Vendome has proper 3 star cooking
Saturday, June 30th , 2007
The Cinnamon Club continues to pack them in despite its quite high prices. I love that they use high quality ingredients here, with excellent Anjou pigeon and French blackleg chicken. The Westminster Library is a superb space in which to dine, and the cooking is generally quite capable. However you do pay for the setting and the prices are the main caveat here.
I generally dread eating in the UK outside London, and have a severe distrust of gastropubs, most of which seem to me to produce lazy food at surprisingly high prices. However there were no such concerns at the Hinds Head, which is owned by Heston Blumenthal. Though the menu seems to be pretty much chiseled in stone, the dishes were well made and enjoyable, the kind of British cooking you always hope for and hardly ever get. Moreover you can eat perfect chips, which are the same triple cooked chips as in the Fat Duck.
However the highlight of the week was a short trip to Germany. Bergisch Gladbach, like Bray, is home to two three Michelin star restaurants. I had been to the excellent Dieter Muller previously, but not to Vendome. Set in a very grand location (pictured), the food here was dazzling. In a lengthy tasting menu Joachim Wissler demonstrated superb technique and invention in dish after dish. There were inventive touches but no weird excesses, and every flavour on the plate had its place. True top end three star cooking, a step up from anything to be had in the UK.
I also ventured to Zur Traube, which has two stars and is rated very highly by some critics. I think sentiment must be playing a factor here, since although the cooking was probably quite cutting edge in 1980, it has not moved on at all, and was really only one star level. The public have made their own mind up, and there were just four diners here all evening, including us. Prices were as high as Vendome, which is bewildering, but then I got a clue as to why the dated cooking may not be the only reason the place is empty. We had a faulty bottle of dessert wine and it became clear that the chef/owner did not agree that the wine was off, despite the surreal mahogany colour of the wine, the oxidation on the nose, the fact that the cork disintegrated when pulled and the wine had lost most of its intended sweetness (oh, and the waitress who pulled the cork saying: "uh oh, that seems off" when she poured it). The chef stormed out of the kitchen, shouted at us and then stomped off to sit at a table to drink for the rest of the evening. Despite my years of dining at the restaurants of chefs with such famously placid temperaments as Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Tom Aikens, I never once had a chef shout at me until this week. Now I may be naive, but I would say that a restaurant where there are more staff than diners in it is a place where a modicum of courtesy to customers might be a good commercial plan. A shame as the meal was otherwise very pleasant, if really only 1 star level cooking at 3 star prices.