Victor’s Gourmet Restaurant Schloss Berg
Tel. +49 (0) 68 66/79-118
Food type: Modern French
Food rating: 10/10
Nearest tube: –
Website: Schloss Berg
This summer’s travels take me to sleepy Perl-Nennig. What do you mean you have not heard of this place? I suppose this pastoral little village/town is a bit obscure, located just across the Luxembourg border, with a population of around 800 people. Quite unbelievable then that, in this area is also a 5* hotel and more importantly, for me, a 3* restaurant. The quickest way to get here from London is a short flight (1.5 hour) from London City Airport to Luxembourg followed by a 25 minute cab ride to the hotel.
Hotel Schloss Berg, hidden amongst vineyards encircling the Moselle River, consists of a small restored Renaissance castle as well as a newly built Mediterranean villa complete with spa, fitness and wellness facilities. We stayed at the castle, which was originally built around 4AD, although most of the original building was destroyed during the Second World War I would suggest staying in the castle instead of the villa as the rooms here overlooks the beautiful Renaissance garden which is part of the ‘Garden without Limits’ project. For those who fancy a gamble, there is a queer (and tacky) casino located right next to the castle.
It is here that Christian Bau runs his 3 Michelin star restaurant. Bau was approached to open a gourmet restaurant here in April 1998 after a chance meeting with the owners of Victor’s Residenz Hotels the year before. They certainly put a lot of faith into Bau’s abilities, allowing him pretty much full creative reign – faith which was repaid in full. Within a year the Gourmet restaurant was awarded its first star and a second followed shortly a full 365 days later. The elusive 3rd star took a little longer, arriving at the age of 34, in November 2005, the same year that Bau was named German “Chef of the Year” with a maximum 5 cooking spoons – the highest possible ranking in the Aral Schlemmer Atlas. Bau has held on to his 3rd star ever since as well as a 19/20 score in the Gault Millau guide.
Christian Bau born in Offenburg, Germany in 1971 began his apprenticeship in cooking at the age of 16 at Hotel Götz Sonne-Eintracht in Achern. There he met his future wife Yildiz, whom he would go on to marry 9 years later. After three years training here he moved to Sasbachwalden where he trained under Gutbert Fallert at his Michelin starred restaurant in Hotel Talmühle. That very same year, he was enlisted for basic military service before a stint at Le Canard, Offenburg.
His major breakthrough came in 1993 where he was appointed commis chef at Harald Wohlfahrt’s Schwarzwaldstube/ hotel Traube Tonbach in the Black Forest, quickly rising to the position of sous chef. Wohlfahrt is often referred to as the greatest chef in Germany and his unique style of cooking is reflected in many of Bau’s dishes today. Bau left Wohlfahrt’s kitchen in 1998.
We arrived at the hotel/ restaurant 15 minutes late thanks to our flight being delayed (the reason for that though was because we were stopped by security for suspected money laundering… you couldn’t really make it up). Nevertheless, we were greeted warmly by the staff and after a quick 15 minutes for freshening up, began what was going to be a fantastic meal. As per our request, we were offered a surprise tasting menu by the chef. To get a rough idea of pricing, a 12 course ‘Voyage Culinaire‘ menu costs € 185 with a shorter “Menu du Marché” at € 145.
The dining room, which has recently received a make over has a tavern-like feel to it with plenty of wood around – both on the ceiling as well as on the floor. A fireplace is hidden in the far end of the restaurant, for use during the colder days of the year. On each table, lays a unique porcelain ornament lending a personal touch. One unique feature I loved here are the chairs which swivel to the side, thus negating the need that it is dragged each time you need to get up to go to the loo. If you are staying in the castle bit of the hotel, gourmet breakfast is also served here.
Smoked Sardine, Lemon Jelly; Tomato Tart, Pesto & Olive; Crab Bread, Oyster & Apple Foam
Once our champagne glasses were filled (there are 3 champagnes by the glass on offer here, including one specially produced for Mr. Bau himself) we began our culinary odyssey with a first serving of canapés. To start with, was a delightful piece of smoked sardine on crisp toast topped with lemon jelly which had extremely good flavour – the lemon jelly giving just the right amount of acidity to cut through the oiliness of this fish. The fish themselves were lightly smoked so as to not detract from the beautiful produce. (10/10) Next was a little tomato tart with intense dehydrated tomato, a single ring of black olive and a small topping of very powerful pesto – a sublime mouthful with the beauty of the tomato allowed to take centre stage. (9/10) Last, and my least favourite, were the crab bread with chopped oysters and apple foam but nevertheless very good with the brininess of the oysters coming through. (8/10)
Beetroot Gazpacho, Butternut Foam; Rolled Cream of Parma Ham
Almonds – Salted & Sweet
A second set of nibbles (remember, we are still at the canapé stage of the meal) were then brought to us. Cold beetroot gazpacho served in a shot glass and sipped with a straw, was light and refreshing with good balance of the natural sweetness and acidity with some butternut foam. (8/10) Even better, were some very addictive filo pastry ‘cigars’ filled with cream of prosciutto – rich, smooth and packed full of the unmistakable flavour of the famous ham. (9/10) Alongside all these technically complex hors d’œuvre was a little plate of almonds, salted and dusted in icing sugar.
Cornet of Beef Tartare, Caviar & Smoked Eel
A final canapé brought in a little holder was a magnificent cornet filled with smoked eel, beef tartare and topped with imperial oscietra caviar – a perfect example of combining a cheap ingredient (eel) with a luxurious one (caviar) to create something utterly delightful. Crisp, biscuit tuile, smoky, rich, creamy eel, meaty, wholesome beef and of course the briny caviar all combined to create the perfect nibble. This was sheer culinary genius. (10/10)
Bread Selection – Sunflower seed, Poppy seed, Sesame Seed, Ciabatta, Wholemeal
Bread is naturally made within the premises, with an entire tray brought to the table and left there. There was indeed quite a generous selection including an excellent sunflower seed being a favourite of mine. Another slice of bread, a toasted Foccacia with rosemary and thyme was equally as good – light and airy, with good amounts of seasoning. (9/10 overall, but 10/10 for sunflower seed and Foccacia) Along with the bread was some very high quality butter from Normandy as well as a pot of olive oil (complete with a pipette for suctioning purposes) from Calabria.
Clear Gazpacho, Cucumber Sherbet, Iced Tomatoes, Ricotta & Black Olive Tuile
Done with the vast array of canapés and now moving swiftly on to amuse bouché – they are extremely generous with freebies here – was another light and refreshing dish, perfect for the ridiculously hot day. The gazpacho, cold, clean and packed full of cleansing cucumber flavour, steeped with the sweetness of tomato with a little olive oil enriching proceedings was a marriage made in heaven with the cucumber sherbet. A little iced tomato seeds had supreme flavour, unlike most of the sorry produce masquerading as tomatoes back in the UK. Little bon-bons filled with ricotta and basil literally exploded in the mouth. (9/10)
Goose Liver from the Alsace: Hazelnut/ Coffee/ Morello Cherry
Take two on amuse bouché were a duo of goose liver from Alsace. Forget the fact that I was pretty darn well impressed that this is goose foie gras (90% of foie gras are duck in origin, and most restaurants, including most starred ones in the UK use duck foie gras) because these were both innovative and a knockout with the taste buds. The combination of foie gras and cherries is a common idea but chef Bau takes us away from the realms of comfort with his innovative take on these components.
The first spoon contained a marvelous ice cream of foie gras with chopped hazelnuts and a pinch of Maldon sea salt. The idea of a foie gras ice cream may be a bit alien to some, but it actually makes perfect sense given that foie gras au torchon is eaten cold. In addition, a few restaurants in England, have foie gras ice cream on their menu. (e.g. Hibiscus) Cold and creamy, the richness of the foie gras played off the salt and nuttiness of the hazelnuts to create a flavour resembling salted caramel. On the bottom, was some cherry ‘paste’ to give balancing acidity. (10/10)
Black forest gateau was given a makeover in the second part of this dish. A beautiful, smooth layer of foie gras parfait formed the base which housed an intense coffee jelly and then decorated beautifully with cherry jelly, chopped hazelnuts and a little coffee macaroon. As ridiculous as this may have sounded, this was simply a revelation and an utter joy to eat – ultimately when one of my servers overheard my praise for this dish, a second serving was on hand the next day. (10/10)
Raviolo of Salmon & Oysters, Asparagus, Green Apple Foam, Caviar
Moving on to our meal proper… er… wait… there is still one more amuse bouché? Ok then! Our final surprise from the kitchen was a generous portion of raviolo of smoked salmon and oysters. What do you mean you can’t see the pasta? Ingeniously, the delicate raviolo is made with the salmon itself, inside which the chopped oysters sit. Like a lot of chef Bau’s cooking, each individual component is given multiple treatments. For example, in this dish, the asparagus is both pureed and lightly poached and apple comes in the form of a foam and crisp batons. The bit I liked most about the dish, and the component I felt tied everything together was the caviar, again in two forms – a salmon roe and the innovative wasabi marinated tobiko (flying fish roe). This was a brilliant piece of cooking, the heat from the wasabi infused tobiko lifting the other flavours on the plate. (10/10)
Blue Fin Tuna Tataki, Salad of Cucumber, Ponzu Jelly & Foam
Our first course was an elegant blue fin tuna tataki on a bed of pickled cucumber salad, topped with ponzu jelly and ponzu foam at the side. This was for me, one of the best courses and one of the best tuna dishes I have ever tasted. Leaving aside whether it is ethical or not to be eating blue fin tuna, (honestly, if I am paying so much money for my food, I don’t want to be served inferior alternatives) the fish was of outstanding quality – full of flavour, soft and not a single sinew/fibre in sight. The combination with lightly pickled cucumber and ponzu, two elements more commonly associated with Japanese cooking, showed chef Bau’s mastery and understanding of Asian flavours. Each bite of the exquisite tuna was a mouth-watering, umami-packed nirvana experience (or at least 5 seconds of it). (10/10)
Next in the tuna/ Japanese themed dishes was a combination of tuna tartare and raw marinated tuna, cream of avocado, radish and a “Japanese Essence” broth made from miso, lemon grass, ginger ale and soy. For me, the broth reminded me a lot of a certain Chinese dish (black vinegar pork knuckle) albeit one which was lighter and more refined. Here, the sweet-sour broth and the peppery radish, worked in tandem with the avocado to create a harmonious blend of flavours. (9/10)
To complete this dish was a ‘side salad’ unlike no other side salad – one of thinly shaved vegetables of impeccable flavour gently soured and… that was it! When a dish is as simplistic as this, there is no place to hide with the produce. Great produce, good balance of flavours. ‘Nuff said. (9/10)
Turbot from Brittany, Sot-L ‘Y-Laisse Glazed with Hoi Sin, Flavour of Mild Anchovy, Herbage Salad, Bernaise with an infusion of Crustaceans
Roast turbot from Brittany was another wow. This dish was all about the quality of the fish – outrageously fresh, it was meaty, firm and juicy this was truly doing great service to (in my opinion) the most prized fish. On the side was a skewer of the incredibly tasty Sot-L ‘Y-Laisse (chicken oysters) glazed with sweet, sticky hoi-sin. I could have easily eaten 10 skewers of these. Oh, and before I forget, I absolutely adored the crustaceans infused béarnaise so much so I nipped J’s plate for an extra helping of this divine sauce. (10/10)
Lamb from Müritz – Saddle Grilled over Charcoal, Sugo with Garam Masala, Fine, Green Lentils, Artichokes, Jus of Lamb
Saddle of Müritz lamb lightly grilled over charcoal was melting-tender and juicy accompanied by a bed of rustic, earthy green lentils, grilled artichokes and a brilliant puree of smoked aubergine.This was an exceptional piece of lamb, cooked to perfection and you can see chef Bau’s attention to detail with the trimming of the fat and beautiful presentation. By lightly grilling the lamb over charcoal, the meat took on a light smokey aroma which was mirrored by the lentils. All of this finished off by a meaty lamb jus.
All this perhaps a bit of distraction from, for me, the best component of the dish – a braised shoulder of lamb with garam masala topped with creamed potatoes and deep-fried crispy potato – which was the chef’s take on Shepherd’s Pie. Full-flavoured, more-ish, and above all clever use of Asian spice, this was a stark contrast to the lighter, more feminine saddle. (8/10 saddle, 9/10 shoulder)
Cheese par maître Anthony
Cheese here is supplied by Bernard Anthony of Alsaces who is clearly one of the best, if not THE best, affineurs in the world, and is delivered weekly. The board here is relatively small, consisting of 18 cheeses, but each and every one was in impeccable condition. From the board, I tried some Brillat-Savarin, Époisses, Mobier, Crottin de Chavignol, Roquefort and of course Anthony’s aged Comté (2 years). So often you have a cheeseboard in London where cheeses are (annoyingly) in variable condition ranging from completely unripe to way past their best. Not so here, as each piece tried was perfectly ripe and simply stunning. (10/10) Cheeses here were accompanied by a variety of chutneys, dried apricots, grapes and walnut and fruit bread.
White Chocolate and Lemon Grass Ice Cream
Pre-dessert was a small treat, but what a treat it was! A little white chocolate and lemon grass “magnum” sitting on a bed of space dust. Perhaps space dust is a bit of an over-used component with chefs nowadays being the trendy ‘in’ thing but it made sense here, adding excitement to the ice-cream lolly. (9/10) [As a side note: we did ask for seconds so perhaps a bit mean on the score here]
Chocolate & Passion Fruit Ganache & Ice Cream/ Salpicon of Exotic Fruits/ Marbled Coconut Ice Cream
The final course of the day was a chocolate and passion fruit ganache – individual layers of coconut biscuit, passion fruit and bittersweet Valrhona chocolate mousse, topped with an exotic fruit salad. On the side were alcohol infused bon-bons, a coconut cup, filled with a ragout of fruit and passion fruit sherbert, topped with a coconut ice-cream. A thoroughly enjoyable dessert, with the unctuous, almost liquid chocolate ganache playing off the tartness of the passion fruit very well. (8/10)
Chocolate & Mint Foam, Olive Jelly, Raspberry and its Jelly, Lemon Tart, Chocolate & Cherry Marzipan
Chocolate Almonds, Lime & Cherry Marshmallows
Petit fours, brought to the table at the same time as the desserts, were a variety of treats ranging from the classical (lemon tart) to the unique (olive jelly). Overall 8/10 petit fours. As tea/coffee was served, another assortment of chocolates was brought to us – of which my favourite was the very pleasant rose chocolate truffle.
Service was impeccable – attentive yet invisible, passionate yet genuine with attention given to the smallest of details. It was clearly evident that our servers did indeed care about the food that they were serving. This is a far cry from many restaurants in the UK where waiters seem to read the description of dishes from a memorized script. One of my greatest fears dining in a foreign country was that language would have been a problem – yet pretty much all our servers spoke excellent English. Of great credit was Britta Jäger, our sommelier who put together an excellent all German wine pairing at my request.
Generosity is a term which is rarely associated with restaurants especially given today’s economic climate, yet here it appeared in heaps and bounds. You would be lucky if you receive more than one amuse bouché at a 3* restaurant here in England. (For example, at Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, you get a grand total of two canapés and a single amuse.) As such to see a plethora of freebies, and ones of decent size, was very impressive indeed. Most of these freebies would have passed off as an entire course in most restaurants. You definitely felt that the people running this restaurant truly cared about the diner’s enjoyment as much as making a profit.
What can I say? This was a truly stunning meal from start to finish. Produce here was clearly of the highest quality imaginable and made even more stunning by Bau’s cooking which transcends boundaries. It was very hard for me to pick the best dish of this meal because there were clearly so many perfect dishes here. Perhaps the only weakness of the entire meal was the desserts, but even so, a score of 8/10 is hardly embarrassing. Make no mistake – this was the best meal that I have eaten, one which was surpassed the very next day by an even better dinner here.
But we will have to wait a bit for until my next installment to read about it… 😉