Germany. It was the best of times; it was the wurst of times

Sunday, October 05th , 2008

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I spent this week travelling to the remaining four 3 star Michelin restaurants I had yet to visit in Germany. I am not at all sure why, but in the English speaking press all that you hear about are British, American, Spanish and French chefs. Yet I would say that Germany has the most consistently high standard amongst any country at the 3 star level. Sure, at the basic level German food has nothing much to recommend it unless you like sausages and offal, but you can eat badly at the basic level everywhere (as a truly hideous lunch in Rome proved last week).
France has wonderful restaurants, but at the three star level there are still some relics like Georges Blanc and Paul Bocuse to spoil the overall story. As for Spain, well, I have yet to understand where the Spanish Michelin inspectors are coming from, while the UK and the US can really only boast a couple of restaurants between them that are without doubt deserving of their three stars. Germany now has nine, a sudden surge from the six of 2007, and I was curious to see whether the standard had been kept or whether the German Michelin inspectors were just trying to keep up with their Spanish colleagues and spraying stars about like confetti.
There is nothing old-fashioned about Amador , whose Spanish chef shows how very modern technique does not mean that you have to forget about ingredients and flavour. There were aspects that I felt were a little contrived, but I found this a more enjoyable experience than any place in Spain. While this is the kind of “Harry Potter food” (hat tip to JA for this neat summation of molecular gastronomy) that I am not usually fond of, it was hard to not enjoy this meal.
Gastehas Erfort was the only place that seemed to me to have been carried along by grade inflation. It was a very solid two star meal, but I did not think it worthy of three stars. To be fair, the prices were also more at 2 star level, but while the cooking was solid in its technique it did not excite me.
Bareiss is a just a few miles away from the other Black Forest three star, Schwarzwaldstrube, but I felt that it definitely had the edge on the cooking. Both restaurants are in hotels in spectacular settings, but Bareiss seems to me to have moved on and eclipsed its neighbour. The meal was lovely in just about every aspect, a true 3 star experience. 
Best of all was the meal this week at Christian Bau at Schloss Berg. The meal we had here was close to perfection, course after course of imaginative, technically perfect cooking using superb ingredients (example pictured). All the little details were of the highest standard, from the perfect foccacia to the perfect salted caramels, as well as the primary dishes. Germany may not be the most fashionable area for cooking, and lacks the self-publicity of Spain and France, but Christian Bau can certainly be counted among the top chefs in the world as far as I am concerned. Take the time to look through the pictures of this meal and savour what a truly fine chef can deliver. 
After all that I did dash back straight from the plane for a curry at the Brilliant, as there is only so much 3 star food that I can eat without craving something spicier. Some simpler fare is in order next week.