Nuernberg is widely known for its Christmas market, one of the largest across Germany, for its picturesque city centre, and for Nürnberger Bratwürst’l. These small yummy sausages are quite typical for the Franconians and their love for a rustic and simple fare. But, there is a different restaurant to be discovered, a culinary gem: the Restaurant Essigbrätlein (no link as there is no website;-)). Without its big ancient name tag it would be difficult to find inmidst the historic centre with all its small houses.
Looking like an ordinary Gasthaus (tavern) from the outside, the bell at the door could be interpreted as a way to limit the number of curious walk-in customers. Inside, the Gasthaus character carries on with dark wooden panels and typical crown glass windows. At a second glance one notices more than ordinary table cloths, underplates and different glasses on the tables.
This somehow reduced interior sets the stage for patron Andree Köthe and his unique cuisine. In the last 20 years he has developed his “Gewürzküche” in which spices, herbs and vegetable play the essential part. Together with his chef de cuisine and partner Yves Ollech he demonstrates that high-end cuisine is possible without the usual luxury ingredients like turbot, lobster and the like. Possible because they are able to elevate seemingly unspectacular products by the intelligent use of herbs and spices. The result is interesting enough for advanced foodies which are eager to experience a cuisine off the beaten path.
The menu concept is simple: besides a four-course lunch menu there is a seven-course dinner menu of which all courses can be ordered à la carte. Given the small team in the kitchen, this is the only way to realize such an ambitious cuisine at very reasonable prices. The limited offer is well-received among guests many of which have become outright ‘fans’ of this restaurant over the years. Being one of them I had to realize that on my latest visit many (new) dishes needed refinement so that the overall level was not quite as before. We had a slightly extended version of the lunch menu:
Contrary to common practice the menu does not start with a firework of amuses – almost silent and yet very to the point the kitchen serves three nibbles: a roll with poppy seeds filled with parsley root puree (nice interplay of texture and earthiness), baked bread cubes soaked in pepper jus with dried Parma ham (this time a bit too much jus so that it appeared to soft) and a formidable grilled eel with caraway and lemon (not pictured) which had a difficult time after the intense pepper bread.
After this sense-awakening intro a classic of Köthe and Ollech was served: fennel with cucumber and lemon. Reduced to the utmost necessary, without any gimmickry, they presented a millefeuille of cucumber and gently cooked fennel and topped it with raw marinated fennel, caramellized fennel seeds and candid lemon. Then, they infused it with an intense cucumber jus and a less aromatic fennel crème. The key point of this dish was the textural interplay of cucumber and the two fennel variations pillared by a nice green/herbal flavour accord which turned out to be a bit one-dimensional as the cucumber was too dominant with neither the fennel nor the lemon being able to contribute. Also, the texture of the lemon was quite disappointing and almost sticky so that an excellently composed dish could not show its full potential.
Next up was a surprising masterpiece: lake samlet with cauliflower – the samlet of outstanding quality was cooked at low temperature in the oven and teamed up with cauliflower puree, thinly sliced cauliflower and a most aromatic tomato broth. Whereas this would have been enough for an excellent dish Köthe and Ollech added just about the right touch of cinnamon in the broth which catapulted this rather simple dish onto a not expected level. One could make this dish perfect by shortly roasting the sliced cauliflower and thus increasing the dishes’ breadth of aromas. Nevertheless, a real winner – chapeau!
Als a further highlight the duo presented celery with apple and rocket – a precisely balanced combination of sour, slightly sweet and nutty flavours with also a differentiated textural interplay. Excellent!
The carrots with poppy seeds, parsley and dill seeds yoghurt, however, was conceptually conclusive but needs further refinement. Whereas the basic accord of carrot, poppy and yoghurt is nice and broad it becomes quite repetitive due to six similar carrot pieces and thus tends to bore the diner a bit. Here, a variation of the core product could show the full textural and flavor spectrum of a the per se wonderful carrot and create more suspense. Very good.
The main, venison with black salsify and dried pears,was almost ruined by much too dominant macadamia nuts which completely overwhelmed the sparsely dimensioned pieces of dried pear. Venison and salsify could really connect so that the latter was merely a side. Good.
Unfortunately, the dessert was rather trivial and even banal: milk chocolate ice cream served with a piece of luke-warm mango and an intensive watercress jus. Whatever I tried the elements did not bond so that this was just good but did not ignite a spark for me.
Petit fours are special here – a range of home-made thin chocolate with different fruits and nuts. Delicious, but a bit hard to eat as the chocolate melts in your hands immediately.
The Essigbrätlein is truly a special place with a unique cuisine. It seems that Köthe and Ollech just do their own thing without being really interested what other/’normal’ fine dining restaurants do. The cuisine is centered around the intelligent use of herbs, spices and vegetables and has a very distinct touch without being ultra-modern. In a sense it would fit into the New Naturals group without being utterly dogmatic or regional. Just authentic.
But, there are clear signs that the kitchen is at a turning-point: since the second star in November 2007 there is some pressure to create new dishes – for quite some time before the repertoire seemed rather static on a very high level presenting elaborated and perfected dishes apart from gourmet mainstream. Right now, it seems there needs some more work to get back to back to the performance which earned them the second star.
Clearly worth a visit when you are in the region – does not warrant a special trip to Germany but a little detour!