It was about time to revisit Thomas Bühner’s La Vie in Osnabrück. My last meal there in December last year was on a very high level yet with some weaker moments, especially on the dessert side. But it showed a clear tendency towards higher laurels, namely the third star. In this year Bühner hired Frederik Robert, a new pastry chef, and had Jürgen Dollase present very promising new dishes in a recent issue of Port Culinaire. So, we went…
Bühner proposed an enlarged degustation menu of which we selected the following courses:
It started with excellent nibbles: Gin Fizz, peas & broad beans and potato & sardine. Delicate and intense with a nice built-in dramaturgy from salty to herbal to crunchy & smoky. Excellent. The coco milk skin was rich but a bit sticky.
The amuse (only one for good’s sake): carpaccio of smoked melon with Parmesan and wild herbs. Wait, melon? It rather looks like tuna or beef carpaccio… The melon is vacuumed and steamed in a convectomate for a couple of hours to dehydrate the melon and intensify the flavour. Smokiness is then added just before serving with a cloche and a smoking pipe. Clearly a technical masterpiece. However, Thomas Keller has a similar recipe in his sous-vide book and Antoni Aduriz serves a related version with Idiazabal cheese and vegetable splinters.
Bühner’s version was amazing – in essence the taste was a bit like a deconstructed tomato/mozzarella dish. Perfectly balanced in texture and flavour. Especially the pine nuts made this dish special as the nuttiness played tag with the slight smokiness. A perfect amuse.
To kick-off the menu small bites were served before the actual courses. Last time I found the small bites not really convincing in conjunction with the courses and the time distance between them too long. Clearly different this time. Each pre-course set the stage for the dish in a unique way.
In particular for the first course: as an opener Bühner served a foie gras crème with tamarind coating and grapefruit. A clever miniature – each element had an equivalent in the actual dish: a lighter foie gras crème (rather a mousse), coke jelly and lemon granitée served with rucola. Somehow it reminded me of Jürgens’ Cu-Bar dish and, more closely, of Dacosta’s signiture dish.
Bühner’s version was excellent to outstanding. Like a small piece of music there was a crescendo: first, the coke jelly created a sensational effect when ‘kissing’ the roof of the mouth, then with its richness the crème followed thereafter, the lemon granitée added a fresh and colder descant whereas the rucola provided the finale of the range of flavours with its herbal and slightly bitter notes. The foie gras ice cream was a bit disturbing as it didn’t add much and was a bit repetitive as another cold element. Maybe a foie gras crumble bringing in another textural dimension would make this divine.
A new take on a wine pairing with foie gras: the Madeira worked surprisingly well, especially the older liquor notes nicely complemented the dish. Chapeau!
Sercial 10 years Henriques & Henriques / Madeira
Then a lobster croustillant with lemon jelly (a nice continuation) followed by tomato salad with edible crab and marinated pineapple. Another visually stunning dish, modern, light and really compelling, in particular the pairing of tomato and pineapple. However, the key element of the dish was texture. As this was a rather new dish I think Bühner needs to work on the dimensioning of the red tomato powder because it was a bit too spicy, too much and dominant. The crab was superb but couldn’t really stand the intense tomato salad. But nevertheless an excellent dish.
2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Bassermann-Jordan / Pfalz
After a superb stockfish puree in a bread mantle Bühner served a salmon trout confit in vanilla oil with beet root and nasturium. Very subtle with a nice interplay of beet root, vanilla (still very present exactly in the right dosage) and the slightly bitter and herbal cress. Excellent.
My next dish was my favourite dish of the night: bar de ligne with saffron eel, radish and lemon. Two absolutely outstanding products eel and bar de ligne in best harmony with the radish as a sweet/sour element connecting them. I particularly liked the soy jelly on top of the bar which added depth, some slighty spiciness and mouthfeel. Another surprising element were the algae baked in tomato tempura. Outstanding.
The smokiness of the baked trout caviar was logically continued with langoustines with cauliflower, algae puree and smoke. What a langoustine – perfectly tender, transparent inside with an intense aroma and nice mouthfeel. Cauliflower was provided in different textures and worked very well with the algae purée. In this dish it shows that modern elements like the smoking and releasing it at the table when opening the cloche is an important feature of the dish: it perfumes the dish in a subtle but not too strong way and adds another dimension to the sensual experience. Excellent to outstanding.
2006 Verdelho, Gentle annie / Central Victoria
Main courses were kick-off with a refreshing Kir Royal with apple air (worked like a sorbet as a nice palate cleanser yet with already more intense blackberry flavours). Then, for my companion: bison with parsley and lemon. Perfectly tender bison – one roasted and one braised piece. Almost simple and puristic, this dish once more showed the mastery of Bühner – impeccably prepared bison, a nice balance of parsley and lemon. A very natural dish as if it all ingredients just belong together in this way. Excellent to outstanding.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Crianza, Josep Foraster / Catalunia
For me: lamb from head to tail with miso crème. A new dish encompassing the whole spectrum of lamb – sweetbread, shoulder (two pieces), saddle and tail. Everything except the saddle (with Bühner’s signiture, a garlic – coriander coating) was cooked sous-vide and yields surprisingly different results in texture. Wine drinkers would say that the ‘terroir’ showed – the very nature of each piece of lamb became very apparent which resulted in a declination of hearty and meaty flavours from the soft and slighty ‘sweet’ sweetbread to the rustic tail. Moreover, a lamb tea is served which has a similar effect as Bau’s langoustine tea in perfuming the mouth and intensifying the lamb taste without being overly ‘lamb-ish’.
The lamb was served with a couple of predominantly textural elements like the ‘truffle’ of corn and chicken skin (slightly crunchy and intense), lamb tapioka balls (a bit more crunch and intensity) and crispy lamb broth (the ultimate crunch). To balance the lamb’s heartiness the sweet potato and carrots were very well. As a binding element Bühner used a nice miso crème on the basis of chicken broth. Unique and outstanding.
A second main was served after a fantastic potato espuma with curry/pumpkin ice cream. For my companion: pigeon breast with foie gras, young artichokes and ceps’ earth. Served like stew in a dense way, this was quite heavy (especially the cornetto with pigeon offals) and really yummy. But, in effect, less surprising and thought-provoking than the other courses so far, more on the level we had experienced in December last year.
For me: roebuck poached in exotic spices with braised vegetables and coco. The roebuck was only seasoned by the spices in the poaching broth, not other seasoning has been used. In this way, Bühner could emphasize the outstanding quality of the product. Here, the main ingredient was the star and the vegetables were rather garnish. However, the combination of coco and the exotic spices (with coriander and garlic) resulted in a new flavour experience. Excellent!
Desserts – what a quantum leap from December. Four small pre-desserts, one better than the other: an avocado crème brûlèe with Nutella ice cream (nice one with the famous hazelnut spread!), speltgras soup with avocado and peas (healthy, herbal, refreshing, light), a warm chocolate praliné with mango and dill (rich, but not heavy) and a poached egg of coco and orange. Simply fantastic!
2001 Saarsteiner Rielsing Auslese, Schloss Saarstein / Saar
A worthy finale: peach ‘Melba’ à la façon la vie. Simply stunning – no molding involved, by the way. A peach frozen peach mousse coated by a raspberry jelly – intense, fresh and more concentrated than the original fruits. Outstanding!
It seems to me that Thomas Bühner has changed up: his dishes speak a clearer language, they are more accentuated and spot-on. In the end, the overall meal was lighter, more playful and surprising than before. Especially the bar de ligne touched me in a way that I can still ‘recall’ the dish in my taste memory. Brilliant.
Service was warm and receptive, relaxed and formal where needed – just right to made us enjoy this very evening. A big thank you to Mrs Kanagaratnam and the whole team!
Bühner’s cuisine successfully combines modernity on the one hand (without over-stretching it and being too intellectual) as well as excellent compository and technical skills on the other. In this very sense he belongs to the group of young German chefs (along with Amador, Bau, Elverfeld, Erfort and Wissler) who have successfully emancipated themselves from the French tradition, but everyone in his quite distinct way. The second German Küchenwunder has just begun – it’s definitely worth to be explored!
An outstanding experience – ready for higher laurels. Now. Maybe this week when Michelin publishes the new Guide Rouge for Germany.