Saturday September 23rd – Day 1, Victor’s Fine Dining by Christian Bau
And so to dinner on the very first day of the holiday. I’m not sure why but I was a bit surprised on looking at dining options for the hotel to discover that in addition to a hotel restaurant, and a bistro-type establishment, there was also a 3-Michelin starred restaurant in the original Renaissance castle, Schloss Berg, and that when I made the hotel booking I was also able to get a table for our stay. It’s rare that one finds oneself in a position to be able to afford 3-star dining AND be able to get a table so it would have been extremely churlish not to put ourselves in the hands of chef Christian Baumann for the night…
A bit of prior research enabled me to learn that Herr Baumann has in recent years developed a style of cooking much influenced by a trip to Japan and an apparent obsession thereafter with Japanese ingredients fused with local specialities. As we walked across to the rather imposing entrance, it looked like we were in for a treat for both the eyes and the tastebuds.
The space itself is quite subdued, with dark wood, white walls and some tastefully restrained oriental ornaments. We were quickly seated, given a glass of sekt, and handed the menus to decide where we wanted to go with our evening.
We quite quickly decided that the “Japan Meets Mosel” tasting menu, with matching wines from the renowned Markus Molitor vineyards was the only sensible thing to do if we wanted to get the most out of the experience.
The ensuing Prolog was surprising in its range, and almost felt like a menu in its own right. It was certainly far more food than we were expecting to be served prior to the actual menu. The first three of a series of elaborate small dishes were duck liver with smoked eel and green apple, “Fjörd” which was shrimps with algae, tapioca and grapefruit, and carrot, calpico (a Japanese soft drink) and mild Madras curry. They were delicate, beautifully presented hits of distinct flavours, classily set and a glorious start.
Even better was the ‘cornet’ of organic beef tartar, with smoked fish crème and caviar, like a tiny meaty ice cream cone, cute, tasty, and almost absurdly cute.
Oh and just in case we were feeling a bit peckish still, a small. crunchy crusted loaf arrived with plenty of butter.
Throughout the prolog we drank a dry, slaty, full-bodied 2011 Markus Molitor Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Kabinett Trocken.
Suitably softened up, and feeling very well disposed towards the kitchen, we now launched into the first dish on the actual menu, Japanese yellow fin mackerel (served with daikon, jalapeno, and a granitée of green vegetables). The fish was wonderful, meltingly soft, its oily nature offset by the heat of the jalapeño.
This was accompanied by a more recent wine, the off dry 2015 Markus Molitor Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Kabinett Feinherb, another lovely wine from just slightly along the river from Graach, and another place we would be spending time over the next 12 days.
From here we moved on to another seafood dish, this time blue lobster (or obster as the English menu we were presented with later to take home had it) with carrot with ginger, calamondin, and a coriander bisque. It was as pretty as a picture, and much more delicious than it had any right to be, the lobster plump and juicy and tasting of the sea, with heat from the ginger and a lovely citrussy edge to it provided by the calamondin gel wrapped in sweet carrot slices. It’s got me looking at the calamondin plant in our conservatory (rescued from the throw out section of a hardware store several years ago at the cost of 99p) in a new light as the latest crop of tiny fruits begin to set.
This was served alongside a 2009 Markus Molitor Bernkasteler Lay, Riesling Auslese Trocken**, a perfect foil to the glorious meaty lobster.
We stayed with fish for the Bar de Ligne (Version 2017), a piece of sea bass served with barbecued eel, aubergine, okra, and a kojyu vinaigrette. I’m a sucker for anything with eel to be honest, and I love sea bass so this was in many ways the perfect dish for me, and managed the unexpected feat of making okra not just palatable, but actually tasty.
The sea bass was served with a 2012 Markus Molitor Wehlener Klosterberg, Pinot Blanc***. I’m not going to attempt to describe it apart from to say I’ve drunk Burgundys that were nowhere near as good or as complex.
And now it was time for Luma-Beef, a dry aged piece of sirloin barbecued, along with oxtail, corn-structures and black garlic. The meat, oh gods, the meat! The piece of sirloin was wonderful, tender, rich, melting in the mouth. If that’s what dry-aged beef tastes like I’m all in favour of it. The dish was stunningly simple in many ways, but the complexity of flavour suggested an awful lot of prep had gone into the accompaniments, particularly the rich, gelatinous oxtail.
The wine choice was again perfect, a 2007 Markus Molitor Brauneberger Mandelgraben, Pinot Noir** Selection Anniversaire, fruity, rich, just the right wine for the meat.
We were now out of the savoury courses and into another area where the kitchen clearly excels (and seems to have fun too) with a pre-dessert called simply a Japanese Moment on the menu, but which more informatively turned out to be a dish of jasmine, mangosteen, matcha and shiso, a pretty little confection that could still make you want to dive in with a spoon, despite the amount of food we had already consumed.
This is clearly the work of a brigade operating at the highest level, and the love for food shines through with every mouthful. The wines now were trending towards the more traditional style of Riesling, with a fabulous example of the type in the shape of a 2009 Markus Molitor Bernkasteler Lay, Riesling Auslese**. We continued with this wine for the next course too.
We now found ourselves at the final item on the menu, the Banana Split (Reloaded). described as a dessert of banana, cream, Tahiti vanilla and Valrhona Grand Cru chocolate. It’s fair to say the description utterly fails to do it justice. It’s a riot of a dessert, a completely deranged take on a frankly rather dull original. This is a banana split made sexy. The sheer look of the plate is a reproach to any other banana split anywhere on the planet. Just look at the beauty of the chocolate here! The glossy spheres! The caramelised banana! Seriously, this really is the best dessert I think I’ve ever encountered.
And so, full of good food, and delighted with the service (Yildiz Bau, the restaurant manager and coincidentally Christian’s wife is lovely, friendly, warm and full of good humour, and the sommelier, Nina Mann, is a treasure in her own right, informed and informative, and also prepared to go out of her way, providing us with a list of her favourite vineyards in the area, complete with contact details) we staggered back to the hotel for the night, heavier of waistline by several pounds it felt, and lighter of wallet by several hundred Euros. Was it worth it? My god, yes!
Before we left we were handed personalised copies of the menu each, which is always a nice touch. Anyway, for those of you who are interested, this is what three star dining looks like! I don’t suppose we’ll do it again in the near future, but at least we got to do it.