Schloss Berg is a small hotel in an old house attached to a casino in the south west of Germany, very near the border with Luxembourg. Away from the buzz of the casino in a separate building is the small dining room that houses chef Christian Bau. The dining room (with a private dining room also available) has a maximum of 30 covers at any given sitting. One change since my previous visits is that there is no longer an a la carte menu: you specify any allergies or preferences in advance, and the kitchen then prepares a menu for you based on the best available produce.
We began with amuse-bouches of very high quality macadamia nuts, delicate Parmesan chips and rolls filled with Parma ham. Additionally there was a shot glass of a moquito of whipped cream and mint, enlivened by a little spice, with a mousse of swordfish apple and fennel with an espuma of green apple. These were top of the range nibbles. A “Panini” of duck liver cream with hazelnut had lovely depth, the nuts providing a welcome contrast of texture. An old favourite, beef tartare with quail egg and osetra caviar, a beautifully balanced creation, completed the round of amuse-bouches. Some excellent home-made foccacia with rosemary bread was served warm, and was as near to perfect foccacia as I have eaten. This was served with butter from Normandy.
The first course as such was soup of carrot and ginger with coriander jelly and an infusion of apple and coriander – the carrot flavour was superb, and the acidity of the apple combined with the spice of the coriander and ginger worked really well (20/20). Next was crab, served both cold and in the form of a warm croquette of crab, plus and enoki mushrooms; the warm croquette in particular had beautiful texture (20/20).
The next dish sounds very simple: Parmesan foam with duck liver, and yet I can hardly begin to describe the remarkable depth of flavour obtained from the liver, and just how well the Parmesan foam imparts an extra layer of flavour to this rich dish – it is simply magnificent (20/20). Tuna roll was served with some toro tuna, soy marshmallow and quinoa, with pickles, wasabi cream and Japanese mayonnaise; on the side was tuna with avocado cream with Japanese stock. The quality of the tuna was impeccable, and the balance of oriental spices carefully orchestrated (20/20).
Raw langoustines were served on goose liver terrine jelly with smoked almonds, ice cream of goose liver and Maldon sea salt. This was very enjoyable, but the liver flavour was so dominant that the langoustine flavour was almost lost (19/20). Next was an impressive dish of artichokes: grilled and also baked, with Parmesan and artichoke chips, coriander and a little bacon. To take a relatively humble ingredient such as artichoke and make it taste this good speaks volume to me about the skill of the kitchen – seasoning, as throughout the meal, was very accurate here (20/20).
The wonderful red prawns from the Mediterranean, gamberoni, were cooked just right and served with cream of cauliflower and an infusion of algae, garnished with Japanese seaweed – I am not sure what the infusion really added here, but the prawns were superb (19/20). Turbot was next, with seawater tapioca, quinoa, carrot chutney, asparagus, samphire tempura and foam of ras el hanout and herbs. This was an elaborate mix of ingredients, yet the combination of textures and the carefully controlled spices worked very well (20/20).
Next, wild sea bass was served with baked okra, seaweed and smoked eel, with cream of aubergine pesto and dashi. The sea bass itself was impeccable, and the eel of superb quality (19/20). For the meat course, Sisteron lamb (from Provence) was the star: lamb belly, sweetbreads and mushrooms were combined with yam and black garlic crumble. I have never eaten better lamb than this – its flavour was truly dazzling (20/20).
A dessert of ice coffee with granite of espresso and cream had deep coffee flavour (18/20). A complex “banana split” dessert had Valrhona ganache, vanilla ice cream and chocolate crisps, banana jelly and marshmallows of mint and cherry. This felt like a component or two too many to me, but the execution was very good (maybe 19/20). As before, the desserts seem to me to be the weak link of the kitchen, almost an afterthought compared to the tremendous effort and thought that goes into the savoury dishes.
Overall this was another dazzling meal, my third here. The Asian influence seems to be strengthening in Christian Bau’s cooking, but as ever the quality of ingredients was impeccable, seasoning precise and technical execution faultless. The flow of the meal moved up and down in terms of richness, and I am not sure whether the sequence of the dishes was quite optimal, while at times there seemed one component too many. Yet in general the balance of textures and the control of these at times complex dishes was outstanding. This is cooking of the highest order.
Below are notes from a meal in April 2009.
Since my visit last year the dining room has been significantly refurbished, and the result is much improved, with a more modern feel. The china is hand-made from a Berlin porcelain maker, Madame Hering. We began with some nibbles: a delicate tartelette of tomato and pesto with lovely, melting pastry, a light swordfish and oyster sabayon with apple foam, tuna with avocado cream, tapenade cream and basil foam, and chorizo cream rolls whose chorizo taste came through really well (20/20).
A cornet of beef tartare garnished with imperial caviar and cream of smoked eel was terrific, the eel flavour coming through really strongly and working well as a contrast to the beef (20/20). Finally as a nibble was a chilled tomato and olive oil soup, with drops of buffalo mozzarella, tiny calamari and a smooth sherbet of tomatoes. Again the depth of flavour of the tomatoes was remarkable (20/20). Bread had a light foccacia, sourdough, plain, poppy seed bread, black bread, sunflower seed bread and grain breads. These had excellent texture and good seasoning; salted Normandy butter (Echiré) is provided, as well as olive oil from Calabria (19/20 on average, some better).
The first proper course was goose liver from Alsace with truffle and a mousse of Parmesan. It was one of the most perfect foie gras dishes I have ever eaten, the Parmesan mousse and foam a lovely combination with the liver (20/20). Raviolo of smoked salmon had an oyster filling and was garnished with caviar of char and a green apple foam whose acidity was an excellent balance to the richness of the smoked salmon; the dish was garnished with a few tiny beans and shoots (20/20). Tartare of crab was served with a dashi jelly, watermelon both grilled and as a sorbet, with colourful dots of saki and mirin-based mayonnaise, watermelon reduction and pesto. On the side was delicate kataifi (middle eastern pastry) with a crab filling, which reminded me a little of the angel-hair pasta dish at the old Lucas Carton (20/20).
Next was a goose liver gateau with green tea crisp, mango jelly and goose liver ice cream with mango compote. The fruit was an excellent foil to the rich liver taste, and the foie gras itself had magnificent texture (20/20). Next was superb blue-fin tuna tartare with a Japanese jelly (made with shiso) and ponzu air. On one side was a lovely salad of abalone and Japanese vegetables, on the other a separate tartare of tuna in a chilled cucumber soup, with tapioca pearls giving an interesting textural dimension, with apple and wasabi ice cream providing acidity and a little bite (20/20).
A beautiful scallop was sweet and perfectly timed, with baby green asparagus, carrot chutney, roasted quinoa, herb mousseline and foam of ras-al-hanout (a Moroccan spice mix). The roasted quinoa was a clever idea, giving a crunchy texture contrast to the rest of the dish, with the baby asparagus having lovely taste (20/20). Blue lobster was lightly poached without a hint of chewiness, served with more excellent morels and tiny broad beans, with a green pea puree and vin jaune sauce. Seasoning was very careful, and the fine produce really spoke for itself. It is very rare that even top restaurants do a good job with lobster, but this was a superb dish (20/20).
Turbot from Brittany was served with leeks and a salad of herbs, a puree of parsley and a Jabugo ham sauce, alongside a chicken oyster glazed with hoisin sauce. The combination of the fish, subtle ham sauce and the parsley both looked pretty and worked well as a combination, while the tasty chicken oyster was a revelation, enlivened by its oriental glaze (20/20).
Next was Challons duck (from Mièral), served simply with a ravioli of celery and a puree of celery topped with celery leaves, with a jus flavoured with tamarind and coffee. I was a bit worried about this last element, but the coffee was very subtle, and the tamarind gave a gentle sweetness (19/20). The final savoury course was a piece of beef grilled over charcoal, with an aubergine mash and miso, with tempura of asparagus, broccoli, potato and enoki mushrooms on the side. This dish was all about the beef itself, and what a piece it was. The meat comes from a German supplier who specialises in high quality Japanese-style beef, and this was from an American black wagyu cow, the meat having extremely good marbling. While I have had even more marbled beef than this a couple of times in Japan, it can reach the point where the texture is remarkably buttery but the flavour also can seem buttery; here the slab of beef still had a distinct and lovely beefy taste, yet was superbly tender. Certainly this was one of the best few pieces of beef I have tasted (20/20).
For dessert we had an ice cream of lemon with white chocolate and popping candy, and iced mouse of Amalfi lemon on a slab of blood orange. A warm tart of rhubarb and crumble with foam of Marscapone and ginger was excellent, with just a hint of acidity from the rhubarb. Also very impressive was a sherbet of uzu with a tarte of lemon and a grapefruit mousse, with deep flavour (desserts from 19/20 to 20/20). At the very end was a chocolate “earth” made form 70% Valrhona chocolate with coffee jelly and passion fruit cream; the texture was interesting, but I found this the least good of the desserts (it is all relative, still perhaps 18/20). A barrage of chocolates (such as salted caramel, and passion fruit and coconut) and petit fours with dark, rich coffee completed the experience.
This was simply a dazzling meal. Normally if you are lucky in a three star restaurant you will get one really memorable dish, but inevitably there are some (hopefully minor) disappointments. In this meal dish after dish was superb, with fabulous ingredients, clever combinations of flavours, superb technical execution and attractive presentation. I have to think back to the days of Joel Robuchon in his prime to recall a complete meal of this quality. Christian Bau is without doubt one of the most gifted chefs in the world today, and I hope that he gets wider recognition from an English-speaking food press who seem happy to fawn over considerably less able chefs from other countries. If you love food, do yourself a favour, take a flight to Luxembourg and eat the food at Schloss Berg.
Our excellent female sommelier kindly paired my courses with a set of German wines to match the various dishes. It is a testament to the depth of the German wine industry that this worked very well, yet it is hard to even buy a decent Germany wine in the UK. For the record I sampled the following wines during the meal: 2006 Serriger Schloss Saarstein Riesling Auslese Feinherb Weingut Schloss Saarstein from Saar (which went well with the goose liver). Then 2007 Goldberg Riesling Weingut van Volxem from Saar.
Next was 2005 Riesling Held Sybille Kunst from the Mosel. Then 2006 Riesling Schieferterrassen Weingut Heymann-Lowenstein from Mosel, then 2007 Keuper Grauburgunder Spätlese dry Weingut Dr. Wehrheim from Pfalz. Next was 2007 Chardonnay Trocken Weingut Alexander Laible from Baden, then 2007 Ganshorn Im Sonnenschein Riesling Weingut Okonmierat Rebholz from Pfalz. This was followed by 2006 Grauburgunder dry Weingut Johner from Baden, then 2006 Spatburgunder Sternenberg Weingut Dulin from Baden. Next was 2004 Nikodemus Weingut Ellwanger from Württemberg, then 1997 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spätlese Weingut Grans-Fassian from Mosel, and finally 1992 Elysium Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht from Pfalz. The pairing was highly successful, and I was pleased the sommelier could demonstrate such a wide range of styles from Germany, including red wine.
What follows are notes from a meal in October 2008.
The floor is marble and there are wooden beams visible in the ceiling. The walls are cream and the tables well spaced, with quite good lighting from various side lamps. Chairs are comfortable and traditional, with red and blue striped upholstery. The room has a welcoming but luxurious feel, with Limoges china used. It did not need the background muzak.
We went for a tasting menu, which is listed at EUR 185. There is a choice of seven mineral waters, such as Voss at EUR 14, or the local water at EUR 8.50. The wine list has 22 pages each of white and red wines, with choices such as Ridge Geyserville 2001 at EUR 50 for a wine that costs EUR 23 in the shops, JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenurh Riesling Kabinett 2003 at a very fair EUR 45 for a wine that costs at least EUR 30 in the shops. We let the very knowledgeable female sommelier choose a flight of wines to suit the menu. We began with a trio of nibbles, a cocktail of melon which did not have very strong flavour, a crisp cannelloni stuffed with tasty chorizo cream, and a tartelette of tomato with delicate pastry. All very nice but this did not prepare us for the delights to come.
An oyster, salmon and fennel tart garnished with little leaves was a very successful mix of flavours and textures (20/20) while smoked sardine and a jelly of lemon made a lovely nibble out of the humble sardine (19/20). A cone of tartare of beef with caviar was also lovely (19/20). A slice of foccacia made with rosemary and thyme was served warm at this point, and was simply superb, the bread meltingly soft, the herbs adding an extra dimension; this was the best foccacia I have eaten (20/20).
A chilled soup of tomatoes and olive oil had within it tender lobster, squid, radish, buffalo mozzarella and a tomato sorbet. The flavour of the tomatoes was remarkable, and the other elements tasted individually lovely as well as working together nicely (20/20). A small basket of breads, white rolls, sesame seed roll and pumpernickel breads were all excellent, the pumpernickel bread in particular having dazzling taste (20/20).
Sushi of langoustine was very delicate, served with light tempura of salicorn (samphire) and ponzu air, which gave a welcome freshness while still letting the beautiful flavour of the langoustine speak for itself (19/20). Crayfish and scallop carpaccio was served with candied fruits (avocado, apple) and had exceptionally clean flavour (20/20). Next for me was terrine of foie gras from Landes with an ice cream of goose liver. The foie gras parfait was topped with a layer of coffee and morello cherry cubes. The foie gras itself was silky and had wonderful rich flavour, while the cherry and coffee flavours offset the richness perfectly (20/20).
Next was belly of pork with caviar of prawn and a green apple mousse lending a balance of acidity (19/20). Loin of blue-fin tuna was served with a salad of mushrooms, with an aioli of sesame, an amazingly delicate fried soft shell crab and a little soup with tuna tartare, wasabi and green apple; the tuna itself was superb and the taste elements went together particularly well (20/20).
Atlantic turbot was next, served with ravioli of prawn and tartare of prawn, and a compote of peppers with infusion of crustaceans. The turbot was very high quality and timed to the second, the prawns also excellent (19/20). Veal from Limousin was served in three ways, as a saddle, a sweetbread and as a croustillant with excellent crunchy texture. This was complemented by terrific cauliflower (perfectly cooked al dente), a jus of cauliflower and a sherry vinegar (19/20).
Venison loin from the Eiffel was my main course, served with a mole sauce that is nothing like the brown chocolate mess you sometimes see in ambitious Mexican restaurants in the US: here the chocolate was just used to thicken the meat juices, with a little carefully controlled use of spices, resulting in a thick, gorgeous complement to the perfectly cooked meat. This was served with a ravioli of black pudding and a selection of perfectly cooked autumn vegetables (sweetcorn, mushrooms, beetroot), a natural foil for the venison (20/20).
Cheese is from Bernard Anthony of Alsace, perhaps the top affineur, who supplies many of the top end 3 star restaurants. Unlike some places, the cheese here is delivered weekly, meaning it is in excellent condition. Brillat Savarin was very creamy, St Maure soft and not chalky, St Nectaire excellent, as well as the aged Comte for which Anthony is famous (20/20).
Pineapple Victoria had cream of coconut and a sorbet of coconut and pineapple, with a guava jelly and lime, with a little tuile as garnish (19/20). To finish off the meal was an interpretation of black forest gateau. A ganache of bitter chocolate was superb, served with ragout of cherries, a sherbet of cherries, a kirsch bonbon and little cubes of cherry; the presentation was exquisite, as was the taste (20/20).
Petit fours kept up the standard of the meal, with an apricot tart, creamy marzipan, almond jelly, raspberries all superb (20/20). Assorted chocolates included hazelnut, mint, rum ganache, passion fruit amongst many others. A measure of how good these were is that the salted caramel was far superior to the excellent version at Artisan du Chocolat, which may be the best you can get in the UK. Service was superb throughout, welcoming and attentive, never missing a beat.
This was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Perhaps its obscure location in a corner of Germany means it does not get the press attention of a 3 star in somewhere like Paris, yet Christian Bau’s cooking is simply magnificent.