Waldhotel Sonnora

Dreis near Wittlich, Wittlich, 35418, Germany

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Chef interview

Clemens Rambichler is head chef of three star Michelin Waldhotel Sonnora in Germany.

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The Waldhotel Sonnora (literally meaning forest hotel) is set in attractive countryside less than a one hour drive from Luxembourg. The dining room looks out over nearby fields, and is simply but attractively decorated, with well-spaced tables. The cooking is classical. The tasting menu was €158 (a shorter one at €128 was also available). Main courses were around €48. After training at several restaurants in Germany in the 1970s, Chef Helmut Thieltges (born in 1955) moved to the family business of Sonnora in 1978, the restaurant gaining a Michelin star in 1982 before a second and then third star were awarded in the following years. He was Gault-Millault chef of the year in 1997.

The wine list naturally is strong on German wines but has plenty of high class growers from around the world, at mark-up levels that are fair by 3 star standards. Maximin Grunhauser Abstberg 2008 Kabinett was €42 for a wine that costs about €20 in the shops, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 was €148 for a wine you can buy for around €52 and at the upper end of things Chateau Palmer 1983 was listed at €580 for a wine that can be bought for around €314.

A variety of excellent bread rolls were offered: hazelnut, olive, rye, wheat, butter and thyme (19/20). Butter was Echoer from France. The first amuse-bouche was a spoon of crayfish with mint, the crayfish tender, the mint flavour well controlled (19/20). Nibbles were bread cake with iced goose liver, tarte of creme fraiche and onions with caviar, king crab with apple and gratin of mussel with saffron (20/20).

The first course was parfait of high quality goose liver with iced fig and pears. This was attractively presented, and the acidity of the pears balanced the richness of the terrine, while the iced fig gave an additional dimension of flavour (20/20). Next was grilled lobster with parsley mousse and ceps. At the centre was a lovely roll of spaghetti wrapped around a forcemeat of foie gras; perhaps an acidic element would have been useful, but still this was a fine dish, and the lobster itself was excellent (19/20).

Sea bass was served on a bed of fennel with a Mediterranean vinaigrette including olives and tomato. This was a very skilful dish – the balsamic vinegar in the dressing provided quite a strong flavour, yet the bold flavours were held together in lovely balance (20/20). Langoustines with chicory (endives) were offered with a lemon beurre blanc; the langoustines were of impeccable quality and were beautifully cooked, while the lemon provided the necessary freshness to balance the butter of the sauce (20/20).

My wife’s turbot with celery sauce Choron (a variant of béarnaise without chervil or tarragon but with tomato puree) had sublime turbot and featured stunningly good celery (20/20). Venison saddle had terrific flavour, with a crust of raisin and almond and a rich game sauce with cranberries and green peppers, garnished with chanterelle mushrooms and a celeriac purée. On the side was excellent green cabbage and semolina dumpling with a stick of black pudding (20/20).

Cheese was in excellent condition, supplied from a Nuremburg affineur. I would observe that the soft cheeses were served a little too cold. The desserts began with canneloni of chocolate filled with coffee mousse, fabulous sherbet of lemongrass and vodka and a marinade of pineapple with saffron and pepper. This trio of pre-desserts were top drawer (20/20).

A chocolate cake with mango coffee sauce was very pretty and had faultless chocolate fondant, with the lovely mango providing a fine balance to the richness of the chocolate (20/20). Valrhona chocolate and hazelnut cremeux was superbly rich, served with plum sherbet and lovely ripe plums (20/20). Coffee and petit fours kept up the standard right to the end.  The bill for the meal, including wine pairing, came to €210 per person, which would barely buy you a main course in some Paris three stars these days.

The wine pairing was skilful: 2009 Qualitatswein trockem Weingut Aldinger from Wurttenberg, then 2006 Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling beerenauslese Weingut Franz-Josef Eifel with the goose liver, Silvaner “S” Weingut Keller with the lobster, 2008 Englegarten Domaine Marcel Deiss with the sea bass, 2009 Muskateller Kabinett Weingut Huber with the langoustine, and the divine 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatless JJ Prum with the deer, finishing with 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Eiswein Weingut Frey with dessert.

Overall, this was a simply magnificent meal. What I found remarkable was the extraordinary consistency of standard. At a 3 star Michelin meal you will, if you are fortunate, get a dish or two that is really memorable, but almost inevitably some other dishes don’t quite match up. Here, from the nibbles through the savoury dishes through to desserts, the standard was impeccable and never dropped. This was truly superb cooking.

What follows are notes from meal in June 2002.

This is a pretty country inn with a few rooms and an attractive garden. Amuse-bouche were a salmon carpaccio, lobster soup, chilled cucumber soup with a red pepper mousse, a quails egg and raviolo of fish (19/20). We went for a degustation menu. Next up was red mullet and a single scampi, sublimely cooked and served with endive, a tarragon salad with a light vinaigrette and a few sprigs of dill (20/20).

Next was a very fine Dover sole with langoustine resting on a bed of cabbage with a citrus sauce (20/20). A fine John Dory was marred only by some overcooked mange-touts, an uncharacteristic slip (19/20).  The next course was lobster with a ginger and curry sauce, the lobster without a trace of chewiness, the spices subtle and in balance; even my bête noire, couscous, served here in a filo pastry cup, was good (20/20). Next was sea bass with red and yellow peppers, the fish again beautifully timed and very fresh, served with some sliced green beans in an aged balsamic sauce, with a few stunning cherry tomatoes with breadcrumbs. A potato puree with rocket and deep fried artichokes was offered as a garnish (20/20).

Cheese was in excellent condition, and as well as the usual array of French classics (St Maure, Comte, Reblochon, Brie, Munster etc) had a solitary fresh goat cheese from Germany (19/20). Next, griottes were served with an excellent waffle and a chocolate chip ice cream (19/20). Then a slight decline with a pleasant vanilla cream with ginger with circles of sponge roulade topped with meringue, along with a yoghurt jelly and yoghurt ice cream topped with wild strawberries (17/20). Coffee and a wide selection of petit fours were excellent (20/20).

Further reviews: 09th Jun 2022 | 14th Aug 2019 | 03rd Mar 2017

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    I just came back from a short trip to Germany and had one night to visit Waldhotel Sonnora. I totally agree with your comments and ratings. Had a perfect dinner with two old friends who know the German Three Star line up far better than I do and we were not disappointed. I stayed in one of the rooms and commented that I thought it had just been refinished or was new, but found that it was just being beautifully maintained by a brilliant hausmeister who I wish would write a book about how such hotel rooms should be maintained. Sonnora is, as a friend once told me, a restaurant with rooms, not a hotel with restaurant. This is correct. The family that has owned and operated this lovely inn for years was on hand and we chatted a some length about how they manage to stay fully booked year around without any real advertising and being, perhaps gratefully, pretty much unknown to the rest of the world. Getting to Dreis by train was not easy and even the German Railroad fell flat on their faces trying to tell me how to get there. But it was worth it. Food, wines, ambiance all well up to and above the Three Star levels.