefs use it) – sometimes a bit more could be beneficial.
Now, as I am writing this report it seems that for me Jürgens is best when he really simplifies his cooking by concentrating on a few flavour combinations like shown with the Joselito (or the Frog King and the Kartoffelkiste last time). Where it gets too complex I had the feeling that the dishes were not (yet) spot-on with a clear message, especially when reflecting on the trout and the plaice.
Having this in mind (and my intro about the star system), from my perspective the highest laurels are in sight but not yet there. Compared to my last visit, however, they are closer. A unique handwriting is discernible but needs some polishing… I expect that Jürgens will be ever more motivated when the new kitchen and restaurant will be ready in December. Put him on the watch list. At least I will.