Auberge de l'Ill

2 Rue de Colonges, Illhaeusern, France

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Chef interview

Marc Haeberlin is head chef of the Auberge de l'Ill, one of the prettiest three-star restaurants, on the bank of a river in a village in Alsace.

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Auberge de l’Ill opened in 1950, owned by Paul Haeberlin, whose family had run an inn and café in the little town of Illhauseren. The property has a particularly pretty setting, looking out over the river Ill, with a weeping willow just outside the picture window and an attractive garden adjacent to the dining room. The dining room is spread out in order to maximise the view over the river, capable of seating up to a hundred guests. 

It gained a Michelin star in 1952, a second in 1957 and the ultimate third star in 1967, which it has retained ever since. Only Paul Bocuse has held three stars for (two years) longer. The original owner Paul’s son, Marc Haeberlin, has been in charge of the kitchen since 1976. There was a menu available at €129 (£93) but I wanted to try some dishes from the full carte. The wine list was extensive, mostly but not entirely French. Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2002 was €69 compared to a shop price of €63, Josmeyer Riesling Hengst 2005 was €95 for a bottle that retails at €65, and Didier Dagenau Silex 2011 at €205 compared to its current market price of €103. There are plenty of posher labels too, such as Gevrey Chambertin Rousseau Clos St Jacques 2001 a relative bargain at €335 compared to its retail price of €599 and the glorious Guigal La Landonne 1983 at a less kindly €1,300 for a bottle that will set you back €620.

A trio of nibbles comprised a corn cake with chorizo jelly and popcorn, rice tuile with black sesame cream, goose liver and smoked eel, and a pastry finger with local herbs.  The pastry was the pick of these, ultra delicate (18/20 average). A further amuse-bouche was ravioli stuffed with oxtail served with onion soup and a crouton stuffed with chives. This was very enjoyable though the soup could have had deeper flavour (17/20). A trio of breads were offered: baguette, bacon and chestnut roll and a granary seed bread, all having good texture and tasting very fresh (18/20).

My starter was quail that had been deboned and made into a maki roll and then sliced, with confit of the thigh meat with a jus and Japanese salad. This was stunning, the quail flavour glorious, the jus rich and intense and the mix of textures working beautifully (20/20).

As an intermediate course I tried one of the more traditional courses, salmon soufflé flavoured with pike and nutmeg and served with Riesling sauce. This was a beautifully cooked dish from another era, the fish tucked under the fluffy soufflé, the sauce creamy and rich (18/20).

I had partridge, served alongside cabbage stuffed with the liver and heart of the bird with black truffle, as well as wild mushrooms and caramelised onion. This was a classy dish, the bird having lovely texture and flavour, the cabbage nicely balancing the richness, and a glorious rich sauce of the cooking juices of the kind that only top French kitchens really seem to know how to make properly (19/20). I also tasted a little of my companion’s venison with apricots and spaetzle, which was similarly superb (19/20).

An exotic fruit tart involved lemon cream, lemon sorbet, mango and meringue, a lovely and refreshing way to finish the meal (19/20). Excellent coffee came with petit fours of coffee macaron, magnificent mango tart, cherry cake, apple marshmallow and superb almond tuile (19/20).

Service was silky smooth and the bill came to €455 for two with just some glasses of wine, which works out at £164 a head. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head would be around £150 or so, which does not seem to me unreasonable given the quality of ingredients and level of work going into the dishes. It was great to see Auberge de l’Ill back on form after the rather disappointing meal I had here way back in 2002. This was proper cooking, with elaborate technique based on top quality ingredients, the menu a pleasing mix of classical and more modern dishes, so you can take whichever path you prefer.  All this plays out in a glorious riverside setting that surely must be one of the prettiest locations for any restaurant. 

Further reviews: 14th Jun 2018 | 01st Jun 2002 | 23rd Jun 1996

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User comments

  • David Woodhead

    We spent a night here a couple of weeks ago. There are so many positives about the place - its setting, the welcome and the service, to say nothing of the history of the restaurant - that it seems churlish to say that our experience was let down by the food. We had the tasting menu and, of the four savoury dishes, two seemed to me to be distinctly ordinary - a lobster minestrone and a roast rack of lamb with variations on carrot. We were not expecting cutting edge cuisine at this restaurant, but these dishes lacked the level of ambition and interest that we would expect at a 3*. In fact, the rack of lamb reminded me of the times this is served up at functions in the UK. This in turn made me reflect on the very large number of guests who seemed to be dining at the restaurant, and to wonder whether the kitchen approaches the tasting menu almost as an exercise in mass catering. Certainly, for the first time in a 3* restaurant, I was also left wondering whether the kitchen's skills would have been better reflected had we opted for the à la carte.