Zur Traube is a long established restaurant in the quiet town of Grevenbroich, not far from Dusseldorf. It is an independent operation run by a man and wife team Dieter and Elvira Kaufmann (he cooks, she manages front of house), and has a few rooms in addition to the restaurant. This seemed to be a restaurant towards the end of its days (Mr Kaufmann is now 68 years old), and while it was no doubt a pioneer in its day, the menu appeared to be stuck in a 1980s time warp. The restaurant did not seem to be flourishing – there were just four diners on the Wednesday evening that we ate there, and that included us.
The dining room was pleasant, with large tables that were generously spaced. The wine list was most impressive, with a vast selection of German wines in particular going back a long way in terms of vintages. There was just one kind of bread on offer, slices of a simple white bread (15/20). Amuse-bouche was a little goose liver pate with cheese puffs, which were pleasant (16/20). A terrine of langoustine and spiny tail lobster had decent flavour and a good texture, though for me the flavour could have been more intense (15/20). A single scallop in saffron sauce was cooked through properly and had generous saffron in the sauce, along with slivers of carrot and leek (16/20). A selection of mini terrines of quail were again pleasant but lacked real depth of flavour (15/20).
Wild salmon was served with a beurre blanc with chives and dill, and although cooked properly I have to say that a wild salmon I cooked at home earlier the same week actually tasted better; the beurre blanc was nicely balanced though (15/20). Red mullet followed and had almost the same sauce, though this had a hint of grain mustard in it, though from a menu balance perspective the two sauces were too similar (16/20).
I enjoyed a cold vichyssoise soup, which for me had clean taste (17/20). This was followed by a piece of beef which was cooked a little longer than I was expecting and did not have great texture or flavour; it was served with a red wine sauce that was a little thin and would have been better with further reduction (at least to my taste) and a very creamy mash (14/20).
The cheese board had a sensible size selection, and the Morbiere, Epoisses and goat cheese that I tried were in decent condition (15/20). Two desserts followed. A little slice of chocolate cake came with a chocolate parfait and white chocolate mousse, as well as half strawberry dipped in chocolate (15/20). This was followed by a lemon parfait that supposedly had passion fruit but tasted almost entirely of lemon, an excellent vanilla ice cream and a raspberry mousse with swirls of raspberry sponge (16/20). Coffee was nice, with a selection of petit fours: a tuile, a carrot cake, a strawberry sponge, a chocolate square and a little red fruit tart (16/20). There was also a plate of chocolates and some tasty ginger sticks covered in chocolate.
From a food perspective then, things were quite good and consistent, though only 1 star Michelin level rather than the 2 stars it actually gets (editor's note: it was subsequently demoted to 1 star). However the evening was marred by an extraordinary service problem. With dessert we had ordered a 1983 Beerenauslese from Maximin Grunhauser, a fine producer and one from which I have tried many wines before; indeed it is one of my favourite producers in Germany. However when the half bottle arrived the cork disintegrated when pulled, and when poured the wine had turned a worryingly dark shade of brown that would usually indicate a much older wine, or a problem bottle. Indeed the waitress immediately said "uh oh, that is an odd colour". On the nose my wife’s bloodhound sense of smell detected oxidation, and although there was still some residual sweetness it was not anything like as much as you would expect from a wine like this. Sometimes wines that are corked are utterly flat and undrinkable, sometimes they are just partially affected and this was the case here. I said "I think this wine is faulty" and the waitress headed off. Moments later the chef came out to our table, bellowed "this wine is perfect; you know nothing", and without waiting for a reply turned on his heel and stormed off. I have eaten over the years in restaurants with chefs not famed for their calm disposition (Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Tom Aikens etc) but never have I actually been shouted at in a dining room before. Perhaps a career in a customer-facing business was not a great choice for Mr Kaufmann. Even if you think you have a customer who has made a mistake about the wine, you are hardly likely to endear yourself to him by insulting him in a loud voice and storming off without even a discussion. I have no idea whether this was typical behaviour but I would observe that a restaurant with four diners in a whole evening can ill afford to alienate its customers.