Young German Chefs (II): Steffen Mezger

Since September 2009 Munich has a new culinary hotspot: Innegrit Volkhardt, owner of the prestigious Hotel Bayerischer Hof immensely invested in the redesign of the former Garden restaurant and established a new Fine Dining restaurant called Atelier” and appointed Steffen Mezger, previously the chef the cuisine at the Garden restaurant, to lead both restaurants. Very quickly, this new venue won its first accolades with the first star in November 2010 and 17 points in the Gault Millau. Moreover, many foodie friends and some Facebook pictures told me that the cuisine is modern and interesting – so a visit was obviously mandatory☺

The Chef

Steffen Mezger progressed quite quickly: after his apprenticeship at the Panoramahotel in Waldenburg, a first post as Commi and Demi-Chef at Altes Amthaus* in Ailringen and a stage at Heinz Winkler’s Residenz*** he became Sous-Chef of Lothar Eiermann at the Wald- and Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe* during which he made another stage at Tantris**. Then, in 2004 at age 26, he got his first chef de cuisine post at the Garden Restaurant in the Bayerischer Hof and in 2009 his responsibility was enlarged to also lead the white brigade for the new Atelier.

Eiermann was without doubt one of the best chefs of the 70s and 80s in Germany and one of the German Nouvelle Cousine protagonists. His cooking was classic in and out and thus Mezger was able to learn from his very solid culinary craftsmanship. And thus still shows as his cuisine now is flawless. Interestingly, after five years at a rather mainstream hotel restaurant he was given enough freedom to emancipate from Eiermann and his handwriting became more modern…

The Restaurant

A bit hard to find, the entrance of the both restaurants lies hidden in the right part of the Bayerischer Hof. Once found, the very first step into reveals a different world compared to the other rather classic hotel interior. For the design of the Atelier, Madame Volkhardt hired the renowed Belgian art trader Axel Vervoordt who has created a very intimate, relaxing and almost contemplate temple-like atmosphere. The whole room shows a very deliberate interplay of light and shadow and does not appear too posh. I felt at home at once also thanks to the nice reception by the very obliging Maître Enrico Spannenkrebs who guided us to our table.

After being seated we enjoyed a nice glass of Billecart-Salmon Rosé and asked whether Steffen Mezger could cook for us as I, as always, had difficulties to choose from the two offered menus – Atelier Five (€90) and Atelier Seven (€115). All dishes can also be ordered a la carte.

This closely resembles the Atelier Seven with the sole and the venison from the other menu and both desserts. A splendid proposal, I must say! We were served this as a menu surprise so we didn’t know what was next…

A parade of nibbles was served on a stone that together with the granite underplate reminded me a bit of some Scandinavian restaurants… Anyway, the regional crabs from Büsum were delicate and fresh, although the cracker in combination with the very good salmon was not crispy enough. The matjes (salted herring) was to the point and quite yummy.

Very new naturals-like the first amuse comprise some Boskop apples, nuts and almonds infused with parsley root milk that was slightly too watery to stand up against the strong nut character of the dish. However, the acidity and freshness of the apple counterbalanced the earthy nuts and restored the balance a bit. Very good but with a stronger parsley root milk this would have been excellent.

A very delicate Gillardeau oyster with quinoa and fennel flavored by Aquavit – a nice (Nordic) idea but the fennel dominated the oyster too much in terms of texture and dimensioning.

2009 Gewürztraminer Auslese, Andreas Laible, Baden

Honestly, I am a big fan of foie gras and I was most eager to try this “Bio” foie that had been produced without the unnatural stuffing of the gooses. However, the result was most problematic as it turned out to be overly fatty and without the distinct earthy and livery foie aroma. In combination with the also greasy Macadamia nut crumble it was hard to enjoy. In this version, Bio foie is not a sufficient replacemnt for normal foie – so I would abandon it completely from the card. Very nice Gewürztraminer that made this course a pleasure in the end…

2008 Imperial Weisß, Schloss Halbturn, Burgenland

The next course was a pleasant surprise: a perfect loup coated with just the right amount of beetroot jelly, some beetroot structures and an intense but not too dominant Pommery mustard jus. The jelly effected a nice seasoning of the loup without the ususal ‘crust effect’. Very good to excellent.

2007 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru, “Clos Saint-Marc”, Olivier Leflaive, Côtes de Beaune

One of the clear highlights of the night and a perfect example that excellent dishes don’t necessarily need to be complicated. The sea urchin sugo made this very special, not too salty, but with fresh and concentrated sea food flavor. As a contrast, the pak choi was a herbal and slightly earthy contrahent that adsorbed some of the edges of the sugo. Excellent.

An almost classic combination: a bio egg of highest standards (Demeter level) served with leek, potato-vanilla sugo and white truffles. What can I say? Very fitting, all elements intertwined very nicely, only some texture was missing to make this outstanding.

2007 “Tschuppen”, Spätburgunder trocken, Weingut Ziereisen, Baden

A nice interpretation of German Tafelspitz (due to the braising and the traditional horseradish), this Morgan Ranch short rib was excellent and the simple almost purist presentation let the main product shine. This is how good beef should be prepared and presented. Excellent.

2008 “Rote Erde”, Muhr-van der Niepoort, Carnutum

Game and lamb from the Gutshof Polting in Postmünster has become widespread in many fine dining restaurants in Bavaria and beyond. Since four generations owned by the family Riederer von Paar zu Schönau, the whole farm applies very high quality standards and exerts utmost care paired with sustainability to its animals. And this clearly shows…

Here, Mezger not also used a wonderful venison back but also the liver and thus created a much more intense sensation. Moreover, the liver was not dominant at all and intensified the game flavor in a nice crescendo. Combined with some parsley and earthy black salsify this was a perfect main.

Although I am not a big fan of cheese courses this one was really convincing as it didn’t make me feel too full and was a deliberate composition. The Bergkäse was exactly as I love it – tangy and intense. The accord with the slightly sweet figs and salsiz worked very nicely as it complemented the salty cheese character. Excellent.

2002 Wehlener Sonneuhr Rielsing Auslese, J.J. Prüm, Mosel

Don’t miss the dessert at Atelier. This was my personal highlight: a surprisingly balanced pairing of quince, pekan and a cylinder filled with liquid caramel and caramel crumble. Excellent to outstanding. A what a wine – rightfully so, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr by Prüm is one of a kind. Thanks!

2008 “Geistreich” Günter Triebumer, Burgenland

The patisserie couldn’t resist to send out the other dessert as well but I was feeling a bit full already and couldn’t really enjoy this so much anymore. Moreover, it was hard as its predecessor was soo good.

The Verdict

Sometimes it is not just the food that makes a restaurant special to me – in case of the Atelier, the overall experience was very pleasurable – the modern, interesting cuisine of Steffen Mezger, the most hospitable service under Enrico Spannenkrebs and the wonderful wines selected by sommeliere Christine Müller was an all-encompassing delight.

Steffen Mezger is immensely talented and can fully concentrate to work on developing his own style that already shines through: clear, transparent, almost purist creations with distinct and remarkable flavors, modern where it needs to be but rather with regard to the flavor combinations. Looking ahead there is plenty of potential in this young chef whose development just began. Already, this is among the three most interesting places in Munich, a bit ahead and slightly more consistent than Terrine or Tramin.

Thanks to the whole team for this wonderful evening – can’t wait to be back!

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