Posted on Tuesday, 31st May 2011
la vie restaurant was awarded its third Michelin star on 8 November 2011, about six months after my visit. Many congratulations!
I am almost embarrassed to share with you every detail of my recent dining experience at la vie, a two star Michelin restaurant in Osnabrück, Germany, because to do so would reveal to the world my 36 hours of eating gluttony. I dined at la vie at the generous invitation of Chef Thomas Bühner (and for this I can only thank you Chef). Those 36 hours were truly wondrous – we ate like kings – but eating like kings meant not only eating well, but eating a lot. And as I take a moment now to reflect on those 36 hours, I cannot help but marvel at my amazing ability to pack that much food into my body (did I mention that my blog name is A Girl HAS to Eat?).
We were scheduled to have dinner on a Saturday evening, but our 10pm arrival in Osnabruck on the Friday night before meant that Chef Bühner also delighted in feeding us a light supper (‘light’ meaning a three course meal). There was also a ‘light’ five course lunch the next day, which was followed by mini cooking demonstrations and tastings in the la vie kitchen. And all this took place before we sat down to our glorious tasting menu on the Saturday night. Wow!
I must confess that I hadn’t heard of Osnabrück before my visit and I have since learnt that most Germans haven’t either. Osnabrück is located in the North of Germany, about an hour from Hanover. It is such a shame that Osnabrück is not more well known as it is a quaint, charming university town with a population of about 170,000. Lined with cobbled streets, it is where the Peace of Westphalia was proclaimed, bringing an end to the Thirty Years’ War. It also has a bustling Saturday market where Chef Bühner took us to as part of his Saturday shopping. Here he talked to us about how interesting it is to watch the produce change week on week, allowing him to gauge what is in season.
la vie opened in 2006 and is housed in a neo-classical 18th century listed building right in the main square in Osnabrück. The building is split over two floors. On the ground floor, warm earthy tones and attractive wood panels have been combined to create a stylish ambience. On the first floor, many of the original features of the building have been kept to showcase the vaulted ceilings and the original stonewalls that were part of classical Osnabrück architecture. There is also a contemporary outdoor lounge area for guests to relax in and teaching kitchens that are used for both cookery classes and ‘food’ experiments by Bühner and his team.
la vie not only has two Michelin stars but an “espoir” for a third and 19 Gault Millau points. In 1996, Bühner gained his first Michelin star at La Table Restaurant in Dortmund and a second star in 1998. Gault Millau recognition followed when he became the winner of the Gault Millau “Rising Star of the Year” in 2001 and “Chef of the Year” five years later.
We began our la vie journey on Friday night dinner with a spring salad. Not just any spring salad, this version contained beautiful translucent scallops and a combination of white and green asparagus as the centrepiece. On the right hand side were some sautéed and crunchy dried morels, and on the left were slivers of sweet eel presented daintily with little egg yolk droplets and pickled egg whites. There were many elements in this dish, all of which came together to deliver a textural and flavoursome delight.
This was followed by a main of perfectly cooked melt-in-your-mouth US rib eye beef, which was served with a rich and flavoursome oxtail ragu. This was a premium cut of meat, and I even ate the little piece of fat that came with the beef, for it too, tasted delicious.
Dessert consisted of poached rhubarb, goat’s milk ice cream, meringue, a wonderful vanilla yuzu cream and a delicious stewed fruit puree.
Lunch on Saturday started with a smoked watermelon carpaccio garnished with a variety of herbs and flowers. Its smoky aroma was excellent, and cleverly, its firm texture bore a resemblance to meat.
Langoustine with coconut was aromatic but over seasoned. This was followed by a parsley-infused turbot topped with fried parsley and a side of tandoori potato. The parsley infusion gave the fish colour, but I thought the dish needed a little sauce as overall it was a little dull. But then again, this was only meant to be a simple lunch.
The main was a ‘head to tail’ of lamb cooked five ways (sweatbreads, neck, shoulder, back and tail). All were perfectly cooked and tender, with the tail oozing a delicious fattiness. A miso cream worked wonderfully with the meat, and to wash it all down was a portion of lamb tea. The garnishes included a crunchy piece of kroepoek (a type of South-East Asian prawn cracker), carrots, and an interesting ‘corn’ ball made with powdered corn, cornflakes and deep fried chicken skin.
Dessert was a lovely, rich chocolate ball filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache, and served with grapefruit two ways (grapefruit bits and purée frozen in liquid nitrogen).
To the gala Saturday night dinner – the first taster was a crunchy olive tempura which was followed by a beautifully presented selection of amuse bouches. From the bottom of the photo in a clockwise direction, we took pleasure in indulging in a lovely, light cuttlefish macaroon filled with a smoked trout cream. Next was eel served with apple tapioca pearls and fennel, followed by an ‘octopus sushi’ consisting of jellied octopus on a bed of cauliflower cream and an octopus and vegetable brunoise centre.
A beetroot soup was sweet with hints of nutty earthiness. A goose liver parfait was melting creamy and smooth, and the use of hibiscus flowers worked an aromatic magic with the velvety overtones of the parfait.
Mackerel served with passion fruit purée and black sesame ice cream was intoxicating. The zingy sweetness of the fruity purée balanced out the oiliness of the fish perfectly, and the coldness of the ice cream provided an astute contrast to the dish. Finally, some wonderfully crunchy caramelised black sesame seeds added a final touch of charm to the mackerel.
There are certain dishes that define the greatness of a chef, and for me, the next dish was one of those. Skrei (an Artic cod commonly found in Norway) was served in a tartare form. The luscious flavour of the fish was accompanied by an icy cold almond foam to create an electrifying effect. Delicate pieces of samphire, served both naturally and in tempura form, produced little bursts of crunchy textural delights. To finish the dish were two divine emulsions, one made from almond and garlic, and the other from avocado. The sauces when eaten together were amazing, and the subtle flavour of the garlic lingered lovingly on the palate. The combination of all these tastes and textures performed a magical dance on my tongue, and it will long live in my eating treasure chest as a moment of pure joy. For me, this was every bit a three star dish.
A tasty fish course of sea bass was served with tender pieces of octopus. There were hints of verbena in the fish, and the highlights of this course were the lovely yuzu elements – used to create both a cream and a sauce.
A pleasant dish of ‘bouillabaisse’ consisted of calamari, gurnard, anchovies, rocket cream and saffron potatoes. The ‘bouillabaisse’ was the Spanish fideo noodles which had been deep fried and cooked in a rich bouillabaisse stock.
Red king crab was meaty and sweet, and served with pieces of sot-l’y’laisse (chicken oysters) and a luscious chicken jus. There was also a runny egg yolk which had been smoked, crunchy chicken skins, a pumpkin cream and sweet potato. This was an extremely pleasing dish, although the fresh mint garnishes were a little overpowering.
Potato cream with curry ice cream was cleverly done. A scoop of ice cream had been submerged within the lovely cream, and its silky elegance was a wonderful match for the spicy zing of the ice cream. The contrast between the heat of the cream and the coldness of the ice cream was also an added masterstroke.
Venison saddle had been slow cooked in a sweet and sour concoction of Asian flavours including soya sauce, kecap manus, sugar and Japanese distilled vinegar. The balance of these ingredients in the poaching liquid was well judged and provided subtle hints of flavour to the beautifully tender meat. Cauliflower presented five ways – cream, puree, floret cous cous, stem and foam – were dreamily delicious and provided a variety of textural contrasts.
To a cheese course – shavings of Brebis de Pyrénées was served with a sour cream ice cream and wild figs which had been poached in port wine. There was a little too much cheese in this dish for me, but the figs were wonderful and rich. Pre-dessert was a carrot sorbet served on a bed of almond biscuit. The combination of a zingy passion fruit puree with the sorbet was magical.
A frozen strawberry ball made with fresh strawberry purée and a juice of gently cooked strawberries had been filled with a light buttermilk woodruff foam and coated with a strawberry powder. It came with a tapioca infused with woodruff, almond flakes and slivers of cucumber. It was difficult to imagine cucumber working in a dessert, but when eaten with the creamy fruitiness of the strawberries and the gooeyness of the tapioca, this dessert worked a treat.
Petit fours were delicious and included a variety of chocolates and macaroons.
At this level of cooking, textural contrasts are a must, and no dish delivered this better than the skrei tartare. But it wasn’t just the textural contrasts that were pleasing, but also the contrast of hot and cold elements to create an explosive effect. The food at La vie is elegant and gracefully presented, and the wonderful variety of components in each of the dishes came together to provide a symphony of harmonic flavours. This was one of the most complex dinners that I have ever had, and simply put, was one lavish journey into eating heaven.
To Chef Bühner and your team, many thanks again for your kind hospitality.
Food rating: 5/5
Price range: 5 courses – €140, 7 courses – €168; Lunch starts at €39. Excludes drinks and service.