Thinking about Germany one might have in mind pittoresque castles in a remote landscape above in the hills stemming from medieval years. Most of them are ruins (like Burg Schwarzenberg where Jonnie Boer performed some magic recently), some can be visited but very seldom they shelter a culinary treasure.
At Burg Wernberg, that’s different – since the Conrad family has leased the Burg from Wernberg in 1992 and opened the Hotel Burg Wernberg in 1998 after extensive renovation. Jürgen Benker was the first chef de cuisine and Christian Jürgens the second. Jürgens began to further developed his potential at the Burg and is now regarded as one of the next potential three star candidates. After Jürgens signed to the Althoff Group in mid 2008 Conrad could “persuade” Thomas Kellermann from the Vitrum in Berlin to become the new chef de cuisine at the Burg.
One has to admit that Kellermann’s new domain is not so central when looking at a map of Germany. It is rather very near the Czech border but this could be a very nice trip from Nuremberg especially around Christmas time (about 40 minutes by car). After almost seven years in Berlin it was time for Kellermann to go back to “his” region and nearer to the skiing areas…
The Restaurant Kastell
After parking the car a bit too far away I had a nice little walk up to the castle and was immediately taken by the nice setting, the preserved historic character and the slightly modern touch. The gourmet restaurant Kastell is located in a side wing together with the regional restaurant Konrad. I was pleasantly surprised that the restaurant is light and modern while the arch ceilings are still there (well, hard to get rid off…). But absolutely no depressing castle atmosphere.
Kellermann did his apprenticeship in the Hotel Hilton in Munich and held posts at the Erbprinz and in Friedrichsruhe before working six years for Hans Haas at legendary Tantris as his sous. Still, there is close contact between the two and rumour has it that they do the one or the other skiing trip together.
Sometimes it seems to be that there is some kind of master – padawan relationship as most German young chefs of his generation had worked for quite some time for a “master” and then needed some time to emancipate (like Bau, Elverfeld, Henkel, Erfort). Without having done an empirical study I have the impression that chefs abroad do change their positions more frequently and tend to become successful much earlier in their career. But that’s just a gut feeling…
After Tantris Kellermann went north and obtained his first chef de cuisine post at the Landhaus Nösse in Sylt where Jörg Müller had cooked before he opened his own restaurant in Westerland. The “Berlin” years followed: three years at Portalis and about five at the Vitrum in the Ritz-Carlton where he held 17 points in the Gault Millau and received his first star in November 2006. Both guides affirmed their ratings for the Kastell in last November.
There are two options at the Kastell in form of a more traditionally oriented Menu Degustation (so it seems at least from the reading) and a more vegetarian oriented menu Kellermann. At Vitrum he served four menus and began to develop vegetables and herbs as one the cornerstones of his cooking. And, he really has a touch for our “green” friends.
However, the Menu Degustation sounded a bit more appealing to me:
As I had to drive I opted for a nice non-alcoholic cocktail on the basis of green tea which was a delicate start and a good partner to a series of amuse. First up Kellermann served a series of tasty tiny apero “snacks” with a pastry filled with beet root (a bit too warm), a cracker with foie gras (good), crab (very good) and two other fresh bites. A good start.
Then, the first sign of Kellermann’s touch for vegetables: an excellent confit eggplant and a terrine of sardine, eggplant mousse and red pepper with a sardine jus. Not yet in equilibrium as the sardine was a bit too dominating in the terrine this dish was very good especially the interplay of the yummy eggplant, smoky sardine and slightly hot peppers. The crispy elements on top of the terrine (eggplant again I suppose) were not not sufficient to add textural depth. Most importantly, this shows a potential off-the-path…
Bread service was excellent and the potato bread was really to do for. I am not commenting on the butter because I don’t want to add something the “there’s no other butter than Bordier” discussion of some of my blogger friends. I just don’t care so much about butter…
As a last amuse I got a brook trout with cauliflower and carrot creme – light and strong in one dish but the roast flowers of the cauliflower were a bit too present. The brook trout was excellently prepared, so a very good dish overall.
First course: duck and lobster served with roasted pineapple and shallot marinade. A difficult to grasp dish on first sight as there are many elements. But, any combination made sense and two excellent products joined forces. Especially the pairing of sweet pineapple with shallot confit made this dish quite special and built up suspense on the plate. The iron herb in the middle provided texture and some light herbal counterbalance. If Kellermann would have had a bit more spices on the duck, served lukewarm and had roasted the pineapple a bit more this would have been outstanding. Excellent, only the word “marinade” still confuses me…
The second course essentially made me choose the degustation menu: gamberoni with chocolate-salsify creme (an espuma to be precise) and marjoram broth (actually a classic dish from the Virtrum years). Marjoram is not frequently found in fine dining maybe as it is commonly used to accompany rustic and regional dishes. Different here, as the broth had an intense aroma and enough lightness not to be overpowering. However, broth and espuma (the chocolate was hardly there) didn’t really connect – it felt like eating two different elements. The gamberoni were a tad overdone and did not add much in my view. The least compelling dish of the menu but given the wonderful broth, still good. Maybe a good basis for a nice soup?
Next up was a real winner: roasted loup de mer with pistachio-bean vegetables and orange fumet. On the one hand this had contrasting flavours (pistachio and orange) as well as textures (pistachio, bean and a very good pistachio pesto) and on the other hand it was in equilibrium as the orange counterbalanced the nutty pistachios and the earthy beans. Again the fish was a bit overdone but given the small piece it becomes immediately apparent. So a bigger piece less cooked would be perfect. Very good to excellent.
Another step-up in intensity was next: Brittany mackerel with Djah Oftadeh and safran jus. Djah Oftadeh means “hit-the-mark” in Persian and this perfectly describes this dish. Again the interplay between two elements elevated this dish out of the usual: saffron is a natural companion for Djah Oftadeh as it is one of its key elements together with cumin, black pepper, coriander, orange zests to name but a few. Moreover, dimensioning was key here – a bit of spice or saffron would have ruined the experience. The mackerel together with the dehydrated saffron rice and some pearl barleys were strong enough to stand up against the seductive oriental flavour. Excellent!
The star of the lunch: partridge with chervil root and Pernod. Surprise, surprise – Pernod sauces had been fashionable in the 80s and I was more than skeptical. The partridge was so tender and so delicate I can still taste it. Amazing! Served with a confit from the partridge’s leg and the two textural variations of chervil root the Pernod was just a nice sweet background flavour and not dominant at all. Outstanding I have to say.
Main course was suckling lamb with beet root and jogurt. Here the yogurt was the king of the dish – its seasoning (could have been Raz el Honout) made the dish quite oriental. The lamb itself was one of the best ones I had in my gourmet life so far. Roasted in the oven (not sous-vide as I thought) at low temperature it was incredibly tender, juicy and delicious. Excellent to outstanding.
Dessert was liquid chocolate with banana and mint ice cream. Nice presentation, different chocolate variations (light and strong, different textures), contrasting temperatures as the banana was lukewarm and the refreshing and strong mint ice cream created perfect harmony. Excellent! Only the banana could have been a bit more present…
This was an excellent lunch – overall this was at the very top of the one star league and there is a clear potential for the second star soon. The whole dining experience was light, interesting and challenging – this is how I like fine dining to be. Service was flawless and attentive and the atmosphere light and welcoming. It just fits.
As I had the opportunity to eat at Tantris one week later I have to say that Kellermann’s cuisine is lightyears away from Haas’ cooking and thus completely emancipated. And, it is more modern but not in a technical sense – Kellermann’s modernity stems from clever thinking about dishes and creating new and surprising flavour combinations. I can almost see him fiddling over flavour accords and searching for the special “kick” for a dish. What does make his cuisine quite special is the clever usage of herbs and vegetables and the quest for intelligent pairings who really pay off. I can say that I have not experienced a similar cuisine so far.
The potential I mentioned does not lie in perfecting the dishes here and there but in the further concentration on regional and local produce and an even more radical abolishment of the composition of dishes. He successfully shows in his vegetarian dishes that the usual suspects are not necessary to create something unique. And, most importantly, the usually more traditionally oriented German diners are willing to follow him. So, why not go the whole way towards a distinct cuisine similar to the Scandinavian philosophy? Just some thoughts…
This is really a place to keep on your radar screen – I will be back soon!