Fond of electro, techno and house music? Ever heard of the DJ legend Sven Väth? If yes, the Cocoon Club in Frankfurt should be immediately on your mind. If no, but you are food-interested, or maybe a real foodie, you should definitely add this location due its fabulous restaurants Silk and Micro where Mario Lohninger is both chef de cuisine and host… Restaurants in a club, hmmm…
Here the story goes: Sven Väth planned the whole Cocoon project for about three years, got to know Mario when he was chef de cuisine at Danube in New York and then, on Mario’s 30th birthday, Sven’s wife asked Mario whether he wanted to head the restaurants in the new Cocoon Club. This was the starting point of a quite unique gastronomic project.
Silk is a bed restaurant – a bit inspired by the Supperclub in Amsterdam and the Bed Supper Club in Bangkok. But, to be honest, none of these is so consistent in its approach as Silk and offers Michelin-starred cuisine. Wait, Michelin has awarded a star to Silk (early in 2006), a restaurant without proper tables, proper table cloths and high-end cutlery and porcelain – in Germany?
When it comes to fine dining I am usually somehow conservative in that I very much prefer tables where I can sit and eat properly. But Silk is more than just a restaurant – it is an oasis, a state of mind. It is a place to feel at home, to relax and to abide with all the quarrels of each day. It is even intimate for a romantic and cosy dinner…
Beds offer enough space for 4-6 people, one has to take off the shoes and is offered special sandals to go fo a walk… A DJ plays Ambient tunes, the light gradually changes its intensity and lets the diners appear at their best. It is a perfect way to introduce fine dining to a different audience. But, guest have changed, especially since the first star has been awarded. One also finds traditional fine diners along with crazy party people who need to forced to lay down for a couple of hours…
Micro, on the other hand, is different. It offers real tables – for eight which can be separated by reflecting fiber glass strings. More club- and bar-like, dark with specific light effects (using the strings) this is a place where everything is possible – from sushi, pizza (off the menu recently) and burgers to specialties from around the globe (like Wiener Schnitzel) at Micro Lohninger serves his own interpretations but still authentic and in the best possible quality. Essentially the menu is inspired from the after service / midnight dinners in New York where it was possible to find the best sushi, burger etc. just around the corner…
Initially Mario wanted to become a professional skier but a severe accident ended his career. Being born into a gastronomic family, the wish to become a chef was somehow natural – as he states partly due to his interest in the art of cooking itself and partly because he thought that being a chef could be a platform to explore the world – how true…
At 15, Mario underwent a rather classic training with his apprenticeship at the Hotel Brandlhof in Saalfelden, his first commis post at the brothers Obauer in Werfen and a post at the legendary Tantris under the Austrian Hans Haas. Then, being recommended by a Tantris colleague, he went to New York working at San Domenico (an Italian restaurant) under Theo Schoenegger. Hollywood was next and maybe the most famous celebrity restaurant in the world – Spago under Wolfgang Puck (another Austrian btw).
At Spago he recognised that his knowledge of classical French cuisine was not comprehensive enough so Hans Haas suggested to work for Guy Savoy in Paris (when Savoy was maybe better than today and only carrying two stars). As you could imagine this was a hard school being a stranger in one of the French temples of fine dining.
After that he became sous-chef at Spago under Michael French in Palo Alto before Daniel Bouley discovered his talent and hired him as the executive chef for his new restaurant Danube in New York. For the first time, Mario could develop his own cuisine in that he re-interpreted Austrian classics with the best ingredients, preparation and new flavours from all over the world. But in the end, it had to be Austrian. The five-year period at Danube was very successful culminating in being awarded two Michelin stars and being one of the hottest spots in town with long reservation lists. During this time he got to know Sven Väth…
What could you expect after this culinary CV? At Obauer Mario learned to value fresh and natural ingredients. Hans Haas is a master of getting rid of unneccessary elements. The cross-over of different styles and flavours which is so present in Puck’s cuisine left a definite mark in Mario’s cooking DNA. Clearly, the precision in Mario’s cooking stems from his year at Savoy. After a couple of intense Asian trips and a teaching stint at the famous and traditional Tsuji cooking school in Osaka, the Asian food and cooking philosophy did impress Mario in its purity, clarity and radicalism when it comes to source the best products. Last but not least, Adria’s approach and a joint cooking session with Paco Roncero enriched his technical perspective. All these elements paired with his Austrian legacy makes Mario Lohninger’s cuisine so unique.
A Silk Menu – Purple Heaven
At Silk there is only one set menu (priced at €108) which changes every other week. All diners are requested to arrive around 7.30 so that the whole experience can get a synchronized start. The dramaturgy of the menu always comprises four acts – a ballet of amuse awakes the diners, followed by two sets of more traditional savoury courses and ended by a dessert waltz.
In our last visit we started with an excellent cornetto with Büsum (Northsea) crabs and beet root, a fantastic rainbow roll with radish, a spoon with a foie gras mousse, kumquat and a Lebkuchen cookie and finalised our amuse ballet with an outstanding chestnut puree with pointed cabbage and black trumpets. Very traditional, the last amuse was a masterpiece in texture, product quality and simplicity, amazingly yummy. Surely one of the highlights of the meal. Sometimes it is not necessary to think of over-complicated dishes, a clear idea, outstanding products and excellent execution is enough to shoot me up into gourmet heaven…
The first dish of the second act was a raviolo of Boudin Noir with Sauerkraut and old balsamic. A big drum roll, intensity and delicacy at its best. The pairing of perfect Boudin Noir as a fluffy and not too dense filling of the raviolo with the acidity of the Sauerkraut and the balsamic worked very well. Excellent.
Second course of the second act: caramellized scallops with baby squid, pineapple and a caper/dill sugo. Scallop preparations are a distinct part of Lohninger’s signature repertoire. The trick is to cut the scallops slightly and let it roast in a pan to induce a nice Maillard effect – so far not spectacular. But the small scallop ‘tentacles’ create another textural dimension in that eating the scallop is less uni-dimensional and homogeneous. Here again (as below), the result is astonishing – the combination of dill, capers and pineapple with the slightly caramellized scallop is truly wonderful. Needless to say that all products are top-notch…
Third act part one: lukewarm bio salmon, root vegetables, apple/rosemary puree and chives sugo. The best salmon I have ever eaten – fresh, juicy, delicate with a salmon taste as it has to be. A divine dish – wow!
After a nice sorbet time for third act part two – the main course: braised Kavalierspitz with cabbage sprouts and la ratte potatoes. Kavalierspitz is shoulder blade cap and normally used as beef for boiling or to make soups. The German Tafelspitz is prepared in a similar manner, yet it is a piece of the beef tail.
Lohninger´s approach is different as he braises the Kavalierspitz for a couple of hours (sous-vide I suppose) and manages to get this difficult part so tender and juicy that it resembles a perfected roast in best Austrian tradition. Also the pairing with best la ratte puree and cabbage wrapped in filo dough (like spring rolls) is a very traditional assembly of ingredients but in a much modern and lighter way. The result is impressing. Bravo!
Last act – desserts: tangerine, wasabi & fromage blanc was a cheese course but it didn’t taste like one. The fromage blanc was served an ice cream which underlines the fresh and light nature of this ‘cheese’. Tangerine was slightly kissed by wasabi, a very natural composition. Excellent.
The star of the night: Kaiserschmarn, Calvados apples and Topfen ice cream. Kaiserschmarn is maybe one of THE Austrian desserts, basically a ‘cut-up and sugared pancake with raisins’. Simply fantastic – we ordered a second one, it was soooo good.
Why not present traditional recipes in the best possible manner and celebrate your heritage? Nothing wrong with it as long as it is so outstanding…
The final: Cocoon chocolate – a declination of different chocolates resembling the Cocoon Club logo paired with matching powders. We had (top-down) Araguani ganache (72%) with passion fruit, Manjari (64%) with butter caramel/Maldon salt, Guanaja (70%) with coffee and Caraibe (61%) with tonka beans. Ingenious.
This was surely one of my menus of the year, flawless, inspired, both traditional and modern, yummy – in a very relaxed and unique atmosphere!
Hard to describe how Micro differs from Silk apart from the atmosphere. The most apparent difference is the sushi selection prepared by Kavano-San whereas now also one sushi part is inserted in the Silk menu. Then there are some classics like Wiener Schnitzel, the Micro Burger, outstanding steaks and some dishes which went off the Silk menu. The kitchen and the team are the same so for me there is no difference in quality.
Autumn salad and Parmesan bonbons with basil air
Scallops with tomato-coriander and trout strudel, mushroom puree and Grüner Veltliner
Black cod / miso / radish cannellono / Japanese consommé and roebuck, red cabbage, potato
What is the common denominator of all these dishes? They are clear, rigorous in construction, perfect in execution using the best products and concentrated on what is essential. Mario Lohninger’s CV left marks on the composition of dishes, ingredients and the overall food philosophy. Compared to other German one star restaurant this is on the upper end, personally the overall food experience warrants two stars.
Most strikingly, Silk and Micro is a family business: after they closed their own restaurant in Austria, mother Erika Lohninger manages the Silk restaurant and father Paul acts as Mario’s right and left hand being his chef de cuisine. In essence, this makes the whole experience so special: it touches because at every moment you can feel the heart and soul of this family affair. More Lohninger is to come as the family will open their own Beisl in Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen in January 2010 – good luck!
From a Frankfurt perspective a must-go, clearly the best restaurant in town head-to-head with Patrick Bittner.