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l'Arnsbourg, 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 96.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
Below Average to Average (80-85)
Avoid (below 80)
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Note: Chef Jean-Georges Klein has left l'Arnsbourgh in 2014 and is set to open a new restaurant at Villa René Lalique in Alsace in September 2015.

Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey, that is Michelin's description of a three-star restaurant. Where some three-star restaurants are bang in the middle of a city, a lot of them aren't. In some cases a special journey is indeed required to take you to a location where you would never expect a such an establishment. Sometimes you even get to the point during your drive to the restaurant where you ask yourself: "Look, we left civilisation something like an hour ago, where is this place?" And then there it is, in the case of l'Arnsbourg in a valley in Northern Alsace, almost out (and in the middle) of nowhere, near the hamlet of Untermuhltal. I have to say that for me in these cases just getting there is part of the joy of visiting a three-star restaurant.

The beautiful building in which l'Arnsbourg is housed has been in owned by the Klein family for over 100 years. It was Lilly Klein who turned the house into a restaurant and it was her cooking that got the restaurant its first Michelin star in 1988. In 1993 her children Cathy and Jean-Georges took over the restaurant  and with self-taught chef Jean-Georges at the helm of the kitchen, the restaurant was awarded a second star in 1998. Four years later, in 2002, the restaurant received its third star. In 2006 Jean Georges Klein and his wife Nicole opened a hotel called "Hotel K" which is located in the same building as the restaurant and has 12 rooms and suites.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Thursday till Monday. There are three tasting menus, Menu Découverte (8 courses €160), Menu Truffe (10 courses €240) and Menu Saveur (6 courses €135) and there's the a la carte menu. I had lunch at l'Arnsbourg on 27 February 2012 with my husband and a friend and we all had the Menu Découverte.

With our aperitifs we were served five amuses-bouches: (i) Parsley root, shiitake dim-sum; lovely elegant Asian flavours - (ii) Milk ice with peanut and coconut; great textures and wonderful aftertaste from the peanut - (iii) Lobster, crab, couscous madeleine; tasty and the madeleine had a lovely consistency - (iv) Mango sorbet, tangerine mousse 'Imperial', spicy meringue (cumin, cardamom, nutmeg); lovely bitters - (v) Poached egg with a pumpkin and yuzu mousse; perfect touch of acidity from the yuzu.

First course was Variation of Cabbage and salmon (3 dishes). First: Red cabbage cornet with pickled red cabbage, salmon tartare, sour cream, salmon caviar. Beautiful red cabbage flavours and lovely fresh salmon tartare. Great finesse and textures.
Second: Vegetable noodle dish with a Thai vinaigrette, soy sauce sour cream, nori-wrapped salmon. Terrific spaghetti made from cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Lovely heat from the vinaigrette. Great combination of fresh flavours.
Third: Salmon tartare marinated in sauerkraut, mustard ice cream and a sour cream mousse. A well-balanced dish. Lovely and refreshing sour cream mousse and a nice piquancy from the mustard ice cream.

After the first course we were served an extra dish that wasn't mentioned on the menu. Oyster with iced rice vinegar, soy Hollandaise and cumin. As I was told a dish that should be eaten immediately when it's served otherwise you miss the contrast in temperatures. Which I did as I had to take a pic..... I did love the soy Hollandaise, the soy and butter were integrated very well.

Second course: Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, hazelnuts, Pierre Robert cheese. Wonderful textures of Jerusalem artichoke, puree, pickled and a bonbon served with sliced hazelnuts and Pierre Robert crème and foam. Great balance of flavours. Lovely earthy notes from the Jerusalem artichoke and truffle and sharpness from the Pierre Robert crème. Nice crunch from the hazelnuts.

Third course: Goose liver parfait, almonds (crème, fresh and shaved), beetroot, blackberries, balsamic and honey puree. A tried and tested combination of flavours. Delicious parfait that was served at the perfect temperature. Lovely beetroot and beetroot puree. A wonderful combination of flavours except for the extremely concentrated balsamic and honey puree which was too powerful and too acidic for my taste.

The fourth course: Sole, smoked eel, saffron, Tanaisie (Tansy) vinaigrette, mashed potato, Parmesan mousse, tangerine puree. Perfectly cooked, firm but moist, sole fillet. The eel was lovely but quite strong and didn't go too well with the sole. In fact this dish can better be looked upon as two separate dishes on one plate. Fantastic intensity of flavour from the tangerine puree and beautifully made floral Tanaisie vinaigrette. A dish with a great combination of fresh and rich flavours.

Fifth course: Tiramisu of truffle (fresh and foam), soy powder, soft egg yolk. Utterly gorgeous combination of flavours and well-balanced too. Terrific touch of saltiness from the soy powder. A very clever dish.

Sixth course, served on a two-layered plate. First up was Clams, oyster leaf, sea cucumber, radish, sea greens, Hollandaise sauce and shallots. As you can see on the photograph an incredibly elegant dish. Very tasty clams and lovely crunch from the vegetables. Delicious and airy Hollandaise. The second layer was Lobster, scallops, girolles, seaweed, wasabi Kombu paste, XO cream. Wonderful tender and juicy lobster and tasty chopped scallops. The XO cream provided warmth and spicyness. A dish with a marvelous depth of flavour yet supremely elegant. It takes a great chef to combine such bold flavours into such an elegant and subtle dish.

Seventh and main course: Venison, venison jus, mushroom chutney, pumpkin puree, balsamic and chilli puree, pigeon liver mousse sandwich and 5 grain risotto. Beautifully pink, well-hung venison served with a stunning reduced jus. Good strong game flavours. Terrific pigeon liver mousse sandwich, perfect crisp outside and a rich and pure pigeon liver mousse filling. The balsamic and chilli puree was powerful and needed to be consumed in moderation (as was the puree served with the third course). Nice texture from the 5 grain risotto.

Eighth course. Truffle and potato cappuccino. Delicious smooth and rich potato mash served with a lovely truffle foam and some cacao powder on top. A very rich but lovely dish.

Right, don't ask me how but after this eight course menu we still had some room left for cheese and dessert.

l'Arnsbourg's cheese collection.

Then the dessert collection. First two plates with a wonderful selection of small 'bites' like (bottom plate, left to right) orange and eglantine marmalade, eglantine jelly, lemon and white chocolate meringue, eglantine sorbet and (top plate, left to right) elderflower jelly, chocolate mouse with yuzu, pineapple meringue, porcini crisp and clove crisp. 

Next was Figs, sambuca foam, cardamom biscuit and passion fruit pearls.

Last but not least these gorgeous citrus doughnuts.

Lunch at l'Arnsbourg was a unique experience, both because of the food and the spectacular surroundings of the restaurant. Jean-Georges Klein is an incredibly skilled and versatile chef who is renowned for his contemporary take on French cuisine. This menu however was more a mix and match of contemporary and more classically styled dishes with a contemporary twist. The kitchen clearly works at the highest level and the execution of the dishes is impeccable. Klein employs innovative flavour combinations, some of which work wonderfully well (such as the oyster with soy Hollandaise and the lobster with XO cream) and some less so (such as the balsamic-honey and the balsamic-chilli puree). The restaurant offers a full-on three-star experience and mercifully the food is very digestible; we worked our way through eight courses and cheese and dessert and left refreshed rather than stuffed.

Posted 06-05-2012


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