|2013||Schlemmer Atlas||5 Spoons|
|2013||Gault & Millau||20 Scores|
|2013||Der grosse Restaurant & Hotel Guide||5 Points|
|2013||Der Feinschmecker||5 F-Points|
|2016||The Worlds 50 best by SP||35 Ranking|
|Value for money|
Vendôme is the capital of Loir-et-Cher in northwest France. In the sixteenth century, the encompassing county was made a duchy and bestowed upon César, the illegitimate son of then king, Henri IV. César – thus the duc de Vendôme – had his private residence in Paris, at what has become the Place Vendôme.
To discover then that the restaurant boasting so French a name as this really resides in Germany – in Westphalia on the outskirts of Köln to be exact – may be a surprise. However, it is a fact that Germanic fine dining is firmly founded on classical cuisine française – a convention started with the restoration of formal court dining when the nation’s Emperor and Empress, King Wilhelm and Queen Augusta of Prussia, hired legendary French chefs and co-collaborators on the culinary magnum opus, la Cuisine Classique, Urbain Dubois and Émile Bernard. This custom was then compounded over the next century with young Teutonic chefs moving to France to learn to cook the French way in French kitchens.
The connection between the Place and the restaurant is twofold. In the latter stands a famous column that fashioned from one hundred or so of the enemy’s cannon from the battle of Austerlitz commemorates their captor, Napoleon Bonaparte – and, as it happens, not long after this victory, it was this French emperor who founded the Kingdom of Westphalia, wherein Vendôme now exists.
In a final twist, there is a touch of irony in that within this restaurant nominally celebrating Germany’s gastronomic acquiescence to France works one of the most progressive of the country’s chefs and a leader of a new school – neue deutsche küche – that seeks to break away from this neighbourly reliance and refocus and remember traditional German cuisine.
This chef is Joachim Wissler. Born in Nürtingen, he is a native of Baden-Württemberg – land of gaisburger marsch (beef stew); geschnetzeltes (veal in cream sauce); rostbraten (braised beef) and linsen mit saiten (sausages and lentil stew). At only ten years old, he began filling in for his parents at their inn cooking noodles and ravioli, before undertaking an apprenticeship at the legendary kurhotel Traube Tonbach at seventeen. Once he completed his chef assistant’s examination in 1983, he spent the next four years working his way around the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) at such establishments as Weißen Rössle and Brenner’s Parkhotel. He finally made it out the woods in 1991 when he became chef de cuisine at Marcobrunn at Schloss Reinhartshausen in Erbach. Here, Wissler started making his mark, winning several national honours before his first Michelin star in 1995, immediately followed by his second a year on. In 2000, German tycoon Thomas Althoff opened the five-star Grandhotel Schloß Bensberg and recruited the chef to run its luxury kitchen. In just a single year, Wissler had secured another star; within two, he had earned the title ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in the national press. A year later and he was crowned ‘Chef of the Year’ by the international Gault Millau and was also awarded another second star; one year more and he finally had his third.
The aforementioned movement in German haute cuisine was coined neue deutsche küche by Jürgen Dollase, arguably the country’s leading food critic and the man who has also labelled Wissler as the ‘best in my country and who has the most advanced ideas’. The chef himself briefly summarises this new approach thus: ‘the idea of combining nature’s best products in the form of small successive dishes is not the novel feature. However, the ‘how’ and ‘what’ are the aspects that truly characterise this new step. In it more attention is also placed on some of the treasures of our own neglected cuisine.’ A man of simpler tastes – as a last meal, he would want sourdough, butter and homemade sausages – his greatest wish would be a return to the roots of German food culture.
At the end of the seventeenth century, Rhineland Prince Jan Wellem, moved from Düsseldorf south to Bensberg to be close to his favoured hunting ground of the Königsforst. His (second) wife, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, was rather taken with the area, reminiscent as it was of her Tuscan homeland, therefore he commissioned here the construction of a beautiful baroque castle – the second largest north of the Alps – modelled on Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace. The property sits perched on the hills above Köln itself, its central axis deliberately in line with the city’s historic cathedral. Its glory days long gone, the schloss served as a hospital, cadet institute, barracks and school, before being purchased and restored by the Althoff hotel collection in 2000.
The actual restaurant occupies the kavaliershäuschen or knights’ house adjacent to the principal building. The interior was refurbished in 2007. Formerly florid and elaborate, it is now open, natural and comfortable. The dining room is split into two – a narrow first room lined with tables and banquettes; and then, loosely portioned off by black string curtains, a second larger one in the centre of which stands a sleek serving station of contemporary design with very narrow base and wide, oval surface.
Walls are mainly light travertine granite broken up by tall, latticed white-silled windows. Upon the inner side of the initial space a wide mirror is hung, whilst there is a portal into the kitchen on another. The main area is bordered with zebrano wood sideboards and floor-to-ceiling, back-lit stained glass imprinted with green-grey images of Paris’ Place Vendôme. There is room for about forty with well-spread tables skirted by swivel chairs of Reseda green suede. Thick tablecloths are subtle salmon and sparsely set with a single red rose in a slender vase, stemware and KPM porcelain, which traces its royal heritage to Frederick the Great of Prussia; other accessories such as Robbe & Berking silver are hidden until needed.
The menu chosen was the ‘Große Entdeckungsreise’ or Big Expedition’ – a twenty-five course selection of dishes.
Amuse Bouche 1: Smoked eel, cumin foam, pointed cabbage, dried fig; praline of goat’s cheese with watercress; braised poularde with papaya in pastry; baked polenta, marinated mackerel, seaweed and curry mayo. A quartet of little nibbles were delivered, each very different and each to be eaten differently. Sat in a small spoon, moist morsel of mackerel rested upon crunchy baked polenta; and in a bite-sized bowl, smoky eel’s richness was nicely matched with sweet fig and spicy cumin. Taken with one’s fingers, pieces of fattened chicken, wrapped in crisp pastry were mildly sweetened with papaya; and cool, creamy goat’s cheese semi-sphere, enlivened with peppery watercress, was impaled upon a skewer.
Les Pains: Focaccia; buckwheat; saffron & ginger; brown; spelt; cumin; tomato & basil; rye with sea salt; red lentil roll; and black olive puff pastry. Before the bread basket was brought round, a single sliver of warm focaccia was proffered along with a cube of salty butter from Alsatian maître affineur, Bernard Anthony – a gentleman better known for his cheese. Unfortunately, the beurre was a tad bland. The selection of rolls and mini loafs was quite immense. Best was the red lentil with crunchy crust, soft middle and nice seasoning, but this ran out early never to return; other decent examples were the tomato and basil with good savour and spelt that was slightly sweet and quite absorbent. Worst were the especially dry buckwheat and black olive puff pastry whilst the remainders were forgettable.
Amuse Bouche 2: Knäckebrot Krabben | Muscheln | Frankfurter grüne Sauce. Mussels, crab and crevettes grisse, sprinkled with coral, cress, almonds and Frankfurt-style green sauce, covered crispy cracker. The shellfish were succulent and flavoursome with the small gray shrimp standing out. Frankfurter grüne Sauce is, simply put, the local interpretation of salsa verde and comprises around seven fresh herbs (including dill, lovage, lemon balm), eggs, vinegar and olive oil. Dabbled about the biscuit, this was minty and peppery-sweet.
Amuse Bouche 3: Blätterwald Gemüsekrokant | Ziegenjoghurt – Dip. A ‘deciduous forest’ was formed with ‘vegetable brittle’ of seaweed and spinach (dark), beetroot (red) and cauliflower, celery, leek and artichoke and accompanied by goat’s cheese yoghurt. The seaweed was salty and crunchy whilst the spinach slightly bitter. Artichoke grew in force as it was eaten; the leek was sweeter; and cauliflower, distinct. The common complaint with these chips was their sticky texture (meaning they frequently became caught in one’s teeth) and their almost too-sugary taste. The dip was creamy and decent, but could have done with more sourness.
Amuse Bouche 4: Coralle Parmesan | Foie Gras | Basilikum – Pistou. Nappy reef of parmesan ‘coral’ topped with tomato salt and the cheese’s spume; quenelle of foie d’oie garnished with ancient amaranth grains; and puddle of pistou were presented with parmesan candyfloss sprinkled with raspberry coulis, separately. The texture of the tasty cheese-cloth was most interesting – firm as fabric yet soft, melting in the mouth. Smooth, silky goose foie was nicely complemented with crunchy, malty-sweet grains. Provençal pistou of crushed basil, garlic, parmesan and olive oil – basically pesto without the pine nuts – was fresh and herby. Sharp balsamic strew the plate whilst truffled tapenade dotted it. The floss was sugary and fruity. Although parmesan was an almost continuous chord, there was little to link each component to the others making this a somewhat discordant course.
Amuse Bouche 5: Auster Grüner Apfel und Sauerkraut | d’Aquitainekaviar. Adjacent to apple-wasabi foam and resting amidst sauerkraut crystals, two skinny strips of Granny Smith, joined at either end, the meeting points marked with mâche leaves, encased a single Gillardeau oyster set besides a small scoop of Aquitaine caviar, inset with lettuce sprigs that imitated bull horns. Crisp, juicy and mildly acidic, the apple was an excellent addition to the sweetish, nearly nutty, fleshy oyster – from the Gillardeau family who have been farming some of France’s finest oysters for over a century. French shellfish was coupled with French caviar, whose brininess and minor nuttiness brought out the savours of the other ingredients agreeably. Hazelnut-like, crisp lambs’ lettuce struck a similar note whilst the transparent pearls of sour cabbage and spicy-sweet wasabi brought lovely balance.
Entrée 1: Langoustine Sushi gegrillt | Tonic und Ingwer. Adorned with the fanned-out tail-end of its shell, a sizeable grilled langoustine, crowned with pressed piping and sprinklings of its coral, came laid over basmati rice purée punctuated with green almonds; along with a small piece of asparagus and seaweed, it lay as if arising from a pool of tonic water and ginger ale laced with verbena, rose petal water and spring onion. The fragrant, creamy rice with succulent, faintly tangy almonds (only available a few weeks of the year thus considered a delicacy) matched well and, coupled with the hot prawn, justified its grilled sushi label. The langoustine itself however was awful: although appetising in size and appearance, it was in fact mushy and cottony. A shame considering the complex and punchy sauce, which was additionally an extension of the Indian theme whilst a play on the cocktail, gin and tonic, this drink having been first drunk on the subcontinent whilst it was under British rule – soldiers would mix gin with their medicinal (malaria-averting) Indian tonic water. Ginger is also a popular spice in the country.
Two folded-over flakes of amber dashi ‘paper’, sandwiching bright shiso cress, were intensely flavoured and verging on bitter.
Entrée 2: Octopus Sepia | Tintenfisch Marsh Mellow. A cuttlefish salad of seaweeds, roasted rings of spring onion and cucumber shavings, dressed with peanut vinaigrette, thickened with creamed white beans, had miso mayonnaise added to it at the table; a separate small tile carried a spiked tempura marshmallow of sepia, sitting in breadcrumbs, and saddled with cress, cuttlefish and seaweed crème. The mayo, made with a darker miso, was slightly harsh and not particularly pleasant, but the tender seafood slices and crisp, fresh vegetables were; the candied, crunchy peanuts a pleasing touch. The viscid dressing, almost gel-like due to some xanthum gum, was most interesting – its consistency, somewhat gooey, reminded one of an octopus’ slimy skin.
The caramelised marshmallow, dipped in toothsome crumbs, was very good with delightful fluffiness and strong squid ink savour.
Entrée 3: Leipziger Allerlei Bachkrebse am Waldrand. Off-centre, a dimple in the dish, dotted with morel jus, was filled with white asparagus foam, over and around which were scattered oven-baked breadcrumbs, sugar peas, cold whole morels, mustard seeds and stone crayfish overlaid with julienne white asparagus. This symbolic recipe is said to have been invented in Leipzig after the Napoleonic wars when locals made popular this humble vegetable dish to discourage those seeking a wealthy populace (explicitly beggars and tax-collectors) from staying in the city. Its classic components were incorporated here in an arrangement designed to remind one of a woodland scene: any reminding was due more to the shades of brown, pink, white and, naturally, green than anything else – however, there is little else more evocative of the forest than a morel. Stone crayfish, indigenous to Germany, were firm yet succulent. Rather symbolic here and nicknamed white gold, the sweetness of the white asparagus or spargel, married well with that of the shellfish and peas. On the other hand, the mushrooms, initially sautéed, were oddly allowed to cool before being served.
Brought in a twisted demitasse with this was a bouillon of shellfish infused with Madeira, port, cognac and tomato. Warm, bubbly, creamy, thick and very rich, this was a real treat.
Entrée 4: süsses Wasser Seeforelle | Meerrettichkren | Saiblingskaviar. A fillet of smoked lake trout from Bavaria, coated in bright char caviar and its fried skin, was presented with a pair of sphericated horseradish and apple. Tableside, first a sauce of bay leaf, chive and cucumber was poured over, before a little rape seed oil. The visual impact was immediate: vivid, vibrant hues of yellow, orange and gold surrounding those of gentle pink and white. The fish was light and lean with delicate, smoky-sweetness; whilst the skin atop seriously flavoured and crispy. Explosively creamy roe effectively seasoned the trout. The faintly apple bubbles were refreshing and the oil, quite soft.
Entrée 5: salziges Wasser Rochen | Kurkuma – Koriandernage | Reisgnocchi. Grilled skate wing, charred amber and sprinkled with golden caramelised peas, was partnered with soy sprouts covered in coriander and basmati rice gnocci sitting in curcuma-coriander-coconut milk sauce. The initial appearance was reminiscent of raie au beurre noisette, but a subtle Indian imitation of this classic French creation with snow-white gnocci resembling potatoes; the dark yellow sauce, beurre noisette; and peas, capers. The tasty skate, in intricate, meaty ripples, was coupled with crispy-sticky peas. The aromatic, delicate dumplings were set in an exotic strong, spicy, bitter-citrus bath, to which curcuma, a type of turmeric, added warmth and muskiness as well as colour.
Entrée 6: Weinberg Schnecke umhüllt. A pair of pristine porcelain ladles lay in their custom-made tray; each bore a blotchy olive-brown spherification of snail jus, enclosing snail stew, sitting with parsley purée in morel emulsion and dusted with their powder. Cracked glass caramel-vinegar paper atop offered an unpleasant sour-sweetness that gave way to earthy mushroom. The sphere itself had grassy, deep flavour and crumbly texture. Parsley tempered some of the overall strength.
Entrée 7: Thun Fish & chips | Pommes frites nicoise. A German rendition of a traditional British dish featured a French twist. Fish meant seared tuna belly implanted with its bone and garnished with capers, tomato and rosemary; it came upon a plate, just encroaching dill-tomato powder and next to a crystallised black olive that emitted an upstanding sugar tuile train. Chips were rather regular and lay along the cusp of a tall bowl of crème of tomato, white beans and vadouvan. Unfortunately, the deconstructed Niçoise proved an entente discordante. The saccharine olive was rather pleasant, but the rest was not. Bean purée had rather crude with a disagreeable dulled harshness; chips were soggy and a little oily; but the worst offender was the toro. This was simply greasy and slimy.
Entrée 8: Kabeljau vom Kopf bis zur Flosse. Cod, head to tail – or in Wissler’s words, head to flipper – comprised belly fillet bordered on either side by grilled tongues; radish, chive, peas and their shoots dressed the fish whilst sugar snap pea sauce was served at the table. The nearly raw tummy was almost crunchy and very tasty whilst the firm yet unctuous tongues, a delicacy in Spain, Norway and Newfoundland, were even better. The greens added peppery sweet crunch, which the smooth sauce intensified.
Plat principal 1: marmorierter Mascarponeravioli | Périgordtrüffel | Brachpilz. A base of field mushroom soup, concealed by white tomato froth and mascarpone, was lidded with a lucent square of tomato jelly; poised atop this, Périgord truffle tapenade was studded with a sprig of chive and Madeira marinated truffle julienne. A ring of balsamic vinegar was drizzled on tableside. The familiar fragrance of pasta wafted from the plate. The thin, subtly tangy skin of this dismantled raviolo offered little resistance as the spoon pierced it. Above, the balsamic brought sweet sting, whilst beneath, mild mushroom ragout was warm and juicy, enriched with the mascarpone. Regrettably, the truffle, not surprisingly, had no savour at all.
Plat principal 2: Bretonische Seezunge Klaffmuschel | Morchel | Spargel. Pan-fried Dover sole, glazed with breadcrumbs, was underlaid with morels and overlaid with their emulsion; around the fish, lay clams, their purée and white asparagus over all of which lemon hollandaise with tarragon and peas was spread. The fish itself was excellent, buttery sweet and firm, with a little browning; the spongy, saturated mushrooms went well with the nutty asparagus; and crumbs were an excellent crunchy touch. Hollandaise had faint lemony tartness whilst the clam sauce was thick and speckled with carrot. Creamy clams added brininess.
Plat principal 3: Sauerbraten vom Ochsen “sous vide” | Holzofenbrot – sandwich. Marinated in red wine, vinegar and spices, ox meat, slowly cooked sous vide then adorned with a caramelised diadem of sunflower seeds, was plated with pureed stielmus that had been parted with a dribble of jus roti; coin of bone marrow; and oven-baked sandwich of sauerbraten jelly. A German national dish prepared with modern methods, this was an accomplished demonstration of how to merge the contemporary with the classic, well. The succulent, rich meat that came apart fibre by fibre was delicious; although the nutty seeds atop tended towards sticky. Juicy, minced meat and sour vinegar gravy in between pumpernickel toast was also very good, if a touch greasy. Stielmus, a seasonal green native to the Ruhr and similar to turnip tops, had some bitterness that countered the buttery marrow and beefy jus, which may as well have been labelled red wine syrup.
Fromage: Fontina Auberginentatar | eingelegte makrele. Cream of Fontina, embedded with aubergine paste upon which was placed a little fillet of mackerel mounted with its roe filled the bottom of a bowl along whose wide rim foccacia tuile and tomato paper rested; mossy pastel green herb oil was poured in at the table. Fontina, an Italian cow’s milk, was very mild – suggesting it was possibly a version produced outside of Italy (maybe Denmark) – with good consistency. Its combination with the tasty, meaty mackerel, although unusual, worked agreeably whilst the subtly smoky aubergine tartar varied the texture.
Dessert 1: Haut kross von der Milch. Mascarpone crème came inserted with milk skin, sprinkled with amaranth grains and mizzled with cajeta quemada. This syrupy caramel is in essence Mexican dulce de leche and combined nicely with the sweet-sour cream and barely bitter milk skin crisp.
Dessert 2: Käsekuchen Eis | Mürbteig – Krokant. Atop an apricot plinth, cheesecake ice cream was soused in apricot sauce and grated over with almonds and pistachios. A classic German dessert, the cheesecake refreshé was soft and tart in contrast to the sticky sweetness of the fruit.
Dessert 3: Schnee ball gefüllt. On one extended plate, a yoghurt ‘snow’ ball stuffed with rhubarb crème and encircled with sugar tuile, left behind a trail of mini meringues sitting on rhubarb confit and candy ‘bombs’. The intense dairy coat and cold tart centre contrasted well; the pastries were airy; whilst the fruit was crunchy sweet.
A supporting bowl bore fibrous, sour rhubarb compote and crispy rhubarb paper separated by spicy, aromatic ginger ice cream.
Dessert 4: Crème catalan tarte Tatin – Sorbet. Complex, creamy custard of milk skin and spices was layered with delicate caramel and interesting tarte tatin sorbet; balanced overtop was a bow of burned milk and cube of apricot gelée.
Dessert 5: Macaron Fourme d’Ambert | Himbeersorbet. A macaron of blue Auvergne cow’s milk cheese, filled with raspberry jelly and sorbet and trickled over with lemon cream, worked surprisingly pleasantly, its tart crackly crust giving way to creamy macaroon and intense fruit.
Dessert 6: Schaum kuss beschwipst. ‘Tipsy foam kiss’ translated as a teacake of dark chocolate, encrusted with caramelised Demerara sugar, covering ginger and bubbly rum mousse.
Dessert 7: Magnum Vendôme am Stiel. The restaurant’s custom magnum lolly of bitter Valrhona Guanaja 70% chocolate and icy coconut ice cream was quite decent.
Dessert 8: Mohr im Hemd Zartbitterschokolade | Eierlikör. Another dessert originally named before political correctness became popular (schaum kuss was once neger kuss and mohrenkopf), this Austrian treat traditionally looks like a Kugelhulf of nutty chocolate and whipped cream, but here, warm chocolaty sponge is smothered with crème of advocaat over a base of crunchy streusel and under tasty tuile topped with gold leaf. The moist, strong cake was nicely complemented by the creamy, rich cream that was essentially eggnog liquor.
At this point, to allow the staff to ready the dining room for dinner, we were escorted through the courtyard and main building to the hotel lounge to partake in our petit fours and coffees.
Petit Fours: Schokoladenpraline, Fruchtgelee, exotischer Weißwurzel. Earl gray, champagne, coconut and nougat pralines were all decent. Cigarettes of flaky pastry were piped through with Nutella-like milk chocolate. Passion fruit and papaya marshmallows were sweet and fluffy whilst tart rhubarb and elderflower jellies were toothsome.
Vendôme’s young staff are led by Spanish maître d’hôtel, Miguel Angel Calero Novillo and are very good. Swift, stealthy and alert, they looked after us well. Miguel was an excellent host – courteous, talkative and attentive – whilst special mention is also reserved for the deserving Joanna. Carrying out dual jobs of serveuse and sommelier consummately, she was charming, patient and delightful. I did however have one complaint regarding service. At the very end of our (long) meal, we were a little hurried and had to take coffee in the bar. This meant a considerable and winding walk to find said bar wherein we were charged additionally for drinks. I felt that given that they were aware the menu did comprise twenty-five courses and that we had arrived at the start of lunch service, they ought to have been prepared. It is a minor point though and I did leave very satisfied with our treatment.
The first amuse showed that the kitchen meant business – four tasty, very dissimilar morsels that clearly involved some effort to make. The success of the successive appetisers though was varying: the blätterwald and coralle were forgettable, the knäckebrot just decent, but the auster, accomplished. The same has to be said for the entrées, my thoughts on which were again divided between delectable (kabeljau), terrible (thun) and everything in between. My opinion of the main plates was high and consistently so with the Sauerbraten being especially delicious. The fromage was something out-of-the-ordinary and enjoyable too. Desserts were also at a steadily good standard – the crème Catalan possibly being the pick of the bunch – whilst petit fours were unmemorable.
Wissler is considered a leader of the neue deutsche küche movement and it is clear to see why. Universal, innovative, sensory, consisting of an extended series of dishes and drawing on local, global, luxury and lowly ingredients, this cuisine more than meets this school’s entry requirements.
One aspect of the cooking that stood out was the incorporation of classic and classical German recipes and produce. Wissler is inspired by not only his current surroundings of Westphalia and his own Baden-Württemberg, but also by all the regional cooking of Germany; he also calls upon the country’s more esoteric ingredients. Early on, Frankfurter grüne Sauce featured from the west, Leipziger allerlei from the east, succeeded by schnecke (a Swabian delicacy) and Bavarian seeforelle from the south, before the state speciality of sauerbraten. Interspersed throughout were humble Germanic household foodstuffs such as sauerkraut, knäckebrot and meerrettichkren. Käsekuchen, schaum kuss and mohr im hemd extended this theme through to desserts. German chefs have long followed French footsteps in the kitchen and focused on extravagant materials – Wissler was one of the first among his compatriots to shift the spotlight back onto local food. For this he has won much praise and rightly so; personally, it being my first experience of German fine-dining, I very much appreciated the insight this approach offered.
For Wissler however, this does not suffice; he is determined to put his own touch on these established dishes. Using Teutonic tradition as a base, he rebuilds recipes using the most modern of techniques. Thus the common schneckensuppe of the chef’s south-western home had been transformed into a single spherificated mouthful or the also popular maultaschen was remembered with marmorierter Mascarponeravioli. As mentioned, the sauerbraten was a most delicious demonstration of this with the sous vide ox meat. The chef certainly seems a fan of molecular cuisine – there is even a nod to Alinea at the start of the meal with Vendôme’s menu set out similarly and maybe even with the saiblingskaviar that was made popular by the Chicago restaurant a few years ago.
Embracing Germany’s own cuisine is one aspect of the neue deutsche küche, embracing those of other countries is another. This Wissler certainly does, again putting his spin upon them. France was not completely forgotten, referenced with England in the thun and Spain with kabeljau. The chef did not limit himself to Europe though, incorporating ideas from South America – cajeta quemada – and Asia too – langoustine and salziges Wasser.
Another prominent principle of Wissler’s style seems to be a strong aesthetic. Enticing colours are standard, successfully making everything more appealing. At the table, vivid sauces and bright, light oils are added. Some courses were also suggestive – the Leipziger allerlei attempted to resemble a forest by the shore; langoustine evoked the ingredient in its element; and even the pureed stielmus split with jus emulated the baby red chard besides it. The chef also appeared to be partial to presenting dishes on multiple plates and to using more creative crockery.
Wissler holds a certain affection for modern Spanish cuisine – a fact hinted at today through the molecular touches, tableside drizzling, some ingredients as well as the extended tasting menu formula that was followed. Although the former were executed and employed, at the very least, decently, it was in the latter aspect that lunch struggled. Either courses too many in number or servings too substantial in size meant that the meal was both very filling and contributed to our being rushed at its end. The cooking was indeed intricate and labour-intensive – to produce so many dishes, each with so many components, was impressive, especially by a kitchen of some fifteen chefs – however, the consistency of quality throughout was less than consummate. The errors with the langoustine and thun come immediately to mind.
On the one hand, I am sure there are some who will argue that if one orders a twenty-five course lunch, they ought to expect a lot of food and if one course or even two are off, it is only trivial in the greater scheme of things; but on the other, I am certain that a chef ought not to offer such an option, should they not be able to accomplish it faultlessly.
If anything, it seemed that Wissler was trying too hard. Every dish, each calling for an immense effort to deliver, was loaded with elaborate elements with some even partnered with additional plates. One of my main objections was with these secondary sides – in no instance did one augment its principal. That being said though, the bouillon that was brought with Leipziger allerlei was delicious; so much so that this could even have been served solo. A last point on this was the repetitive sauce pouring. I do appreciate this practice – attaching theatre to the experience, adding animation to a dish, enhancing aromas and introducing new ones – however its constant use (once two were poured during a single course) become simply monotonous.
Vendôme was enjoyable, but not impeccable. Wissler is a fine chef with clearly a lot of talent – his dishes showed great imagination, thought and technical ability – but this meal, in my opinion, could have been improved with a little refinement of maybe just filtering. I think he should be applauded for his part in the evolution and expansion of German fine dining, but there seemed some rough edges still to be ironed out. Neue deutsche küche is neue by nature though and it is something that is developing – with time, things are bound to improve.
But today, it just seemed that somewhere within my good meal there was an even better one.