This restaurant in Oberbergen in Baden has held a Michelin star since 1969. It is particularly famed for its vast wine list, notably with exceptionally kind mark-up levels. The price factor never seems to feature in industry “best wine lists” awards, handed out by people who are not spending their own money, yet is surely about the most important aspect of a wine list for the rest of us?
The property is owned by Fritz and Bettina Keller, the children of winemaker Franz Keller, the latest generation of a family that has been making wine in Baden since the 18th century. Franz Keller was at one time himself the chef of Schwarzer Adler. The winery is part of the VDP, an association of around 200 top German winemakers. The kitchen is now headed up by Anibal Strubinger, who has been head chef here since 1994.
The restaurant is in a pretty village, the dining room wood-panelled and cosy in a charmingly old-fashioned way. The cooking style is unashamedly classical, so there are no foraged weeds or crazy ingredients intruding into the menu. There were tasting menu options at €92 and €118, but we went our own way.
The famous wine list (introduced by the charming and award-winning sommelier Melanie Wagner as "our bible") arrives in a suitably impressive large red leather binder. This is a fine list, with over 2,600 labels and especially strong in Bordeaux, but the crucial feature is the price. Diners used to London markups may be forgiven for thinking that a trailing zero has somehow been left off the price column. Markus Molitor Kabinett Trocken 2008 was €24 for a label that retails at €15, but as soon as you move up the list the "markup" actually becomes a markdown, with many, many wines well below their retail price. Lynch Bages 1998 was €60 for a bottle that you will find in the high street for €111, Mouton Rothschild 1983 €159 compared to a retail price of €318, Romanee Conti Echezaux 2002 €410 for a wine with a current market price of €871. Museum wines are here too: Lafite 1937 was listed at €875 yet its current retail price (if you could find it) is €1,907. The list is a wine lover's dream.
A nibble of smoked sturgeon with tomato essence was a simple but pleasant introduction to the meal (14/20). Bread was a mix of two bought-in and one made from scratch varieties, the latter having good texture (15/20). Beef tartare (€32) came with beef carpaccio and was generous in scale and well seasoned (15/20). Even better was a silky slab of good liver pate (€29) with a welcome accompaniment of apple sorbet which cut through the richness of the liver (16/20).
Lobster from Brittany (€44) came with pumpkin and pickled seasonal vegetables, including carrot. The shellfish was pleasingly tender, and the sourness of the pickles used was a nice pairing for the hint of sweetness from the lobster (16/20). Also good was a large fillet of turbot with a classical beurre blanc sauce, along with potatoes and capers. The fish was carefully cooked and had good flavour, the butter emulsion having enough vinegar to be balanced without being overly sharp, which can easily happen with this sauce (16/20).
There are a few dishes that can be pre-ordered here. One is the poulet Bresse with black truffles cooked in a pig bladder (€46 per person). I am a sucker for table-side theatre in restaurants, which these days is so rare. Here the inflated pigs bladder, like an egg from the movie Alien, is wheeled alongside the table and cut into, the chicken then carved in front of the diners. The bird is actually served in two stages, first the breast and then the legs, in both cases accompanied by some rather bland though properly cooked boiled potatoes and rice flavoured with a sauce made from chicken liver. Poulet Bresse has more flavour than most chickens that you encounter, and the truffles under its skin lift the dish into luxurious territory (16/20). This went well with Armand Rousseau Clos St Jacques 2003 Gevrey Chambertin, listed here at €225, yet the same bottle will cost you €395 in a shop.
Desserts are as indulgent, with an array of different little dishes using Valrhona chocolate rich and pleasing, in particular an excellent chocolate ice cream (16/20). A take on the classic Black Forest flavours of cherry and chocolate also worked well, the fruit of good quality and working really well with the rich chocolate (16/20. Coffee was good, served with a plate of petit fours including a delicate tuile (16/20). I entirely failed to resist temptation in the form of the glorious Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Eiswein 1993 at €108, which tasted all the sweeter when you consider that it retails at €252.
Service was friendly and efficient. We managed to run up an impressive bill of €706 for two (£254 per person), but that was simply due to splashing out on an extra course and on copious volumes of serious wine, as this generously priced list encourages. If you shared a modest bottle between two then a typical cost per head would be around £90. Of course to actually drink a simple bottle would be rather to miss the point, as this is one of the very few restaurants in Europe where wine lovers can seriously indulge themselves with impunity. For that reason alone, Schwarzer Adler is a treasure.