It is hard to think of a less likely setting for a three Michelin star restaurant than Wolfsburg, an industrial town between Berlin and Hanover known mainly for its Volkswagen car plant. The factory building, which vaguely reminded me of Battersea Power Station in London but on a far bigger scale, dominates the town, and alongside the original brick towers is a Ritz Carlton hotel and a carefully landscaped sequence of artificial lakes and gardens. There are twin 50 metre high glass towers packed with cars on conveyor belts, which apparently are just about the last stage in the manufacturing process; some people come to the plant to pick up their new cars from this area.
The ground floor Aqua restaurant fortunately looks out over a grassy knoll and one of the artificial lakes; as we look out of the window we saw a pair of rabbits and even a family of geese wandering by just in front of the dining room, which added a surreal dimension to this otherwise industrial landscape. Tables are well spaced and the dining room is modern. There was a six course menu at EUR 140 and a nine course one at EUR 190, and a four course option at EUR 115. Chef Sven Elderfeld trained at Dieter Muller, amongst other places, after starting as a pastry chef; his cooking style is modern.
The 39-page wine list ranged widely, with a whole page of Greek wines, for example. Mark-ups seemed erratic. My favourite Alion 2002 was listed at EUR 130 for a wine that retails at around €38. Jermann Vintage Tunina was a scary €130 for a wine that costs about €33 in the shops, and Karthauserhof 2007 Spatlese Trocken was €55 for a wine that you can buy for around €15. Yet Kistler Russian River 2006 cost just €150 for a wine that you would struggle to buy for €100. Bread was a choice of superb sourdough, milk bread or rye bread, offered with a dip of goat cheese and cucumber as well as the more usual high end French butter (19/20).
To begin with was a set of snacks: obazda (a Bavarian cheese delicacy made from Camembert, cream cheese and butter) with cranberry jelly, shrimp cocktail and a sausage roll, a nice German touch. These each had lovely depth of flavour (20/20). Next to nibble was tomato marinated in caipirinha (Brazilian cocktail), spiced kefir (fermented milk) with bell pepper foam, Mozzarella with culatello ham, and crayfish with warm water-melon and cucumber (19/20). Gateau of foie gras was prettily presented with a transparent tuile on top and blobs of raspberry laced with Tasmanian pepper. The acidity of the raspberry and the spice of the pepper was a welcome contrast to the richness of the smooth and rich foie gras (19/20).
A salad of pea puree and dill was remarkable, the puree having superb taste of high quality peas, the leaves excellent (20/20). Marinated yellow fin tuna was next, surrounded by little blobs of separate sauces: red pepper, coconut, black garlic and next to mechouia (North African grilled salad). As well as the tuna being of high quality, each dot of sauce was hugely concentrated in flavour, providing a real lift to the fish (20/20).
Next was samlet (char) and caviar with seasonal white asparagus (from Neubokel) and a rhubarb sweet and sour sauce. The asparagus was magnificent, the acidity of the rhubarb working well with the fish (20/20). Red mullet was timed well and served with calamaretti in a light, citrus sauce, alongside some fresh almonds and gnocchi with Sobrassada (a spiced sausage from the Balearics). Again, technique was hard to fault (19/20).
Smoked eel had lovely taste, served with Boskop apple and parsnip, with the eel liver served alongside “Berlin style”; the apple and eel is an excellent combination, providing balance (19/20). “Tafelspitz” of lamb from Muntz was a sort of flat kebab, served as a square shape alongside squares of potato, Frankfurt sauce and a poached egg (18/20); very pretty presentation, though I wonder whether this is really the best way to use the fine lamb. Char-grilled Iberico Garimori pork was next up, served with intense essence of Andalusian tomatoes (both green and red). The pork (a flank cut) had lovely flavour with just a hint of the char-grill (19/20).
This was followed by a palate-cleansing champagne sorbet, made from vintage 2000 rosé Moet & Chandon, simple but with smooth texture and really tasting of champagne (19/20). My main course was a take on beef stroganoff. In this case there was fillet of stunning Simmental beef as well as a little spicy tartare of the same beef, alongside fondant potato, sour cream, gherkins and beetroot; a fine modern take on a classic dish (20/20).
Cheese was from top affineur Bernard Antony in Alsace, including his famous aged Comte and was as perfect as you might hope it would be, with just one token German cheese from a local supplier (20/20). For sweet was a crisp sphere of orange flavoured with Campari, a piece of technical wizardry which is far from original but is still pretty to look at. More importantly, the orange flavour was lovely and the Campari very carefully restrained, when it could so easily have overwhelmed (20/20).
Finally a gateau of Amedei chocolate with cherries was lovely, and for me would have been so much better without the taste of bell pepper (18/20). A trio of ice cream cones: rhubarb, strawberry, and avocado and lime finished things off, each had silky smooth texture and each tasted as it should (20/20). Coffee was also dark and rich, served with a perfect tuile (20/20).
Service was, to all intents and purposes, perfect. The dishes came at a steady pace, topping up was flawless, the waiting staff always on hand yet not visibly so. Overall, this is a restaurant that thoroughly deserves its three stars. The technique on display is considerable, and the sourcing of ingredients shows considerable care and attention. While there are a few touches that I found unnecessarily trendy, flavour combinations mostly made sense and presentation was also pretty throughout. The sommelier, at my request, concocted a wine pairing entirely of German wines, and did so skilfully. I particularly enjoyed the JJ Prum Auslese 2007 with the Campari and orange.
Given its location I doubt Aqua will get the attention it deserves, but it is worth the trip. The bill is hardly cheap, at just over EUR 330 per person including a long flight of wines paired to the dishes, but you can see where the money has gone. From the UK it is easiest to fly from London to Berlin, then go to the central station Hauptbanhof, from where an express train to Wolfsburg takes just over an hour.