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Serious dining in Germany

Friday, September 17th , 2010

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This week I had the pleasure of enjoying meals at two of the best three star Michelin restaurants anywhere in the world, Schloss Berg (Christian Bau) and Hotel Sonnora (chef Helmut Thieltges). They are an interesting contrast in style. Bau is 26 years younger than Thieltges, and creates at times complex modern dishes with a significant Japanese influence. Helmut Thieltges follows a more classical, restrained style, with an emphasis on consistency. Both bring to bear top quality ingredients and exemplary technical skill, as well as good presentation (an example from Sonnora is pictured). Both are truly gifted chefs at the top of their game. The meal at Schloss Berg had a few more exciting moments, with certain dishes with flavours that took my breath away. Yet the Sonnora meal was almost faultless throughout, keeping up a level of cooking throughout the meal that most chefs can only dream of. I would be hard pressed to choose between these simply magnificent meals, and the sad thing will be coming down to reality back in the UK.

The Royal Oak near Maidenhead delivered an excellent meal this week, with my favourite dish being a rabbit and bacon pie that was exactly what I wanted from a pie but so rarely find: good pastry, tender meat, strong flavour, rich gravy and bold seasoning – sounds simple, but how often have we all endured watery, tasteless pies? A blackberry trifle was also excellent, and indeed the whole meal was very impressive.

It is a lot easier to get a decent steak in London these days, with Hawksmoor and Maze Grill raising the (admittedly pretty low) level than. I felt that Goodman edged out even these excellent venues when it comes to beef, the combination of US corn-fed beef and a high-end Josper grill ensuring a terrific result. Other dishes varied, but a prawn tempura was surprisingly good, and service was extremely good, friendly and capable.

The Fish Shop on St John Street is a pleasant place handily placed for Sadlers Wells, and over the years I have usually had a decent meal there. This week lemon sole, served on the bone, was quite good, though let down by some undercooked vegetables. However haddock and chips were fine, though mushy peas were not. It is not a destination restaurant by any means, but if you need somewhere to eat after a show at Sadlers Wells then you could do a lot worse, especially given that the area has seen its dining options shrink recently (Quality Chop House and Eastside having closed).

I picked up my copy of the 2011 Zagat Guide to London at an event at Koffmanns this week; it was an A-Z of the London food scene, with Brett Graham, Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smythe and Andrew Turner amongst the attendees, as well as the Zagats themselves. Interestingly The Ledbury this year won the “best food” award in the Zagat survey.

The third series of “Masterchef: The Professionals” starts on BBC2 on Monday 27th September at 8 p.m. As in the previous two series, I feature at the quarter final stages as a guest critic; if you are interested, the episodes in which I appear are:

Episode 3 Thursday 30th September 8.00 p.m.
Episode 12 Thursday 21st October 8.00 p.m.

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