Shortly after my visit to the Vendôme I had the possibility to get an update of how Juan Amador’s cuisine has developed since my last visit in May. And, I must say that all but two dishes in the main menu were new to me. After the meal I am still stunned how much progress he has made in refining and elaborating his distinct style. So, another prime example of the significant and positive developments in Germany.
Located in Langen about 20 minutes south of Frankfurt the Restaurant Amador is not easy to find as it is not inside a prestigious castle or hotel like most of the other German top restaurants. Instead it is situated in a typical timbered house in the centre of Langen (for some pictures I owe special thanks to Julot and to Sternefresser where indicated).
The interior is also quite different from the other German three stars as the architecture of the old house makes the rooms rather small with lots of edges here and there. But, on the other hand it makes dining there a quite intimate experience. Together with the warm color and the wooden elements it is relaxing, nice and cosy – especially at night (well, on the other hand it is not photo-friendly when it comes to lightning – so excuse the soso quality of the pictures below…). Just a wonderful place in my humble opinion. On the picture you see most of the downstairs dining room – there is also an upstairs dining room with a Krug lounge.
Due to the rambling nature of the house it is not surprising that the kitchen itself is quite small. In fact it is even a bit smaller than mine at home (for sure I do not have the nice equipment and the brigade though;-)) It is maybe the smallest three star kitchen in the world – I wonder how they can serve that consistently high quality out of that small room… Chapeau!
Victoria Amador (at the centre of the picture) is the heart of the restaurant. She runs one of the finest service brigades I have ever encountered – all ladies and gentlemen are personal, welcoming and in a nice way professional. It is a perfect fit to the restaurant’s interior and cuisine. And, I must not forget to mention young sommelière Lavinia Neumann who does a fabulous job in recommending suiting wines to the complex flavours of Amador’s dishes.
Born in the Swabian part of Baden-Württemberg near Stuttgart (hard for me as a Badener) Juan Amador initially wanted to enter hotel management but then found himself as a cook apprentice in the Gasthof Lamm in Weinstadt-Strümpfelbach. After three hard years of training he started his “years of travel” with stints at the Alter Wirt in Munich, the Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe near Baden-Baden and finally at the Waldhorn in Ravensburg. After three years at the Waldhorn he became sous chef and worked closely with Albert Bouley in creating a quite unique cuisine there.
Bouley was the first chef in Germany who began adding Asian spices and recipes to traditional french cooking. During that time the Waldhorn was one of the most creative restaurants in Germany. In that Bouley had developed a mastery of constructing unique combinations of various flavours. Looking back this was most formative for young Amador as he did not learn a specific style (like the disciples of Wohlfahrt or Müller) but he learned a sensible touch for aroma accords.
After Waldhorn Amador became chef de cuisine at the Petersilie in Lüdenscheidt and was awarded one star. From 1997-99 he headed the black and white brigade at Fährhaus Munkmarsch in Sylt (one star, 17 points) and from 1999-2003 he was chef de cuisine and director at the Weyberhöfe near Aschaffenburg where his restaurant Carême was awarded two stars and 18 points.
Together with Eric Beuerle, the owner of the then restaurant Provencal in Langen, Amador opened Restaurant Amador in February 2004, received the first star in November, the second one year later and the third in November 2007. Quite some speed, huh…
Being an entrepreneur Amador has deliberately built a small and distinct empire – in 2005 he opened his Atelier in Frankfurt where cooking classes and other events are hosted. In 2006 he opened his second restaurant Tasca in Wiesbaden where classic Amador dishes are served and which is an offer to get to know his cuisine in a bistro-type atmosphere (awarded one Michelin star since Nov 2007). His recent projects include an online wine shop Amadoro and his much-acclaimed one-room hotel Amador Suite. Nevertheless, he spends more than 90% of his time in his flagship restaurant!
Menu choice is simple as there is only one menu with no a la carte dishes. The diner can go for the whole 7-course experience (€189) or reduce it to three courses minimum (€119) whereas the micro menu (a kind of tapas menu instead of amuse) and the dessert tapas are served in any case.
We started with a unique version of a very fresh Bellini followed by beetroot macarons with a cream of granny smith and wasabi. A nice start especially as the macarons are strong enough in flavour to cope with almost any portion of granny smith wasabi cream which one can apply on the flat bottom of the macaron.
Next, we got the big attention step and ate a Szechuan button (buds from salad cress to be precise) which is a definite palate reset as it refreshes and slightly electrifies your palate which continues for some minutes. To neutralise we got whiskey / sweat / sour / pineapple in the form of different jellies packed in cotton candy. The two elements together cause almost everybody to leave the troubles of the day behind and deliberately draws the diner’s attention towards the start of the menu. Moreover it is playful and funny without being just a gimmick.
And, what a start: pa amp oli in textures a modern interpretation of a typical Catalan dish where fried bread is rubbed with garlic and then with tomato. Amador’s version is two-fold – a tomato gazpacho with aioli foam and a thinly sliced cracker with tomato powder on it. Very intense and excellent.
After this deconstruction we got a new dish which was part of the real menu not before long: foie gras / iced apple / goat cheese. This is a perfect example of an intelligent interplay of different texture, flavours and temperatures. Amador uses shavings of granny smith sorbet, accompanies it with argan oil to add greasiness and a distinct basis, adds pieces of soft foie gras cubes and goat cheese of slightly tougher texture. The flavours assemble quite naturally to yield a very dense impression. Only a bit less goat cheese could be used – then it would be outstanding.
The “Strammer Max 2008” is almost an Amador classic and consists of a thinly sliced bread filled with a carefully poached quail egg served with a tube of pork fat and smoked oil. Traditionally a strammer max is a toast with bacon and fried egg. After the more subtle previous dish this is again intense and refined. One starts with the bacon oil and then eats the “toast”. Excellent! (BTW, this dish was also discussed in the NYTimes).
The Langener Oyster is a virtual oyster constructed of oyster herb, a cucumber sphere and cucumber air. A bit reminiscent of Adria’s virtual oyster Amador goes a very distinct way – the oyster herb is the star and the cucumber provides the sour fundament. A refreshing palate cleanser before the actual mains of the micro menu!
Next up was another familiar dish: pork belly / capers / herring caviar. Here Amador prepares the diner further for the savory courses with a dish where saltiness in different nuances plays the most important role. The pork belly is cooked sous-vide (of course), not too strong capers and, to add acidity, some herring caviar all bound together by an amazing gherkin in piccalilli espuma. Excellent to outstanding, just yummy!
The micro menu concluded with langustine /BBQ / icicles. Basically a BBQ marinated langustine flavoured with smoke accompanied with celery and a passion fruit mayonnaise – excellent.
The real menu startet with an “old” dish presented in a new and improved way: carabineros with cauliflower and nougat. One of my all time favorites – an absolutely outstanding product (carabineros are unique deep sea red shrimps which sell for around €100 per kilo), firm, tenderly cooked to perfection with a very intense nutty aroma. The cauliflower is presented as ice cream (to be eaten first), cous-cous with nougat pieces, as pan-fried thin slices and as a firm but not too firm jelly. Coupled with an wonderful jus made from carabineros broth and some nougat and the lime at the bottom it makes a breath-taking dish. Sweat-sour-nutty-crunchy-soft-yummy… A part a crustacean bisque is served which serves a distinct and wonderful basis.
The sole with parsley, parmesan and cecina de leon was another highlight. Sole, ham, parsley and parmesan air made a wonderful accord – a better combination than the previous sole (or st.pierre) and foie gras dishes as the ham provides a better counterpoint and fit to the fish itself. Ingenious also the continuation of the parsley theme with parsley root gnocchi adding softness and earthiness. Outstanding!
Mar Y Muntanya is a recurring theme in Amador’s cuisine. Earlier than others in Germany and rooted in the catalan tradition of pairing earth and sea he creates astonishing contrasts which in the next moment form a not-expected harmony. Here, he combines sea cucumber, ris de veau with mushrooms and forest soil made of pumpernickel, mushrooms and PX vinegar. A short allusion to the imaginary landscapes of Dacosta he deliberately does not overstretch it and adheres to his key principle of putting prime ingredients at the foreground of a dish. The sea cucumber was way better than at Can Fabes (and seems to be fashionable there days), firm and tender nevertheless, the soil made a strong acidic contrast to the glazed sweetbread. For me personally the acidity could be less (there needs to be some acidity as the pumpernickel is more on the sweat side) but in the overall dramaturgy of the meal it was well-placed. Very good.
When the next dish was served I had a deja-vu of being in Sluis – Sergio Herman uses the same bowl for a complex dish with sardine (see here). Juan served scallops (half of it on the lower part together with the anchovy and a fantastic potato puree and half of it on the upper level – just have a look how perfectly brown they are…) with quince, perigord truffles and anchovy. Wow – complex, very subtle, delicious. The anchovies are maybe the best exemplars imaginable yielding the purest anchovy taste I had so far. A just brilliant dish – fantastic!
After that we needed a little break to become not sensually over-stretched. Already an Amador classic the Mieral pigeon with cocos, mango and purple curry is a very puristic dish which he has perfected over the last year. Especially the proportion of the purple curry “crust” is very delicate – now it just perfectly balanced and works very well the pigeon as it underscores the slightly gamy flavour. The jus is deep and concentrated and is the binding element here. Yes, it is sweat, but not too sweat. Excellent to outstanding!
The main course: Limousin lamb with coffee, celery and walnut. From sweat to earthy or even rustic – cooked sous-vide and roasted afterwards this lamb was really good and worked especially well with the coffee jus and the walnut. Excellent to outstanding!
As the desserts had been criticized about one year ago (see here) there has been enormous progress with respect to really understanding the nature of a dessert to conclude a meal. Now, the patisserie improvises like a good jazz musician around a common theme, this time around “Birne Helene” (pear Helena) which is essentially a dessert consisting of a poached pear with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Auguste Escoffier created it in 1870 when Jacques Offenbach’s operetta “The beautiful Helena” was a big success in Paris.
The first part of “The Beautiful Helena 2008” was a frozen ice cream of pear filled with white chocolate mousse and dark crunchy brownies underneath accompanied by candied pear cubes and a pear coulis. Outstanding, this had everything!
The second part was white chocolate ganache, jelly of pear, pear granite and crumble. Clearly the sensory highlight and, sorry, again outstanding…
I did forget to photograph the last part which was more towards chocolate and could be even better if the chocolate “cake” would be warm.
The dessert tapas are nice but not essential to this meal – here and in the beginning the whole meal would benefit from a “less is more” philosophy! Not that it is too much in food terms but it is just hard to concentrate that long;-) Anyway the virtual snickers and the virtual joghurette (popular candy bars) are fun!
After he received the third star last year Juan Amador stated that work would actually begin as it is hard to keep that high quality and be creative on the other hand. Within this very year he and the whole brigade have worked very hard and are more and more elaborating a very distinct Amador style. Yes, in the beginning there are still some “molecular” elements but they are clearly in the background when it comes to the real menu. Subtleness and complexity have increased without over-doing it. It is just brilliantly balanced.
The Amador style is close to Sergio Herman but with Spanish influence (and not Asian) and with more variations in the composition of dishes – complexity, subtleness and the main themes of the individual courses change and all together it is just an amazing ride. Clearly some newer dishes need refinement and someone like Juan Amador takes on risks in putting out new dishes and then he constantly refines them in a meticulous process up to perfection (the carabinero and the pigeon dishes are a good examples).
The reason for visiting this treasure is not to expect technical break-throughs but it is a very unique emotional cuisine with outstanding products and ingenious ideas of combining the non-combinable (hey, techno-emotional in the best sense). That’s what Juan Amador should be praised for! A must-eat on every foodie landscape!