Thursday, 26th September 2019 – Raben, Horben
On Thursday evening we set off on a white-knuckled drive from Glottertal, through Freiburg and up to the village of Horben, which seemed to involve rather more hairpin bends than I cared for, as well as fairly dramatic stretch when we first had to run on the tram lines, and then had to dive through a single lane arch that the trams also shared! We were on our way to the one-Michelin starred restaurant, the Gasthaus zum Raben, where, according to Michelin, Steffen Disch is in the kitchen where “using top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard”. I’d booked a table well in advance by email, and was very much looking forward to trying out the food that would come from what their website describes as “a regionally inspired gourmet kitchen, which dissolves all facets and refinements of kitchen art in a remarkable straightforwardness, in his historic inn”.
The chef and his wife run the inn, after he did an apprenticeship at the Hotel Colombi in Freiburg, and plied his trade in other hotels before he arrived at the Gasthaus. The inn itself may well be the oldest such establishment in Horben, dating from at least 1604, and it has been lovingly renovated. The food is firmly rooted in local products from the neighborhood, and these in turn become a fresh take on Baden classics on the menu. The cuisine had been described as “cozy, sophisticated and creative” so we were hopefully of a good dinner. We got far more than a good dinner. What we got was the culinary experience of the holiday. First, though, having parked in the extensive, gravelled car park, I needed to recover from that drive. A glass of Riesling sekt with a home-made syrup of quince, proved to be just the thing. It was also quite a striking colour.
Some time passed while we tried to figure out which version of the menu we wanted to go for. We were in debate about whether the five course menu or the four course menu was the answer. Eventually we settled on the five course menu, because there were interesting sounding things in the dish that would be missed out if we’d gone for the four course option. An amuse-bouche that was described as “blood sausage” arrived. What it turned out to be was a tiny bread-crumbed, crunchy morsel of the local blutwurst, iron-inflected from the blood, and slightly bitter, on a soft puree of celeriac, with rice layered through it.
Some bread was delivered by the charming waiting staff, along with some very good butter and a sweet potato mousse that could also be used as a spread on the bread. It was all very honest, and could have been rustic had it not been subject to such refined treatment before it arrived on our plates.
We both held back from the bread, not wanting to commit space in our stomachs to anything that wasn’t part of the menu.The first course, when it arrived, was a perfectly constructed dish of lightly smoked goose liver, the offal tender, soft and melting, layered with a chocolate, served with a tiny brioche roll, an apricot ice cream quenelle, a couple of spheres of apricot gel, and dusted with almonds. It was a technical and gustatory triumph. We absolutely loved it; you could tell by how long it took me to eat t, because I just wanted it to last!
Next up came a fish course, with a dish of char, beetroot, celery and horseradish. The celery puree was glorious, far richer than I could imagine celery ever being, no matter what you do to it. The beetroot came in several forms, with some small, sticky cubes, a sharp and spicy juice, lightly pickled slices and a beetroot crisp. The fish was the start of the show though, enhanced by the beetroot, perfectly cooked and flaking apart if you so much as looked at it the right – or maybe wrong – way.
A fabulous middle dish was next up, with a dim sum dumpling filled with soft strands of Berkshire Ferkel piglet, and red prawn, a chunk of slow roasted piglet, all dressed in a delightful dashi and Black Forest miso broth. It was dressed with micro herbs and it tasted fabulous. If I was going to upset my digestive system with pork, I might as well do it for this sort of quality in both cooking and provenance. It would be worth the slightly queasy morning for the night before.
For the wine, I’d gone with the sommelier’s recommendation, and we had drunk a 2017 Lösswand Weisser Burgunder from Arndt Köbelin, a wind from old vines (over 45 year’s old), with the winemaker ensuring a low yield, and then aging the wine in oak barrels. It was an excellent choice, which is why we trusted him to recommend a red wine for the meat and cheese courses. This time he sold us a Fritz Wassmer Syrah from 2015, which was fruit and perfect for what we wanted.
The main dish, which is not to take away from the dishes that went before, was venison with parsley root, wild cauliflower, pear chutney and hazelnut potato noodles. Every time we thought they couldn’t outdo the previous effort, they promptly did. The softness of the meat, the tenderness of it and the way it almost fell apart when you got your knife to it, pointed to a man with a sous vide machine who really, really knows how to use it properly. The pears were sweet and offset the meat and the density of the sauce, and the potato noodles were nicely buttery, complemented by the hazelnuts. It was heaven on a plate.
We’d got to the dessert or cheese point and now we had another decision to make. In the end though, it was an easy choice. We would have one of each. The staff are obviously used to this sort of thing, and quiet happily brought extra plates, cutlery and anything else we might need to divide up the spoils! Chocolate soil, a chocolate and plum layered mousse, plum ice cream, and a cute little chocolate and nut muffin made an excellent dessert, the whole suffused with the warmth of cardamom, and drizzled with a port jus. It was pretty to look at, and superb on the tongue. Of course it helps that I love plums in their many and varied forms, and of course we both love port, so it was pretty much guaranteed to be a late summer winner.
A selection of raw milk cheeses from Affineur Waltmann provided an excellent finish, with some very good bread and local fruit chutneys (plum, mirabelle).
The atmosphere is pleasantly casual, the food anything but casual with a precision and attention to detail that means every mouthful is rewarding, delicious, and memorable. A Michelin star is no less than this place deserves. We paid the bill – after a bit of uncertainty as they generally don’t take VISA only MasterCard or cash. Whatever the case, the payment went through so everyone was happy! And then we had to drive back to Glottertal. Strangely, the route down the mountain seemed a lot shorter, so the SatNav promptly misdirected me on the way out of Freiburg and instantly added 10 minutes to the journey time. The Gasthaus has rooms, at quite reasonable rates, so if there’s a next time, I’ll look at staying there instead.