Being obsessed with high-end food, being a food blogger, sometimes makes life difficult. What happens if you are on your way to Osnabrück and after some 90 minutes you realize that you have left your whole camera equipment at home? Driving back and get it is not an option due to time-restaints (arriving at 22.00 at the restaurant is no fun, for noone) – so the only way was to either borrow one (maybe from the chef?) or buy a new one. As a complete stranger in Osnabrück, I found myself running around in the city to buy some camera option – if anyone out there needs some advice where to find good camera shops in OS, I’m the one to talk to… In the end, I didn’t buy the dream-5D (simply because it’s quite expensive and I had no lenses with me) but opted for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 which has a nice 2.0 lens and much higher ISO values than my EOS 450D. The results are quite satisfying although the whole meal was over-shadowed by my fear that the pictures would come out nicely…
Where was I? Osnabrück, right. So the mission of this trip was clear: enjoy an evening at La Vie and write some personal comments about how Thomas Bühner’s cooking has evolved since my last visit. For those of you who do not know where Osnabrück is and who are not familiar with the restaurant I found the following video (well, it is taken by the restaurant but gives a good impression imho):
2010 has been an important year for Thomas Bühner of Restaurant La Vie in Osnabrück – after being an in-official three star candidate in 2009 he became an espoir in 2010, the only one in Germany. This has put “official pressure” on the restaurant, the black and white brigade and the chef himself. But, at the end of the day, one can only cook (with water, that is) and deliver the best service possible. If there are no regrets ex post, no mistakes, no fauxpax and your guests are unanimously happy, what can you do? You simply cannot use (the) force to get the highest laurels.
Having participated in Bühner’s development in 2008, 2009 and 2010 it could be said that his cuisine evolved, improved and matured quite significantly, step-by-step, continuously and silent like a reflection of Bühner’s character. For me, this development and the sustainable moments of pure pleasure that Bühner managed to bestow me are much more important than the number of stars. In the end, a visit to La Vie was always a very comprehensive and consistent delight… Let’s look back on this autumn’s menu to see why…
We opted for the big tasting menu but inserted (only) one course for me (well, no surprise) and replaced some courses for my companion. The kitchen was quite flexible in doing so.
Amuse did always play a distinct role at La Vie. In the past, we always had a couple of nibbles and one proper amuse (I can still remember the outstanding liquid Caesar Salad in 2008 or the melon carpaccio in 2009). This time Bühner served two modern presentations akin to the contemporary Benelux school.
The first, saffron eel served with a sepia macaron that was the key element with wonderful intensity, was a delicate first attention step. The eel operated a bit in the background and provided a nice underlining for the saffron seasoning coupled with the smokiness of the eel. Only the tapioca could not add much and some crunch was missing. Excellent.
Light and shadow: while the cocos-coriander ice cream was of paramount freshness and intensity, the lobster taco was somehow disappointing as the lobster jelly was completely dominated by the very aromatic red quinoa.
Peter Stockmans porcelain has already been present in the first two amuses – distinctively modern, yet different due its playful use of different shades of blue and grey, simply beyond the ordinary. Having dined at Oud Sluis just a couple of weeks before, I was familiar with most of the pieces. But, Bühner uses some elements quite diligently where it makes sense and the combination with the Hering forms a nice contrast between playful and purist design – a contrast also present in his cuisine as we will see in the course of the menu.
As usual, each course is preceded by a small bite to prepare the palate for the sometimes complex flavors of the actual courses. The first bite was a cockles Escabeche with crispy rice that turned out to be a bit too dominant for the wonderful cockle. It was quite difficult to eat from the Stockmans cylinder – served on a spoon would do some good here.
Again a beautiful Stockmans piece set the stage for Brittany langoustine served as a carpaccio filled with crab meet slightly accentuated by some lemon touch on top of a langoustine jelly. The combination with the sweet and intense avocado worked very well with the lemon building the bridge. A crescendo was added by the jus of wild herbs. The mount was a bit too large so that portioning was quite difficult – two smaller mounts would have been better. I also missed some kind of crunch. Nevertheless, an excellent dish.
Next up was a pure beetroot gazpacho with pistachio oil followed by a wonderful mackerel dish: one of my personal highlights ever, an uncompromisingly modern dish with clear present flavors, textural variation and clever dimensioning. Especially the interplay of soy and beetroot provided a wonderful platform for the intense but not too dominant foie gras (served as a light jellied mousse) and the smoky mackerel. In a way, this accord of beetroot and soy accentuated the similar sweet-smoky combination of the mackerel and the foie. Simply outstanding
A squid sushi with cauliflower announced the arrival of a another complex masterpiece: a perfect sea bass combined with tenderly cooked pulpo, a variation of kohlrabi, a cream of Yuzu, black garlic and, most importantly the zests of dried verbena. Here, Bühner shows a very talented hand in dimensioning the verbena that takes up the lemon theme from the Yuzu and spreads it all over the dish like a perfume. Moreover, the black garlic (although the German Gault Millau generically hates it) provided a deliberately chosen earthing and brought balance to the dish. Excellent to outstanding, only the kohlrabi was a bit too omni-present.
Bühner has used the parsley infusion of fish for some time now: parsley is pureed till it is liquid and then the turbot is infused with the parsley, vacuumed and cooked sous-vide at low temperature for only 8-10 minutes. The result is very compelling – the whole fish gets a subtle and distinct all-over seasoning that still preserved its character. Here, the combination with the pure yet brilliant turbot jus, the salty celery (as puree and whole pieces) showed the other side of Thomas Bühner – reduced, almost purist dishes with astonishing intensity. Every other element would have been redundant. Outstanding.
Preceded by a simple but intense crustacean and chicken coulis, Bühner presented another ‘complex, modern’ dish that was a bit sub-standard with respect the overall high level of the entire meal: king crab with sot-l’y-laisse, smoked egg and skin, pumpkin, sweet potato and algae. Somehow, there was too much going on on the plate and the combination of sweet potato and pumpkin was a bit repetitive. Still excellent, but especially the smoked egg and the algae could have been more pronounced.
Just an amazingly yummy and simply dish, more on the pure side of Bühner’s character. Everything said.
It continued in this purist way. The mains were introduced by another Bühner classic: curry lentils with goat yoghurt. One can mix the yoghurt with lentils or drink it to neutralize the spiciness of the lentils. Pure pleasure.
The pre-main, if you want, was wild pigeon with a marinated plum filled with pigeon confit. On the side the service brought a digestif glass filled with pigeon essence slightly flavored by Armagnac. Again, a pure delight – the pigeon was most tender and perfect, the plum aromatic and the confit intense – together it formed the ‘essence’ of pigeon, a masterpiece and the dish of the evening.
Although German chefs seem reluctant to tag their dishes with the year they have created it (like Berasategui or Dacosta), this main certainly warrants some pride and rightfully carries the name Pure Roebuck 2010-2 (the second version of Pure Roebuck in 2010, the first was a pre-main). Before the actual dish, Bühner served his ingenious roebuck jus to sip – it’s the pure (therefore the name) meat jus of roebuck without any spices, broths or other seasoning. To extract the juice, he minces the roebuck meat, vacuums it and cooks it sous-vide at 55°C. As a next step he uses a vacuum vaporiser to reduce it even more and to get the most concentrated jus possible. Here, technology helps to capture the essence of the roebuck. For the full story see the following video:
In this second version he presented gently poached roebuck (only using some spices without other direct seasoning) with beetroot cooked in hay and salt, some thinly sliced very intense ceps and some crumble of ceps – all basted with the intense roebuck extract. On the side, he served a yummy potato-cep espuma. What a flavor sensation, it all worked soo well, although I am not a big fan of poaching roebuck because the texture becomes a bit problematic. But that’s more a personal dislike. Overall, Thomas Bühner can be proud of this dish as it clearly shows his technical mastery and clever hand for the manifestation of pure flavors. Outstanding.
After this intense main, the pre-dessert could keep that level and was just perfect. Thank you, Mr Bühner!
Last part of this wonderful evening: a light, transparent and delicate combination of berries, cookies and licorice using all textural and temperature contrast without being overly complicated. A perfect showdown.
This was an outstanding meal clearly worth three stars relative to the Pan-European standard. Only one thing struck me: the two sides of Bühner’s cuisine – modern and very complex on the one hand and very puristic on the other. In my personal view, the purist dishes seem more natural, to the point, effort-less and emotional (well, the mackerel with foie and beetroot was also amazing). In a way, they are more characteristic for Thomas Bühner than the elaborated modern dishes that are in the tradition of the Benelux school and thus less differentiating than the Pure Roebuck, for example. But, and that’s the key question, is it necessary to have only heart – can’t it be sometimes playful and sometimes purist? If this is the reason for not promoting Bühner to three star status, I don’t know. Personally, I can’t think of anything else.
Overall, this dinner was very compelling and warrants any visit to La Vie. I can’t wait to be back and further observe how Thomas Bühner continuously develops. Emotional and moving moments for me, paired with a splendid service headed by Tharyarni Kanagaratnam – be it with or without the third star, irrelevant for me at least.
Restaurant La Vie
Krahnstr. 1-2 (access via Bierstraße)
Tel: +49 (0)541 331150