This is the flagship restaurant of the family-run Sackmann hotel in Baiersbronn in the Black Forest. The head chef and owner is Jorg Sackmann, who was working at the service this evening, and is assisted in the kitchen by his son Nico. The restaurant opened in 1993, gaining its first Michelin star immediately and its second star in 2013. The setting here is lovely, the hotel nestling in the tree-lined valley. The dining room is on the ground floor, and there are additional tables outside. This turned out to be useful as on this warm June evening the dining room was distinctly hot, and there seemed to be no working air conditioning. Fortunately there was space outside and we were relocated to the outdoors, where the evening temperature was lovely.
The menu is described as creative, and it is certainly unconventional, with dishes like “skate wing poulticed with wild garlic, asparagus and rhubarb”. There were tasting menus at €135 and at €160, as well as a vegetarian menu at €130, and you could choose dishes from any of these on an a la carte basis, which is what we did. The wine list was quite extensive and featured labels such as Weingut Kopp Graunburgunder 2015 at €42 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €9, Chamirey Mercurey Blanc 2012 at €70 compared to its retail price of €30, and Remi Jobard Meursault Les Genevriers 2011 at €118 for a wine that will set you back €53 in a shop. There was a page of grander wines too, including Antinori Solaia 2009 at €238 compared to its retail price of €254, and Chateau Lafite 1978 at a bargain €498 for a bottle whose current market value was €619.
Some nibbles appeared at the beginning of the meal. The first was white asparagus and mushrooms with mozzarella and a foam of elderflower and asparagus. The asparagus itself was quite decent but the dressing was very acidic (12/20). Pieces of perch on a flatbread flavoured with olives had a curiously large piece of leek relative to the very small amount of fish, and was surprisingly salty, which turned out to be a recurring theme. I am actually quite fond of saltiness in food, much more so than many people, so if I find something to be too salty it is as if Jeremy Clarkson had described a car as being too fast. If I overlook the seasoning issue then maybe this was 13/20 level. The final nibble was puzzling. It was a piece of meringue that had balsamic vinegar drizzled over it, for reasons that elude me, topped with some edible flowers and herbs. The meringue had acceptable texture but adding vinegar and a few bits of shrubbery to it did not enhance it (8/20).
At this point the starters arrived and things briefly seemed to get back on track, or at least heading in a promising direction. A “hot and cold pea soup” with pea cress and asparagus tips had a warm pea soup poured over a dish that included an ice cube with peas, so was indeed both hot and cold. This sounds peculiar but actually worked reasonably well, and had the great advantage that the peas had plenty of flavour, albeit they were again puzzlingly salty. Still, 14/20 if I once again cast a discreet veil over the seasoning. Also good was “pig chin“ of managalista pork with mustard sauce, cabbage and spelt. The pork had good flavour and the blob of mustard sauce was a logical accompaniment, though I would have liked more of it. The cabbage had a bit too much vinegar but was decent, and the spelt gave a contrasting texture (13/20 or so). So at this stage the meal appeared inconsistent but potentially salvageable. Sadly, this did not turn out to be the case.
An extra course of trout appeared next, with thyme-flavoured spaetzle and an undefined sauce that was remarkable in that it may be the single saltiest sauce I have ever tasted. Even the absurdly over-salted earlier dishes were as nothing compared to this. I cannot imagine that anyone could have possibly tasted it in the kitchen. Neither of us could really comment on the trout or pasta because our tongues were puckering under the saline onslaught of the industrial quantities of salt in the sauce. Perhaps the fish was cooked all right, but I honestly could not tell by this stage. This was simply inedible (3/20).
After copious water to drink and a lengthy pause we resumed with the main courses. Monkfish and octopus came with artichokes, pomelo and saffron sauce. The pomelo was hard to detect but that was the least of the issues, since the monkfish was remarkably chewy and the octopus was more so, it being quite hard to bite through. I managed a couple of bites and gave up (6/20). Veal came with morels (“morrels” on the menu), asparagus and “stocked buffalo milk” (your guess is as good as mine) and an undefined sauce. The meat was acceptable, as was the asparagus, but the sauce was again ultra salty (maybe 12/20 if it was not for the wildly over-salted sauce). This dish, incidentally, cost €65.
We shared a dessert, since even if Michel Guerard himself was doing an unlikely stage in the pastry section tonight with help from the full pastry section of Pic, nothing was going to rescue this meal. Mango “ravioli” with ginger tea came with coconut crunch and yuzu snow, rambutan and lychee and pomegranate sorbet. The tropical fruit itself was reasonable, the mango flavour decent and the sorbet having acceptable texture. This was a harmless enough dish, if a touch overly sharp, but by the standards of what had preceded it, this was positively miraculous (11/20).
Service was well meaning but remarkably inept, and the pace of dishes very slow, something repeatedly remarked upon by customers at the next table. A cursory knowledge of the dishes appeared to be a completely optional extra for the staff that we encountered. Our waitress presented one dish with the memorable description: “it is a fish, but I cannot remember what it is” and then wandered off, her job done. Wine topping up was erratic bordering on completely forgetful, and this did not appear to be an especially busy service. This was not a language translation issue incidentally, as the waitress in question had English as her first language. If this level of service occurred in a neighbourhood cafe it would not be great, but to encounter it in a two star Michelin restaurant was remarkable. The bill came to €109 per person for the food and €305 for the wine, so €414 (£362) per person in all. If you ordered a modest bottle of wine between two and went for the cheapest set menu then a typical cost per head all in would be about €180 (£157). This is a surreal amount of money given the abysmal standard of the food that we encountered, even before you factor in the amateurish service. The pea dish and the pork suggest that the kitchen was capable of flickers of occasional competence, but this was drowned out by the litany of errors.
For Michelin to give this a star is utterly ludicrous; to give it two is grotesque. I have eaten in literally hundreds of Michelin starred restaurants around the world and I can honestly say that this is the worst food I have ever encountered in such an establishment. I can barely begin to grasp what has gone wrong with the inspection process for this assessment to occur. My exceptionally well travelled dining companion and I were simply flabbergasted. It seemed like a bad dream, but then my credit card bill tells me that it wasn’t. At least the wine was good.