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Schloss Bensburg

After hitting the quality cuisines of England, Austria and Spain, I made my final stop on Gastropocalypse 2012: Germany.  Just outside Cologne resides a giant palace, the Schloss Bensberg, and tucked within is the best chef in Germany and his restaurant, Vendôme.  In May 2012 Chef Joachim Wissler was voted the best in his trade by the 100 finest cooks in Germany for the second time in a row, as the “Cook of Cooks”. A three star ending to a five star vacation.  Or so I thought.

Teutonic Essen

Restaurant: Vendôme
Location: Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Michelin stars: three
50 Best ranking: 23

Vendôme

I would go into detail here about the restaurant, the chef, and its location, but the Food Snob blog did such a thorough overview, there’s no need to repeat it here. But as always, I do have pics.

When my girlfriend and I first arrived, we were greeted by a large group of young people in crazy costumes waiting outside the palace grounds.  We had no idea what was going on and asked a security guard what was happening.  It turns out Lady Gaga was staying at the Schloss that evening, and her fans were waiting for her to come out to head to whatever arena she was at to perform.

Waiting for Lady Gaga

Sadly, we didn’t see her.  “Hey, Ga – join us for dinner!”

We arrived early so walked around the grounds a bit.

Where Vendôme Lives

Cologne

Cologne in the distance. You can see the spires of the Kölner Dom on the far right.

The restaurant opened and we sat down.  Very upscale and modern, a lovely setup.

The Dining Room

There are several ways to order: you can do ‘a la carte’ from the menu, or one of two “Expeditions” – a Little Expedition or a Big Expedition.  We went for the Big Expedition – 18 courses.  They poured us a glass of champagne, and began our meal.

The Menu

The Courses

Kleine

Kleine [Mundschmeichler]

This was a very interesting progression of flavors.  The first bite on the left was amazing, and made it very clear Chef Wissler knows what he’s doing. The second bite had a sweet tomato flavor. The third bite was with fish roe and salty – a sudden break and a real surprise on the palate.  Then the fourth was creamy goodness.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho [Melone : Schinken geadelt : Kombu - Alge]

Gazpacho Glass

Gazpacho Bites

Next up was a gazpacho.  But not at all.  a wine glass with two juices separated from each other, a bite on a skewer and two more on a rock – it was nuts.  I loved it.  Playful, inventive, surprising, modern – all the things why I love this kind of food.  Very cool.

Then, like Steirereck, they brought the bread by.  Mmmm…delicious German bread.

Bread and ButterBread

Bachkrebse

Bachkrebse [wilder Pfirsich : Pineinkernjoghurt]

Shellfish Shot

Served on the side: a shellfish cappuccino. Rich.

Raviolo

Raviolo [Kalbskopf : Bries : Kesselfleisch - Bouillon]

This was a great example of the “neue deutsche küche” philosophy – a high end ravioli topped with gold flake, that tasted like bratwurst with mustard.  Taking a humble German food and elevating it.  Delicious.  And what to pair it with?  How about a nice thin cow tongue crisp?  Das ist gut.

Cow Tongue Crisp

Raviolo with Tongue

Süsses Wasser

Süsses Wasser [Forelle : Mandelbutter : Saiblingskaviar]

Another German transformation: red cabbage as a foam.  Weeee!  The broccoli was cooked in some mysterious way.  The second your fork touched it, it fell apart; it was so soft it was almost like a cream.  Kind of amazed how they got it on the plate without it smooshing.

Langoustine

Langoustine [gezupft : Muskatkürbismarinade - Apfelkernöl]

Salziges Wasser

Salziges Wasser [Horsemakrele : Safran : Butterbohnen]

My girlfriend described this as eating a piece of art.  The component in the upper left hand corner is a cauliflower couscous, cribbed from elBulli.

Coursus Interruptus

So the meal was going along great – a true three star experience.  The food exceptional, the service flawless, the atmosphere was lovely.  We waited for our next course.

And waited.

And waited.

We began to shift uncomfortably in our seats.  A lot of time had passed.  Certainly the staff saw us with an empty table.  No one said anything.  Our mood began to sour.  Finally I asked where our next course was.  They quickly left to find out, and then we waited some more.  Finally, course eight arrived – almost a full hour after the last course.  They said the courses would come more quickly.  Luckily, the next course was amazing.

The Courses, Continued

Büffel

Büffel [Mozzarella : Zuckererbse : Kokos]

Does that look amazing or what?  The taste matched it.

Rindermark

Rindermark ["gestockt á la Quique : d'Aquitainekaviar]

Gänseleber

Gänseleber [Chinoise : Schweineöhrchen : Erdnüsse]

Ah, finally the meat courses started, and with a bang: goose liver and pig snout.  And do those look like peanuts?  Yes they do, with a peanut cream inside. Not sure how they made those.

Peanut Cream

Spanferkel

Spanferkel [Erbsen - Koriandergemüse : Münchner Nockerl]

And then…

…we waited for the next course.  A long wait again – 30 minutes this time, and once again no heads up from the staff. What was going on?  It was frustrating.

Rehrücken

Rehrücken [Fichtensprossengelee : Bucheckern schösslingel]

Brin D'Amour

Brin D’Amour [Leinsamen - Lavendel : Sabayon]

Greißflammerie

Greißflammerie [Kirschkompott : Lakritze]

Apparently this dish is a play on a traditional German dessert.  The cherry foam was perfect and this dish was really incredible.  Loved it.

I looked at my watch (ok, my phone, but you understand).  We had been there much longer than I had anticipated.  We were headed back home by train, which we had to get to by taxi.  I checked the timetables and realized we had to leave in 30 minutes or be stranded.  I informed our waitperson.  I was both annoyed and now a bit stressed time wise.  We would have to rush through the rest of the courses, and not relax and enjoy them.

Buchweizen

Buchweizen [Panna Cotta : Schokoladen - Eisperlen]

This course was wild.  It was a dessert, but puncturing the sphere in the center brought out this salty liquid to mix with the panna cotta and chocolate.  Jarring.

Kraut und Rüben

Kraut und Rüben [2012]

This course was genius.  It was unique and totally original.  I wonder if they simply put “2012” after the name of the course instead of ingredients to reflect this.  I would love to try and make it at home.

Then came the sweets.

Süsses

Süsses [Naschwerk]

Süsses

Süsses [Naschwerk]

Now, if you’re keeping count, we have had 17 out of 18 courses.  What’s the final course?  Well, the Süsses are the final course.  Course 17 should have been Strauch [Johannisbeere : Rose : Lychi].  But we had to skip the course – it was too late and we had to catch the last train of the night.    We hurriedly paid our bill and left.

Living Up To The Stars

Vendome is a three star restaurant for sure – the food and atmosphere were top shelf, the staff were all very friendly and nice. But it failed to be stellar that night. The meal just ended up being way too long.  We had to skip a course and couldn’t have coffee and relax.  I couldn’t see the kitchen, meet the chef, or buy the cookbook.   The delays in the kitchen, the lack of acknowledgment from the service, and being forced to leaved rushed without finishing the menu was irritating.  Still having to pay the full price made me angry.

All I wanted was someone to come up, say there was a delay, and offer us something while we waited.  I asked my best friend who owns a local bar what he would do if it took almost an hour to get a dish to a table.  He said he’d paid for it and buy them a drink.  And that seems totally reasonable.  This place is a three star Michelin restaurant with the best chef in Germany, for crying out loud. It was inexplicable to me that they didn’t do something my local bar would do.

So, I wrote them a letter explaining my experience. It was quite detailed. Since I take phone pics of my upscale meals, I have a time stamp of when each course is presented, and can see how long it takes for dishes to arrive.  I calculated the times for 18 courses at three other multi-course dinners I’ve been to and demonstrated how they were about 100 minutes shorter than at Vendôme.  Had the delays not happened, we could have had all the courses and caught our train.  They replied quickly, apologizing,  thanking me for the timing information, sending me a copy of their cookbook, and inviting me back.

And I will go back. Their response was very professional and very appreciated. And really, I guess I couldn’t have had a culinary tour called The Gastropocalypse without some sort of minor calamity, now could I?

Thro At Vendôme

The Author At Vendôme

Jethro