Friday, December 2nd 2016 – Berlin, Day 1 (Hugos Restaurant, Intercontinenal Hotel)
Of Hugos Restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel the Michelin Guide has this to say: “It is true that the view from the 14th floor is fantastic but this elegant, minimalist-style restaurant is known first and foremost for its classic, modern cuisine, which is both beautifully crafted and delicious. One MICHELIN Star. High quality cooking, worth a stop! Using top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard. Very good standard. Our best addresses.” As we were staying at the Interconti anyway, it would have seemed somewhat churlish not to give it a go!
Timeout were equally glowing: “Probably Berlin’s best restaurant right now, and with the awards to prove it. Chef Thomas Kammeier juxtaposes classic haute cuisine with an avant-garde new German style. Dishes such as cheek of ox with beluga lentils and filled calamares bring out the best of a mature kitchen. The beautiful room occupies the entire top floor of the Hotel InterContinental.” Kammeier had been there for almost twenty years and a year ago went off to do something completely different working here, but as Eberhard Lange had tekne over after several years working under Kammeier this was less of a concern that it might have been. As it turned out it had no need to concern us at all.
We took the lift to the 14th floor and arrived at the wine bar, which looked lovely, and were quickly shepherded through to the restaurant itself where we had a window table with stunning views over the night time lights of Berlin.
The room itself is dark, discreet, low lights and a mirrored back wall to reflect the view for those not lucky enough to have a window table. Decor was restrained although I did comment that the table decorations looked rather as if a well-bred and rather posh chicken had run full pelt into some Christmas baubles, which was accurate technically even if the end effect was much nicer than that description suggests.
Menus were produced and after some thought (and a glass of Champagne each) we reached the conclusion that we couldn’t decide between the two non-vegetarian menus! A short discussion with the lovely front of house staff and it became clear that we could have one of each menu, no problem, and yes, we could drop the oyster course (Imperial caviar & Gillardeau oyster, mangold, dark bread, egg yolk, oyster au gratin) from Menu II because neither of us can see the point of oysters or caviar for that matter!
Shorly afterwards a printed, personalised copy of the menus was presented to us along with a selection of breads, some restaurant-made butter, and a light and lovely soft cheese.The pretzels were soft, chewy, lightly salted and beat any pretzel I’ve ever eaten. The focaccia was just the right texture to pull apart, redolent of good olive oil, and the rye bread was perfect for me.
Along with this came the first amuse bouche surprise, a selection of tiny goodies that included a wild mushroom dumpling tasting of Autumn woodlands, the filling dense and earthy, a small sushi roll that had crunch alongside the vinegared rice and a rich centre, and a knockout wild rabbit consomme, light to look at but intensely meaty. You knew you were in more than capable hands at this point.
A second round of amuse bouches appeared now, in the shape of one perfect scallop. At this rate we might never get to the first course, though if we didn’t we would still eat stunningly well!
The two first courses were Canadian lobster cooked in brown butter, mandarin, Beluga lentils, fennel and breast of quail from Bresse, baked praliné, quail egg, parsnip, cowberries. A straightforward list of ingredients really which didn’t begin to give the sense of what arrived on the plates. The lobster packed a massive hit of the sea, the meat tender and dense-fleshed, something not every lobster achieves. I’ve eaten lobster that could kindly be described as rubbery, which this was not. It was soft under the knife, beautifully moist. I could have eaten more of it, but we had agreed to share so just half it was before I swapped with Lynne for the quail.
Again, quail need careful handling because there is so little meat on them – it’s easy to dry the meat out and leave you with something not even the cat would try. Again, we needn’t have worried. It was delicious, two slices of pink meat in a deep, dark pool of sauce, with a crunchy, deep-fried quail’s egg, and sharp, intense cowberries (or lingonberries to you) to set off the intense sweetness of the sauce.
And oh how delightful to not have to ask the charming staff to slow the kitchen down. This was a kitchen not interested in rushing you through and out of the door as fast as possible. It was all proceeding at our ideal pace and we were loving it, as we were loving the interesting, unusual and carefully chosen matching wines, mostly of German provenance and all lovingly presented and described by the staff.
Next Lynne was on the fish with scallop, pea, Sansho pepper, crispy skin of chicken, beetroot. I was in theory sitting this round out with the missing oysters so we just had the one plate to enjoy between us. This was excellent, the pepper lending the scallop a hint of warmth and spice and the beetroot providing sweetness that brought out that of the scallop, the scallop itself perfectly cooked, and some crunch and texture (as well as saltiness) provided by the chicken skin.
We stayed with fish now with Lynne having Atlantic sole, smoked whey, celery, string beans while I had turbot and calamaretti, artichoke, Italian artichoke, bell pepper, parsley as my next plate. Again we would share these dishes between the two of us, the whole point of having the two separate menus as far as we were concerned. More good things to go round! The sole was lovely, just flaking apart and still moist, with the smoked whey providing a lovely contrast, just slightly sour but not overpowering the delicate fish.
The turbot looked stunning and tasted sensational, the turbot thick, lovely, again perfectly judged, and the tiny calamaretti as tender as you would wish squid or calamari to be, with the artichoke finally justifying its existence for me, not something I thought anyone would ever manage. There were gels of bell pepper and emulsions as well as what I assume was a puree of Jerusalem artichoke, and I wanted to lick the plate clean afterwards! I haven’t enjoyed Jerusalem artichoke that much since the last time we had lunch at le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.
And now we were on the home straight, warm and comfortable, enjoying the views and the impeccable service, and loving what was coming out of the kitchen. We were leaving the ocean behind and moving to the meat course. And what a meat course. Lynne was presented with Wagyu beef roasted over fire, swede, kale, lovage while “my” main was saddle of young venison, black salsify, apple quince, spruce needle, porcino jus, Brussels sprouts. The Wagyu beef was meltingly soft, flavoured beautifully, and the bearnaise sauce that accompanied it could not have been bettered. The swede cooked three ways was genius, making what is sometimes a watery and frankly dull vegetable shine! And the kale was crispy, slightly salted, with no bitterness at all, offset by the lovage.
The venison was so soft you could have cut it with a spoon, the Brussels sprouts providing the crunch, while the porcini and spruce needle flavours made this the quintessence of a Winter game dish, the quince and the salsify cutting through the richness and stopping it overwhelming the taste buds.
The waiting staff now threatened me with cheese but we decided we couldn’t possibly. We’d stay with dessert, with a pre-dessert providing a much-needed palate cleanser before we moved on to the delicate flavours on offer to round out the meal.
We’d been intrigued by one thing on the vegetarian menu, the lemon and yogurt, salted lemon parsley yogurt, pine nuts and bell pepper sorbet, and decided that not only was it wildly different, it might just be lighter than the other desserts. In a spirit of experiment, we both went for it. We were right to do so. It was brilliant, just different enough to be fascinating, not so different that it didn’t work. The flavours were subtle, almost elusive, and only slightly sweet. It might not appeal to everyone, but I loved it.
And then having turned down tea or coffee or infusions, or anything else really as it was late and we were both feeling very full, there came the petits fours and friandises, which were thankfully tiny, lovely, and ridiculously cute, consisting as they did of tiny glasses of gluhwein, and equally miniaturised sweets, a fruit jelly and a bijou choux pastry of perfect lightness.
And so it was time for bed! We couldn’t have eaten or drunk another thing and we needed our sleep. We bid the lovely front of house staff adieu and slowly crossed the lobby to the lifts for our side of the hotel and a deep sleep.