Christian Bau did his first chef intership at the age of 14. He did a three-year apprenticeship in the Hotel Götz Sonne-Eintracht in Achern, and then worked at the Hotel-Restaurant Talmühle under chef Gutbert Fallert. Following that he briefly worked at the Le Canard in Offenburg and then became sous chef at three-star Schwarzwaldstube in the Black Forest, near where he was brought up. He stayed there for five years, learning from chef Harald Wolfhart. From there, aged 27, he moved as head chef in 1997 to the Victor’s Gourmet Restaurant Schlossberg in the little village of Perl-Nennig. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star less than a year after he took over, and a second star just a year later in 1999. The third star came in 2005 (when he was aged just 34), and he is sufficiently confident of keeping it that he has three Michelin stars tattooed on his arm. The tasting menu today was €250 per person.
The wine list had 636 labels and ranged in price from €40 to €6,900, with a median price of €130 and an average markup to retail price of just 2.1 times, which is well below the three times markup level that is normal in restaurants. There were 171 wines priced below €100. This being Germany, there was a vast selection of Riesling, and fully 59% of the list was composed of white wines, with German wines making up 57% of the overall list. Over a quarter of the list was under €100 per bottle. Sample references were Joh Jos Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2014 at €65 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €36, Maximin Grünhaus Maximin von Schubert Abtsberg Superior 2016 at €75 compared to its retail price of €40, and Bodegas R. Lòpez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Tinto Reserva 2004 at €85 for a wine that will set you back €48 in the high street. For those with the means there was Domaine Coche-Dury Meursault 2017 at €450 compared to its retail price of €1,249, and Weingut Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Auslese 2004 at €420 for a wine whose current market value is €474. There were relative bargains galore, with 76 wines below their current retail price. An example was Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny 2011 at €140 compared to its current market value of €407. This is a delight of a wine list, the kind that anyone used to London wine lists can only dream of.
The meal began with a sequence of canapes. A bowl of sea urchin ice cream with Japanese shishito pepper covered a layer of mussels and oysters, the dish garnished with edible flowers. This was a bright and fresh tasting canape, the oysters and mussels tender, the mild shishito pepper flavour just enough to enhance the seafood and cut through the richness of the ice cream without taking over, the textural contrast with ice cream working well (19/20). Next was a tartlet of ox tartare with smoked eel emulsion and horseradish is almost a signature dish here and was a joy. The pastry was delicate, the tartare having deep flavour and accurate seasoning, the eel adding its smoky complexity and the horseradish adding a gentle bite of spice. This was a fabulous combination of flavours (20/20).
“Kimbap” was a take on South Korean sushi, here the crisp nori paired with rice with roasted sesame seeds topped with pickled daikon and caviar (18/20). Even better was tartlet of pickled salmon belly with salmon caviar (from a supplier called Kaviari) and myoga (Japanese ginger). Again, the pastry was remarkably delicate, the ginger perfectly balancing the richness of the salmon caviar and the salmon belly. This was a real masterclass in flavour balance (20/20). Also superb was a pretty dish of waffle topped with mackerel, yuzukosho (a Japanese condiment involving yuzu, chillies and salt) and caviar. The waffle had lovely texture and the mackerel slices tasted very fresh, the acidity of the yuzukosho nicely cutting through the natural oil of the mackerel and the richness of the caviar. Once again, this dish showed very precise balance (20/20). Bread was made in the kitchen a choice of baguette or sourdough with sunflower seed; both had excellent texture.
Crab with watermelon ice cream, dashi stock and yuba (tofu skin) was also lovely, the crab sweet and fresh, the watermelon ice cream superb and providing a subtle contrast to the delicate crab (19/20). A particularly beautiful of kampachi (yellowtail) followed, some pieces topped with caviar and assorted little garnishes, the fish lovely (19/20). Even better was a dazzling combination of lean and belly tuna topped with foie gras snow and elderflower vinaigrette. The tuna was fabulous, with the foie gras snow bringing the distinctive liver flavour but without the usual richness due to the frozen form of presentation. The vinaigrette brought just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the tuna belly. This was a really remarkable dish, one of the finest things I have eaten in some time (20/20 barely does it justice).
White asparagus from The Black Forest was grilled with sumac (a spice made from dried berries with a tangy citrus flavour) and a yuzu glaze and served with a miso hollandaise. The asparagus itself was of high quality and was precisely cooked, the combination of citrus and umami of the miso lifting the flavour of the asparagus (19/20). This was followed by a huge (280g) langoustine tail prepared with a fermented pumpkin emulsion and served with palm heart and pandan (vanilla grass) leaves. There was also a pleasing peppery note from a little XO oil. The langoustine was beautifully sweet and perfectly cooked, the palm heart providing an earthy contrast and the little hint of pepper being just what was needed to enliven the dish and lift it to an even higher level (20/20).
Fillet of Brittany turbot from a large 6kg fish (which was killed ikejime style to maximise freshness) was served with Spanish peas and French green asparagus as well as late season morels. This was another lovely dish, the turbot having excellent flavour and working well with the tender asparagus and peas and the distinctive flavour of the morels (19/20). The final savoury course was beef, and to cut it we were offered a choice of steak knives made by Florentine Kitchen Knives in Barcelona. In fact, a butter knife would have been more than adequate, as the beef was the heavily marbled, almost buttery Miyazaki A4 grade beef from Japan (a beef that has won the “wagyu Olympics” competition in Japan several times). This was served with black garlic and foie gras jus, while on the side were little pasta parcels filled with beef leg, foie gras, Parmesan and black truffle. The beef was impeccable but quite rich and I wondered whether something acidic or a little greenery in some form might have been a welcome balance to the richness. This quibble aside, the beef was lovely and I particularly liked the beef pasta parcel (19/20).
A pre dessert was a pretty and remarkably refreshing mojito, a dessert version of the Cuban cocktail that is made from white rum, mint, lime juice, sugar and soda water. This was intense but extremely fresh tasting, the potentially dominant mint favour precisely controlled. This was exactly what a pre-dessert should be (20/20) The main dessert was made from Piedmont hazelnuts, a sauce of hazelnut and miso with a central ganache of hazelnut topped with black truffle ice cream and garnished with actual slivers of black truffle from Perth. The hazelnut dessert was superb, but I wondered whether the truffle garnish was really necessary (19/20).
We drank the lovely Panama Gesha from Difference Coffee. With coffee came an array of petit fours. There were wild strawberries with sorrel sorbet as well as a delicate pistachio and raspberry macaron. There was a take on a popular German candy bar called Yogurette, this version having chocolate and strawberry but also popping candy. There was also a selection of superb chocolate truffles, one with dark chocolate and black olives, one with peanut and yuzu marshmallow and the final one with passion fruit and coconut. If this all seemed too rich there was also a selection of fresh fruit.
Service was superb, the staff charming and attentive but unobtrusive, dishes arriving at a steady pace throughout the lengthy menu. I would particularly note the terrific sommelier Nina, who has deep knowledge of her superb list. The bill came to €634 (£548) per person, but that was with copious quantities of serious wine including a gorgeous 2008 Egon Muller Riesling, Coche Dury Meursault and Clos Rougeard Le Bourg 2011, finished with a taste of stunning Trockenbeerenauslese from Fritz Haag. The food element was €250 (£213) and just think about this price for a moment when comparing it to London, where the tasting menus at some places are at or above this level yet often feature barely any luxury ingredients at all. This meal not only showed dazzling technique and presentation but used some of the finest produce it is possible to assemble, with impeccable quality langoustines, turbot and beef. Dish after dish here demonstrated tremendous understanding of flavour balance, creative dish composition and at times dazzling presentation and attention to detail. This restaurant has for some time been one of the very finest in the world, and continues to develop. It is a supreme example of fine dining at its best.