Vendome has a pleasantly refurbished dining room since my last visit. The room is light and airy, and tables are very generously spaced. Joachim Wissler now has a lengthy tasting menu which we tried. This was not for the faint hearted: 24 courses which took us just over six hours of elapsed time.
A trio of nibbles began the meal. Eel with crispy pork skin had lovely smoky flavour, baked polenta with mackerel was very clean-tasting, and goat cheese and watercress had very smooth texture – a classy start to the meal. Sometimes the amuse-bouches, even in serious restaurants, are regarded almost as an afterthought, but not here (10/10). Crisp bread was topped with tiny mussels and shrimp tasted fresh, though perhaps there are limits to what you can do with this kind of thing (8/10).
Caramelised “forest” was a series of sugar-coated crisps: beetroot, artichoke, leek, cauliflower, celery, seaweed and spinach. This was well matched with a goat cheese and yogurt dip; I would have preferred the crisps to have less sugar, but they were very well made, crispy and tasting of their respective ingredients (9/10). Parmesan “coral” was shaped a little like a coral reef, alongside goose liver Panna cotta with silky texture and deep liver flavour, and Parmesan candyfloss (10/10).
An initial slice of foccacia appears then a basket with various bread rolls: cumin, tomato and basil, olive, saffron and ginger, bacon, spelt, sea salt and red lentil flour. I enjoyed the one made with red lentil flour, and the bacon roll, but the olive bread was rather dry, and the bread is perhaps not the strongest suit of the restaurant (8/10 bread). Butter was from Bernard Antony.
Next was oyster with green apple (Granny Smith), sauerkraut pearls and foam of wasabi and apple. Oysters are not really my thing but it had a suitably briny taste, and the wasabi foam was a clever way of adding a little bite (9/10). Grilled langoustine was served with a puree of basmati rice, a salad of two seaweeds and a light sauce of green apple, tonic water and onion, with a basil crisp as garnish. The problem with this was that the langoustine itself was not the very best; its texture was certainly far from bad (some taste like cotton wool) but it let down the dish (7/10).
Cuttlefish salad restored the flow, with candied peanuts, cucumber, roasted spring onion and miso cream. The cuttlefish had excellent texture without a hint of chewiness, the miso cream added a little oriental note, and the other elements had enjoyable complimentary textures. On the side was a lovely marshmallow of sepia (i.e. calamari) which worked very well (10/10). Next was a nod to a traditional German dish “Leipziger Allerlei”, a hotchpotch of stone crayfish with crumbs of mustard seed bread, morels (which oddly were cold and had limited taste). The crayfish had lovely taste but the morels were an odd slip (8/10). However on the side was a little cup of perhaps the best shellfish bouillon I have tasted; it had dazzling intensity of flavour (10/10 for the bouillon).
Lake trout tasted fresh and was topped with a little chard caviar, with a horseradish cream which lifted the dish well, and a light herb sauce (9/10). Next was grilled skate, timed very well, with a gnocchi made from rice, as well as soy sprouts, cucumber sauce, baked peas and iced coconut fat. The odd-sounding elements actually worked well together, and the skate was strikingly good (10/10). A pair of snails were dusted with a powder of morels, served with a puree of parsley and a delicate garnish of “paper” of vinegar caramel, giving a pleasing texture contrast to the snails (9/10). Tuna “fish and chips” had the tuna served on a tuna bone, a nice little piece of theatre that would have worked if the tuna itself had been better; while tasting quite good, it was a little greasy, while some chips on the side were simply soggy, serve with a bean puree that overwhelmed the tomato powder and the caramelised black olive in sugar paper it was served alongside. In theory this could have been an interesting take on a deconstructed “Nicoise” but the overly strong bean paste, the poor chips and the less than perfect tuna didn’t really deliver (6/10).
Cod fillet came with cod tongue, which had really deep taste, alongside sugar peas, lardo bacon, radishes and a lovely sugar snap pea mousse; the peas had terrific flavour (10/10). For me the best single element of the meal was a remarkable “paper” of roast pork, a delicate ultra-thin layer which flaked apart when touched and yet had deep pork taste on the tongue as it melted in the mouth. This was served next to a spoon containing a little pork liver, roasted onion, mash and apple puree which worked beautifully together (10/10). Juvelin suckling pig was prepared in a number of forms: the shoulder was served with lentils, blood sausage with Jerusalem artichoke and also a lovage sauce. The crackling was simply superb, and the effort in the process of making just the crackling will illustrate the amount of work going on here: the fat is taken off the meat, baked in the oven, mixed with olive oil, the excess oil drained and then pasted on to a surface prior to cooking; all this for just one element of the dish (10/10).
The last savoury dish was very slow cooked beef that was falling apart in texture, marinated in vinegar and red wine, next to a sandwich of pumpkin seed bread with a filling of beef jelly, a red chard salad, bone marrow and a deep green puree of Swiss chard. Though rich, the dish had wonderful deep taste, and the chard offered some relief from the richness (10/10). Before the sweet courses was a rather odd dish of Fontina cheese cream with tomato, tartar of aubergine, foccacia and topped with a fillet of mackerel; I am not sure this was such a great idea personally.
Caramelised panna cotta was served with a sorbet of tarte tatin (!), cheesecake, cream of Marscapone and milk skin, which all actually tasted a lot better than it may sound (8/10). The best dessert was rhubarb compote with cream of ginger, the rhubarb not having too much sharpness and going so well with the ginger (10/10). There was also coconut ice cream, a yoghurt “snowball” stuffed with rhubarb cream, and a final dark chocolate dessert made from Valrhona chocolate and stuffed with egg nog liquor (9/10). Excellent coffee with petit fours completed this vast meal. I was pleased that some touches of German cuisine popped in; most of the top German chefs seem to stick very much to French cooking, perhaps with Asian touches, so it was good to see at least a nod to the local cuisine.
Inevitably over such a lengthy journey there are going to be minor bumps in the road, and it is possible to find flaws in a few dishes. Yet overall the standard was remarkably high, with the cooking inventive and modern in a positive way: to create interesting combinations and textures that work together, never to shock or to show off a technique for the sake of it. Some elements, such as the shellfish bouillon and the pork paper, were truly memorable. A tour de force from a gifted chef. The long tasting menu costs EUR 245.