Looking back, I always had great dinners at Schloss Berg but my recent experience clearly exceeded my high expectations by far. All in all, previously it was a classic french cuisine ingeniously delivered, beautifully assembled with an emphasis on creating a unique broad flavourful picture. In January this year we still had some variations (of langoustine, foie) which had been delicious but sometimes too complex and overloaded. What a difference now…
But first things first – for those of you not yet familiar with Christian Bau and the restaurant Victor’s at Schloss Berg some facts…
Born in Offenburg in the northern part of the Black Forest Chistian Bau is still very rooted to this beautiful part of Germany (Baden – I have to admit I am also from Baden but does not affect my judgement;-)). It is said that people from Baden are modest and passinonate about what their doing something I would also ascribe to Christian Bau.
During a six week internship (or stage) at the Hotel Götz Sonne Eintracht at the age of 14 he was so fascinated by cooking that he came back at 16 to start a three year apprenticeship. In the hotel kitchen he acquired a classic fundament for his cuisine – solid craftsmanship which today is rare in a “normal” hotel kitchen… Maybe more importantly Christian met his future wife Yildiz at Götz…
Only eight kilometers away in Sasbachwalden Gutbert Fallert had successfully established a gourmet restaurant in his Hotel Talmühle which carries its Michelin star up to now. Intrigued by the quality of this new terrain of Haute Cuisine Christian Bau applied and got his entrance card into the wonderful world of Brittany lobster, turbot, loup de mer, Bresse pigeon you name it. So this station was a perfect ramp-up for his way to the stars.
After military service (of course in the officers’ mess in Achern) and a short stint at the very ambitious “Le Canard” in Offenburg Christian Bau stayed five years at Harald Wohlfahrt‘s Schwarzwaldstube in the Hotel Traube Tonbach (Baiersbronn) where he soon became Sous Chef. After Witzigmann’s cocaine scandal (see Fine Dining in Germany) Wohlfahrt was unanimously the best chef in Germany, a genius if you want, who creates simple and sensational dishes deeply rooted in the French tradition. The Wohlfahrt school is characterized by utmost precision, discipline, hard work and the quest for perfection (yes, some German virtues in a positive sense) but also by his willingness to let his disciples develop, grow and to learn from his vast culinary knowledge and touch. Not for nothing many of today’s successful young German chefs have been trained there (see my boring historic overview of Fine Dining in Germany here). Christian Bau finally ran the kitchen quite independently while Yildiz was working side-by-side in the black brigade…
By incidence, the young couple met the owners of the Victor’s Residenz Hotels while visiting the renaissance castle Schloss Berg in 1997 and signed to them to be the chef de cuisine of the then to be opened gourmet restaurant. At only 27 he received a lot of freedom to develop his vision of a top restaurants. After the opening awards came quickly and steadily: first star in 1998, the second in 1999 and the third in 2005. Very well deserved in my opinion – all dinners I had so far were of three star quality with some of the most memorable dishes I ever had (e.g. a fantastic foie gras with green tea and mango in 2006)!
Victor’s Residenz Hotel Schloss Berg is located in Perl-Nennig at the Obermosel at the Luxembourgian border and consists of a the castle and a modern building. In the castle you find the Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg and some pretty nice rooms (for pictures of the rooms see Bo’s blog). The restaurant itself is rather classic and sits 34 diners.
Surprise, surprise – having memorized the up-to-date menu I recognized only a few dishes when we got our suggestion… Like in a Hitchcock movie I felt suspense coming although I knew the plot and the murderer…
Due to the length of the menu we got a reduced version of the Amuse part (to be precise only the Petit Fours Salé) which consisted of
- Step 1: a tartlet topped with dried tomoto, mozzarella, olive and pesto as well as a mini flammekueche (tartlet with crème frâiche, bacon and onion traditionally served in Alsace), crispy rolls filled with a chorizo creme and a melon coktail with peppermint, ginger and buttermilk air
- Step 2: homemade kroepoek (bread made from shrimps) filled with salmon-oyster salpicon, fennel and apple topped with green apple espuma and a crouton with lemon ricotta, smoked sardine, lemon jelly and mango chutney
- Step 3: cornet with cream of smoked eel, beef tartar and smoked herring caviar.
All in all a wonderful and delicate start and perfect to go with our Gosset rosé champagne.
The first course was a chilled tomato-olive oil gazpacho / olive and mozzarella buffalo bons served with tomato sorbet, some pieces of poached lobster and a thin foccacia with olives. The absolutely delicious and intense tomato sorbet was the heart of this dish whereas the slightly spicy gazpacho as a nice contrast to the fruitiness of the sorbet brought balance to the dish. The bons were nicely executed spheres which exploded in the mouth creating a harmonious mouthfeel and a nice textural interplay with sorbet, bons and foccacia. Outstanding!
At every dinner at Schloss Berg we had encountered a crab dish which always was one of the highlights. This time Christian Bau served it as crab & scallop with avocado / lemon / mild madras curry. Topped with a scallop carpaccio the crab stood out fresh and strong as ever but now got congenial companions in form of a fruity and slightly hot curry sorbet and a amazingly fresh, slightly fatty avocado. An exactly right portion of a strong and very tasty crustacean jus served a solid backbone of the dish and somehow bonded the different ingredients together. Let’s not forget the baked crab on the right which was added a different temperature and texture beyond its delicate taste. This dish conjured nothing but a broad smile and some low purring sounds;-) Mind-blowing if not life-changing!
Then an experiment, a new dish created just for our dinner (shame…): foie gras / hazelnut / café arabica. The only not yet perfect element of the whole menu as the hazelnut was too coarse and dominated the very good foie. The pairing with coffee was interesting but left a somehow rough aftertaste – some fruit would be necessary to achieve balance (if you look at the menu now you find this dish served as a gateau with morello cherry:-)). Still very good.
Next up was a perfect land and sea combination: gambas from Majorca, 2x pork & Osietra caviar consisting of two small preparations of a superb gamba tartar – one wrapped in lardo and one on top of pork belly glazed with Hoi Sin – accompanied by a pig croustillant. The slightly Asian flavoured pork belly was cooked to perfection and presented itself incredible tender and juicy and formed an amazing accord with the acidic and salty caviar and the fresh tartar. Outstanding!
The Asian inspiration continued with an exceptional torro of blue fin tuna & lobster tartar served with green cucumber / miso / yuzu / sesame aioli /sorbet of green apple-sake-wasabi. Reads complex, wow, and the title even misses the baked soft-shell crab on top of the lobster tartar which was wrapped in cucumber. Already from the picture you can grasp Christian Bau’s love to detail and eye for beautiful presentations. Coupled with his technical mastery and quest for the ultimate taste sensation he aims high – and delivers: the tuna product was king but the whole was absolutely delicious beyond any known Asian dish. As a “side” we got a tuna tartare in a cucumber soup topped with the apple-sake-wasabi sorbet which had thrilled me as a palate cleanser in January. Personally I would have served it in two courses to keep more suspense in the air – together it is a bit too complex. Excellent to outstanding!
Turbot & langoustine, another Bau theme (like the crab and the various land & sea dishes) around which he very often improvises like a skilled jazz musician, always entertaining and never boring – now accompanied by cream and sushi of pointed cabbage and a crustacean tea. The langoustine was served baked, in the ravioli and as tartar. Together with the perfect turbot this was sensational. And outstanding (sorry to be so repetitive, but, hey, I am running out on superlatives here;-)).
In January we already got to know his interpretation of perfect sole dish – now the sole from the small boat was accompanied by sot-l’y-laissse / pea vinaigrette / lemon butter. Bau prepares a double fillet, cooks it a low temperature and gratinates it with anchovy cream, mie de pain and parmesan. Doing so he achieves a perfect translucent sole in the middle with some crisp on the outside. Again, all flavours and textural elements created a rather unique sensation. The sot-l’y-laisse was marinated with soy, curry and other Asian flavours and introduced some slight sweetness and heartiness as a logical step up in the dramaturgy of the menu. Excellent!
The rouget barbet with small seafood / taste & texture of paella was almost a main course – we were already a bit full what made it hard to fully memorize all details. Another outstanding dish – benchmark quality and preparation of the rouget, superior seafood and a nice modern interpretation of a paella (the rice was dried and crispy).
Due to the many sensations behind we both skipped one of the mains and I went for the suckling veal with 3 X cauliflower and sherry vinegar. Even better than the veal dish at Hof van Cleve which had been my benchmark so far – higher quality, more tender and juicy, more precise and a more sophisticated combination: veal in three ways (saddle, sweatbread and baked foot) combined with cauliflower in three ways (roasted, as a cous-cous and as a cream). Ingenious and outstanding!
Compared to January the lamb (2x Limousin lamb / chickpeas / smoked eggplant / garam marsala) was significantly improved by replacing the Müritz product by a Limousin one and abolishing the bell pepper and the tomato roll filled with brie as far as I recall. Now it is in equilibrium and excellent!
The patisserie at Schloss Berg never dissapoints – it is one of the key strengths of Christian Bau’s cuisine. Both desserts were outstanding. First the Victoria pineapple with coconut cream / guava jelly / marble pineapple-cocos sorbet (the sorbet was fantastic):
… and then the dish of the night (tied with the crab): an interpretation of the famous Black Forest Gateau (much better than Heston’s version as far as I am concerned): a gateau of cherry and chocolate with a perfectly crispy bottom, the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, two bonbons filled with kirsch and a cylinder filled with cherries and cream topped with a cherry sorbet. Together with the crunchy elements something to discover step-by-step and to enjoy slowly by paying attention to every element. Chapeau!
Young sommelière Britta Jäger did a great job in assembling a wine pairing for this complex dinner – we just replaced the Teroldego by a Molitor Spätburgunder** which turned out to be a perfect fit with the veal. The wines always did add something to the individual dish and never dominated but rather stood a bit shyly behind. This is how I like it to be.
What can I say? I have to admit I really like Christian Bau’s intelligent way of cooking and I see him on track to the absolute top among European chefs. Compared to my recent experiences at Oud Sluis and Hof van Cleve (which I both praised) Bau is on par – the whole experience is closer to Goossens in style but equally fun and enjoyable as Sergio Herman’s cuisine. More importantly whereas Herman and Goossens have only gradually developed their cuisine further in the last two years I experienced big leaps at Schloss Berg, especially from January to August this year.
Christian Bau is on the quest, surely, and he gradually modernizes his cuisine by getting rid of unnecessary elements (as Klaus Erfort, as Christian Jürgens) and reducing his plates to maximum taste. I particularly like the idea of having some typical dishes like the crab, the turbot & langoustine, the sole which he tries to vary improve continuously. His most important strength is an ingenious touch for pairing of flavours in a more conventional way than Juan Amador in a good sense. Together with his strong foie dishes and the patisserie it simply makes him a great chef!
Moreover, I sense that there is still some potential unlocked and dare say that if this is unleashed then only the sky is the limit;-)