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Margaux

Unter den Linden 78, Berlin, 10117, Germany

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Chef interview

Michael Hoffmann is chef/patron of Margaux in Berlin, which he runs with his wife Kathrin. He has earned a Michelin star for Margaux.

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Margaux opened in 2000 and is situated near the iconic Brandenburg Gate. The dining room is striking, with a marble floor, attractive back-lit onyx pillars and display cases holding large blocks of Himalayan salt. Tables are generously spaced, set with good quality linen tablecloths. The dining room can seat 65 people at full capacity and the kitchen is staffed by a dozen chefs. There is no a la carte menu, just six (140 euros) or eight course (180 euros) tasting menus, including a full vegetarian menu. This is more than a token gesture, as the chef Michael Hoffmann has a particular passion for vegetables. He has set up a dedicated garden near Berlin to supply the vegetables used in the kitchen, and most of the vegetables on the menu come from this garden. He has written a book (only in German) which goes into considerable depth about the seasonality of vegetables.

The 33 page wine list has extensive coverage of Germany, with additional wines from France, Italy and Spain in particular, with some rare wines such as a 1964 Marques de Murrietta Castilla Ygay (at €350 for a wine that is hard to find but would cost around €170 or so to buy). Egon Muller Kabinett Scharzhofberger 2008 was €110 for a wine that you can buy in a UK shop for around €24, my favourite JJ Prum Spatlese Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2006 was €90 for a wine that costs €27 in the UK, while by comparison the Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1994 was €120 compared to a UK retail price of around €42.

A nibble of chive and mint cream began the meal, the cream sandwiched in crisp bread garnished with garden herbs and cucumber. This worked well, the textural contrast of the crisp bread with the cream effective, and the cucumber and chives tasting very fresh (17/20).

This was followed by yeast mousse with fennel and jelly of yoghurt whey. The fennel taste came through well and the mousse had smooth texture (16/20). This was closely followed by a strudel filled with cucumber, guacamole sauce and cream of spiced yoghurt, with a cucumber ice cream. This was a very effective nibble, the cucumber having good flavour and the spicing nicely controlled, the spices working well with the guacamole. At this point the bread made an appearance. A simple mini baguette is the sole bread offered, but it was well made with a good crust, nicely seasoned; the bread is made from scratch in the kitchen (18/20).

The first proper course was mackerel, attractively presented in jelly of veal; the jelly was interesting and had a pleasant meaty taste, but the mackerel itself had a slight chewiness of texture, which I was not expecting. The dish was garnished with a line of of beetroot purée and a parallel line of parsley mouse. The vegetables had excellent flavour but I found the mackerel texture rather odd (16/20).

Next was sweet pepper with sepia and cuttlefish, green onion with spinach beets, candied lemon and a warm cream of vegetable as sauce, with a garnish of leeks. The vegetables were excellent but the cuttlefish was not the best I have had; the best specimens do not have the slight chewiness this one had (16/20 mainly due to the fine vegetables).

This was followed by salmon trout cooked sous vide, with a foam of apple and horseradish, with an emulsion of watercress, with garnishes of chestnut, salsify, black chanterelle and also powder of chanterelle. On the side a bouillon of autumn fruits was served. This was a much more successful dish, with the acidity of the apple balancing the salmon well, the salmon cooked carefully, and the chestnuts of high quality. The bouillon was also rich and had lovely depth of flavour (18/20).

Next was a deceptively simple dish of mixed autumn vegetables cooked in mineral water and thistles with a warm jus, served with a warm bouillon of vegetables; on the side was a bread with striped vegetable mousse topping. The vegetables were of very high quality, with the celeriac and carrot particularly good. I initially had trouble identifying the jus, as it was light yet rich, with a hint of sweetness; rather than a meat reduction this was in fact a reduction of vegetable stock cooked over 3 days: 50 litres of stock is eventually reduced to just one litre, which accounts for the great flavour intensity (19/20).

Next was cod and a razor clam with a shellfish broth and marinated prawn, and a garnish of cucumber The prawn was tender, as was the razor clam, and the sauce was good, but the cod itself did not have much flavour and was somewhat lukewarm (15/20).

This was followed by a warm candied eggplant with salted salad, smoked cream of Jerusalem artichokes and a garnish of artichokes with a little salt. This was an unusual dish, as it is uncommon to find sweetness in an aubergine, but the salt balanced out the sweetness nicely (18/20).

Next was a sandwich of violet potato on a base of jelly of violet potato, above which was a series of treatments of potato: cream of potato, then marinated, then dried potato, with egg custard, jus of turnip and wild herb cream. This was a very fine dish, really showing off just what can be done with a humble potato; the contrast of textures and techniques clearly showed a skilled kitchen (18/20).

Pigeon breast was cooked in sea salt, with a terrine of the pigeon leg cooked with vinegar. This was served with wild cabbage and grapes, cream of parsley and grapes and a sandwich of apple and sorrel, with marinated dry fruits and a vinegar jus with parsley cream; on the side was some warm cabbage with grape juice. This was an interesting dish, as the idea was to contrast the sour flavour from the vinegar with the richness of the pigeon, which I thought worked very effectively. It would be easy to mess this dish up, but the flavour balance was carefully balanced (18/20).

Dessert came in three stages. Poppy ice cream with poppy seed biscuit and pickled pear had a savoury pear juice service on the side. The pear was fine but I found the poppy seed flavour jarring (13/20). Next was foam of spruce with spruce sprout ash and jelly of hibiscus, with a biscuit of esterhaze and garden herbs. On the side was a nice plum ice cream but I just did not enjoy the taste of the spruce at all (13/20). 

An ice cream of praline with flamed nougat mousse and pickled fig was better, with both fresh and picked fig, though in this case the fig was merely pleasant rather than of particularly high quality (15/20). Papilotte of red peach was cooked with its own juices and lavender, the peach filed with almond paste. Quite apart from my dislike of shrubbery in my desserts, the execution here was also off, as the lavender completely killed the peach flavour (13/20).

After this dispiriting set of bizarre desserts, relief arrived in the form of little mignardise comprising a mini lemon tart, lemon cake with lemon jam, yoghurt roll, crispy roll of creme patisserie, a financier, a cocoa truffle, and a selection of chocolates: white chocolate with tea, dark chocolate with peppermint, dark chocolate with cocoa and rum, dark chocolate with tonka bean and white chocolate with vanilla. Although the lemon tart was over-sweetened, the financier was good, and in general these sweets were very nice. It was as if the pastry chef was saying: "see, I can make some nice sweets but, I just choose not to; now I am off to find some more weird herbs to put in the desserts". I know I am an old fashioned guy in this regard, and if people really want to eat desserts that taste of hedgerow then good luck to them, but I do not think that a restaurant should force its customers down this route, as was the case here where there is no menu choice. Coffee was good (16/20).

The bill came to 251 euros for one person including wine pairing; hardly cheap, but there were some star dishes on show. The service, led by the charming Kathrin Hoffmann, was excellent all evening, attentive and friendly. To me the strength here was in the treatment of vegetables, which showed a real dedication in the kitchen, exemplified by the careful sourcing and the superb vegetable stock. Next time I return I will probably opt for the vegetarian tasting menu, as for me that is where the chef's passion lies. This Is clearly a restaurant that can produce genuinely top class dishes, and the control of balancing flavors was impressive. If they can resist the temptation to nudge the vegetables into the dessert course and iron out one or two minor issues then I would see no reason for them not to gain a second star.

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  • Nic Moga

    I've never left retro-reviews on your site Andy but I'll make an exception here: Margaux was the first Michelin restaurant I ate in (September 2006) and I've been hooked ever since with almost two dozen covered on three continents. My visit here four years ago was like stepping into another world especially for someone who eats frozen dinners 90% of the time! I can still taste my John Dory with roasted pumpkin and Jerusalem artichokes.... the menu as you describe it seems to have advanced quite a bit, they were only offering a seven course one when I went but I'm glad you had a good experience. Tough to describe an event that happened only four years ago as "nostalgic" but that's the closest I can come to remembering this place.

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