Posted on Friday, 28th August 2009
I have been looking forward to my meal at Chef Christian Bau’s Victor’s Gourmet Restaurant for many days now – months in fact. Some foodies consider it one of the best, if not the best, restaurant in Europe right now, and the excitement I felt in the lead up to this meal was palpable – “three more sleeps, two more sleeps, one more sleep…”Its the main reason behind why I came to Germany – the pièce de résistance of my short culinary tour of this country.
The restaurant is situated in a town called Perl-Nennig, with the closest major city being Luxembourg City which is about a 30 minute drive away. The restaurant is housed in a quaint white castle called Schloss Berg, but for whatever reason, a casino was added as an extension to it in what looks like a glass monstrosity that is incongruous with the otherwise lovely white stone facade.
I dined with another food blogger and we choose the voyage culinaire (€185) menu, a ten course surprise degustation menu that promised to provide a ‘gastronomic voyage of discovery’. But first, the amuse bouches.
On the plate, from left to right, there was a light and refreshing swordfish on crab bread with green apple foam; a tomato tartlet with pesto mozzarella that was rich with tomato flavour; and tobiko caviar with cheese. These were lovely. There was also a gazpacho of beetroot with buttermilk foam which was a little bland, cannoli with parma ham mousse which was creamy and pleasant, and some sweet and savoury almonds.
Next was a cornetto of hamachi tartare which was stunning. After working your way through the top of the cone which contained the tartare, you were greeted with the refreshingly sharp, citrusy tones of a yuzu sorbet. This was followed by a layer of avocado cream. The contrast between the cold and the savoury was startling, but delightful.
After the cornetto, we were presented with two goose liver tasters. The first was a foie gras ice cream with hazelnuts. It was luscious, and tasted similar to eating pure foie gras, only it was smooth, creamy and cold. There was a touch of sweetness to it for added contrast. The second foie gras taster was a gateau of goose liver with Arabica coffee jelly, cherries and hazelnuts. This was also stunning with its multitude of textures and flavours – creamy, nutty, sweet and slightly bitter from the coffee.
The next taster was a gazpacho with sea cucumber, carabineros prawns (from Spain), buffalo mozzarella, cucumber sorbet and spherified drops of olive. The sea cucumber has a texture similar to squid, only slightly softer and crunchier. It boasts a lovely gentle flavour, and together with the sweet prawns made for something truly exquisite. This dish was beautifully constructed. The balance between each of the ingredients was just right, and each bite left you wanting a little bit more.
The next taster was made with langoustines. I have had many excellent meals, but there have only been a handful of dishes that have been so delicious that they have left me in awe, and this langoustine taster was one of them. To say it was stunning would not do it justice. A combination of a fried ball of langoustines and tartare of langoustine, it provided a fantastic textural contrast between the cooked and the raw. But what was even more astounding was the sweetness of the langoustines themselves, which exploded with so much flavour that I didn’t want the taste sensation to ever end.
And so I chewed and chewed, not wanting to swallow. And still its exquisite flavour did not dissipate. This was one of the most spectacular things I have ever eaten in my life.
There was also a tartare of langoustine mixed with the lardo of pig. Topped with caviar, this was luscious and creamy.
Next was a cured salmon raviolo with salmon and oysters. This was served with firm, bite-sized pieces of white asparagus which provided the soft salmon with a crunchy textural contrast. The chives added a fantastic aroma to the dish, and the wasabi and zucchini cream provided a further level of depth to the salmon.
At this point, I was starting to feel a little full. But the salmon raviolo only marked the end of the amuse bouches. We had yet to start the degustation itself, and there were still ten courses to go. Therefore, it might not surprise you to hear that this eating extravaganza lasted almost five and a half hours.
So to the first course which was crab prepared two ways. There was a sweet, fresh crab bedded over watermelon with dashi jelly and a watermelon sorbet. The use of fruit pushed the boundaries of sweetness, although not overwhelmingly so. The second crab was a deep fried fritter which was fantastic. Rolled in kataifi, its thread-like nature provided a lovely fine crunch to the sweet crab.
A blue fine tuna tataki was served over pickled cucumber and came with ponzu jelly. The tuna had not only been seared, but flamed as well which gave an added charcoal flavour to the fish. There were also sides of crispy and sour vegetables and a ‘Japanese essence’ (like a soup) with ginger ale and tuna (not shown). The tuna that had been placed in the essence had first been cubed, and then overlaid with thin slivers of tuna that had been curled. Its presentation was fantastic and meticulous. This dish pushed the boundaries of sourness, but not overwhelmingly so.
A blue lobster was firm, sweet and succulent, and its flavour was enhanced by a cream of lobster coral, samphire cream and curry oil. It was also served with fried quinoa and samphire which added crunchiness to this dish. The balance of this course was perfect as the crunchiness never overwhelmed the lobster. The presentation of this dish was also exquisite.
Scallops with seawater tapioca and a chutney of carrots was light and delicious, and its aroma made all the more intoxicating by the inclusion of some Moroccan raz el hanout spices. There was also some tiny asparagus, and again, the texture of this dish was interesting with the crunchiness of the tapioca.
Frogs’ legs, deep fried in the lightest and fluffiest of batters, came with spinach and wasabi cream, and a side of watercress soup which was rich with the flavour of a good stock. It was creamy and had been filled with tiny pieces of spinach ravioli (which must have been painstaking to make), enoki mushrooms and small pieces of frog’s legs.
The fish course was a fantastic Atlantic turbot with smoked eel which had also been charcoal grilled. When eaten together, the smoky, charcoal flavour of the eel enhanced the meaty, deep flavour of the turbot. This was served with an aubergine and miso puree, deep fried ladyfingers, and little droplets of shiso (Japanese basil) pesto. Each drop of pesto had been painstakingly encased in a circle made from tiny slivers of cucumber. The flavours of this dish were incredibly complex and very flavourful.
A saddle of venison from Eifel topped with a thin sliver of foie gras made up the meat course. The venison was beautiful – tender and tasty. Cooked to a even pink throughout, its perfect consistency surprisingly belied the fact that it had not been cooked sous vide. It was served with crunchy chanterelles, cream of cabbage, an intricate creation of cabbage sushi, and a venison jus which had been reduced to a perfect consistency and depth of flavour. The complexity of the jus was further enhanced by a touch of bitter cocoa and a little chilli.
A small pre-dessert of lemongrass ice cream coated with white chocolate was very refreshing. It was followed by a small iced coffee topped with mascarpone cream. This tasted just like an iced coffee and was followed by gariguette strawberries (from France) with mild ginger, a luscious yoghurt coated in milk chocolate, and a tangy and zingy yuzu (a citrusy Asian fruit) sorbet.
Dessert was a rich chocolate ganache with passionfruit, a salpicon of exotic fruits and a marbled coconut and passionfruit ice cream.
There were several different types of petits fours, some of which were awful. This was surprising given the standard of the rest of the meal, and for this reason I am going to overlook them.
The breads were all lovely, particularly the white. Some were baked in-house and some at a bakery using recipes created by Bau. The service was excellent, proficient and attentive.
I am not sure that I have been able to do the meal justice in terms of this write-up, for I struggle to find enough words to fully describe how exquisite it was. The menu was bold, inventive and daring. Bau pushed all the boundaries in terms of taste, texture, complexity, flavour, composition of ingredients and presentation, and my senses were heightened and tantalised at every turn. This meal was – and I would never say this lightly – one of the greatest culinary experiences of my life. It moved me – and for so many reasons. I sensed the intensity of Bau’s passion for food in each bite; I felt a slight anguish at the painstaking commitment that it must have taken to reach this level of divinity; and I was overjoyed to witness the creation of this wondrous meal, as if I was watching the strokes of a great painter as he hovered over a masterpiece.
And afterwards, I felt humility, as if for a few short hours of my life I had been granted the esteemed privilege of being personally cooked for by one of the greatest Chefs alive today.
This was haute cuisine at its very best.
Oh my word.