So, time to return to my blogs primary objective – to write about my culinary adventures in Germany and some of its best chefs… The interested reader might have noticed that I have put in a new page Fine Dining in Germany to give you some background and perspective with respect to recent developments here.
In the last couple of months we have experienced chefs moving like in dominoes. First, it was announced that Christian Jürgens would open a Gourmet restaurant in the Seehotel Überfahrt recently bought by Althoff. Thomas Kellermann became his successor at Burg Wernberg, Henrik Otto Kellermann’s successor at Vitrium Berlin and finally Hans Horberth formerly at Villa Merton in Frankfurt replaced Otto in the “La Vision” in Cologne…
The Althoff Hotel Collection is a phenomenon as they own and operate an unique selection of hotels mostly in Germany in which restaurants play an important if not the critical role. The primary examples are Grandhotel Schloß Bensberg with its restaurant Vendôme and Schloßhotel Lerbach hosting the restaurant Dieter Müller both in Bergisch Gladbach near Cologne and both holding three Michelin stars. Joachim Wissler (Vendôme) and Dieter Müller had signed to Althoff after they had already earned some merit and then had the opportunity to fully develop their potential as Althoff offered the necessary financial backing (mainly by cross-subsidizing from the hotels). So, is there a better chance for a young aspiring chef like Christian Jürgens than an offer from this “stable” to open a new gourmet restaurant in a breath-taking location?
The Hotel and Restaurant
The Seehotel Überfahrt was re-built in 2001 and is located on the Malerwinkel, the prime spot of Rottach-Egern if not of the whole lake. After some years with the Dorint Group Thomas Althoff bought it in Oktober 2007 and plans to develop it step-by-step. In a first effort, after hiring Christian Jürgens the Gourmet Restaurant Überfahrt was created by separating part of the main restaurant “Egerner Bucht”. As a temporary solution until a major renovation in the first half of 2009 (with a promised spectacular lake view) it now sits 30 people served by a 18-man white and black brigade. The interior is in my opinion a little bit too classic and old-fashioned for the cuisine of Christian Jürgens. If one puts the curtains aside diners have a nice view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. We almost had the feeling to dine at the shore…
After Jürgens left his hometown Unna at the age of 16 he barely missed one of the then important castles of culinary wisdom. He did his apprenticeship in Bad Homburg, moved to Munich for a stint at Feinkost Käfer, worked for Heinz Winkler at Tantris, for Jörg Müller in Sylt and Eckart Witzigmann at the Aubergine before being Chef de Cuisine at the Residenz Heinz Winkler in Aschau. In September 1997 he became Chef de Cuisine and Managing Director at the “Restaurant am Marstall” in Munich where he received his first Michelin star about 12 months after the opening. From 2001-2008 Jürgens was Chef de Cuisine at the Restaurant Kastell in Wernberg-Köblitz in Oberbayern (near the Czech border) and was awarded two stars.
Clearly Winkler was his most important mentor but he managed to gradually depart from Winkler’s style over the years. At the Kastell Jürgens had still shown traces of Winkler’s influence especially with respect to fish courses. The interesting question was: how does he cope with the “pressure” to reach out for higher laurels at the Althoff Group and is he able to further develop and modernize his cooking?
As always I checked the online menus (if available) and try to make up my mind what to order in advance. There are essentially two menus, a tasting menu comprising 8 courses for €155 and a summer menu of 5 courses for €125. Jürgens surprised us with significant changes in the menu 14 days after the opening and to put together a “best-of” selection for us…
We included one more course from the “normal” menu, decided to do both “Kartoffel & Ei” and the “Froschkönig” and were ready for take-off. Life can be easy…
With our champagne (Billecart-Salmon and Roederer Rosé by the glass) we were served one cracker and a cornet almost Alinea style in a kind of metal helix installation. A perfect start.
Then the fun began: the second amuse, a veal tafelspitz with Frankfurt green sauce, caused almost frenetic applause. A modern interpretation of a classic dish with the veal served as mousse and the usual broth “deconstructed” as jellied veal stock. Excellent!
Our first course of the menu: tuna, cauliflower al curry and granny smith. Spicy peppered tuna (of superb quality) made a wonderful accord with the cauliflower which was thickly marinated with rather sweet and not that hot curry. The granny smith added some nice acidity and a different sweetness, yet was a bit dominated by the strong flavours of both tuna and cauliflower. Interestingly the texture came from the cauliflower which was cooked “al dente”. The air was a simple fish stock which gave the dish a solid basis. Very good.
The next course was the insert from the normal menu: loup de mer, lukewarm lettuce, veal head and rucola sauce. A wonderful product cooked perfectly juicy and tender inside and crispy on the outside. Herbal (rucola and lettuce), smoky (roast bacon underneath the fish) and rustic (braised veal head) elements formed a throne for the loup without overpowering it. Excellent!
Product-wise we encountered a big surprise – Danube salmon (Huchen) with Bavarian signal crab on a sauté of leek. This local crab was just delicious – a bit sweet, salty (due to its freshness) and more subtle than lobster and, hey, look at the pincers… The salmon was again perfectly prepared and formed a nice counterpart to the crab together with the leek. Two products in perfect harmony with no fight for dominance – excellent to outstanding!
Next up was the signature dish of Christian Jürgens, the “Kartoffelkiste” (potato basket) which is a steamed potato filled with egg yolk on a truffles mousseline. If one opens the basket the soft egg mixes gently with the mousseline creating a nothing but yummy taste in the mouth. Over the years Jürgens seems to have perfected this dish. It now has exactly the right proportion of every element. What a technical masterpiece! Excellent to outstanding!
After the Kartoffelkiste a “Frog King” was announced and as it turned out, this was the dish of the day. At first sight not that spectacular as it just looked like an onion topped with celery foam – but, after the first “kiss” the onion turned out be slightly caramelized and filled with an amazing sauté of frog legs. The sauté reminded me of a typical goulash, but it was far more complex and refined with some lemon (lemon thyme, lemongrass) added in to bring balance to the intensity of the strong bell pepper-favoured jus. Combined with the perhaps best celery aroma I have ever tasted this was mind-blowing. Again, the frog legs were of perfect quality and preparation. Outstanding!
The main was an Sélection Chapon Bressan duck served in two courses…
… the duck breast served with dumplings filled with mushrooms and pear topped with red cabbage. Very classic, the breast was perfectly crispy yet I would have preferred it slightly less cooked, but still excellent!
We expected the second serving of the main course to be the duck legs again in a classic manner but then we received a modern Asian interpretation. Jürgens wrapped the duck legs cooked almost to a confit into thin wan tan dough accompanied by sugar peas, passion fruit and a thai-style duck consomée. As part of this very well executed dish the duck was rather in the background, but the strength of the composition was a nice interplay of flavours and textures. Still to be worked on in my opinion as the consomée was rather strong and had too much lemongrass in it and could have been more subtle. Maybe deconstruct the soup and have part of the duck served without the dough? Very good to excellent.
Although portion sizes were absolutely perfect for a multi-course dinner we preferred to have only one desert (maybe because I had seen two buffet cars with fantastic cakes). Before deserts we got a nice refreshing palate cleanser of pineapple flavoured with campari.
Part of the table got an iced melon soup, raspberries and a yoghurt/lemon sorbet. Refreshing, light, amazing fruit quality, perfectly presented – excellent.
The real thing: Chocolate gâteau and white chocolate ice cream. The crunchy peanuts on top were a bit too dominant but the dish was still very good.
No comments necessary for the cake trolley…
Young sommelière Sonja Schollenberger did a great job and after some discussion we selected a Weißburgunder/Chardonnay from Keller (Rheinhessen) which we drank until the frog king came out. For this and the mains we had a very nice Burgundy (sorry, no further notes).
Mâitre Dietmar Fritz has done an amazing job of forming a formidable team – at no point we were reminded that the black brigade has been put together only 14 days ago. Service was flawless, unpretentious and already on three star level.
Well, it might be too early to judge but Christian Jürgens can be quite proud of the performance of his whole (black and white) team after 14 days. He cooks at very solid two star level with a clear potential to reach three star level soon. We truly enjoyed our meal – it was pure fun presented with a interesting dramaturgy – we experienced increasing suspense towards the main and were beautifully cushioned by the deserts.
It appeared to us that Jürgens has indeed modernized his cooking by abolishing unnecessary elements – like Klaus Erfort, but Jürgens’ dishes show more opulence and thus are a bit “louder” and maybe more passionate… Superior products and immense precision in cooking are still the two important pillars of his cuisine, but there is a non-intellectual complexity which adds some rough edges to the individual dishes. The frog king could be a good example for further development – presumably simple with strong and perfectly balanced flavours creating an unexpected “explosion dans la bouche”. Bravo!
We will come back for sure – it is already a Must in the Munich area!