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Auberge de l'Ill, three Michelin stars in Illhaeusern

Rating: 96.
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Some Michelin-starred restaurants in France are true family businesses. Auberge de l'Il in the charming village of Illhaeusern is one of them. It is a 4th generation restaurant that has been run by the Haeberlin family for 130 years. The restaurant was established as a country inn called l'Arbre Vert in 1882 by the current patron Marc Haeberlin's great-grandparents. The original inn was destroyed in a bombing raid in WWII in 1945. Marc Haeberlin's father and uncle Paul and Jean-Pierre Haeberlin built a new restaurant on the same site after the war. The restaurant opened in 1950 and was renamed Auberge de l'Ill.

It was during the reign of Paul (executive chef and Jean-Pierre (Maitre d'Hôtel) that the restaurant rose to the highest level of culinary excellence and recognition. Auberge de l'Ill was awarded a Michelin star in 1952 and a second one in 1957. The coveted third star followed in 1967 and has been retained ever since. In 2008 Paul Haeberlin passed away at the age of 84 and was succeeded officially at the helm of the kitchen by his son Paul who had been working in the Auberge de l'Ill kitchens since the mid seventies. Paul's sister Danielle and her husband Marco Baumann are also active in the family business. Danielle is the manager of the restaurant and Marco is the manager of Hotel des Berges. The hotel, built in 1992 right next to the restaurant, has 4 suites and 8 rooms.

Auberge de l'Ill is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday till Sunday. The restaurant offers a 5-course Menu Tradition (€121), a 7-course Menu Haeberlin (€165) and an a la carte menu. I had lunch with my husband at Auberge de l'Ill on Wednesday 6 June 2012 and we both had the Haeberlin menu.

With our aperitifs three appetizers arrived (from left to right in the photo): (i) fantastic crisp cheese sables with puffed rice - (ii) lovely moist and tasty courgette and grey shrimp cakes - (iii) Delicious fresh salmon rilettes.

Next, an amuse bouche: Fish soup, Parisienne potatoes and poached gamba accompanied by a croustillant topped with rouille. Delicious fish soup with wonderful, concentrated fish flavours, a hint of orange and cayenne pepper. Well-made rouille, nice and oily. An excellent amuse bouche with a wonderful build-up of flavours.

First of course of the Menu Haeberlin was Ocean perch, langoustine sandwich, confit tomato sauce, samphire, chickpea puree. Lightly marinated ocean perch which had a wonderful delicate softness to it and combined well with the samphire and chopped nuts salad. With the ocean perch came this very satisfying langoustine sandwich: crispy bread with a fantastic langoustine filling. The chickpea puree had a lovely smooth consistency and nice, subtle, nutty flavours. Nice touch of heat from the confit tomate sauce. A light and well-executed starter but not necessarily a very memorable dish.

Second course, Sea bass, buckwheat risotto, squid, summer vegetables, sweet red pepper sauce. Perfectly cooked moist and succulent sea bass and lovely tender pieces of squid, served with the most divine, creamy, sweet red pepper sauce which had the perfect touch of acidity. Excellent fresh and tasty summer vegetables like courgette, red pepper, tomato and potatoes all cut in brunoise. Delicious rich and creamy buckwheat risotto with some lovely stringy cheese in it. A wonderfully comforting dish with fabulous textures and very precise flavours. Auberge de l'Ill is worth a special journey for this dish alone.

On to the third course, Lobster ragout, white port bisque, citrus fruit foam, green beans, yellow beans, mangetout. The white port bisque was delicious and had a lovely richness to it. Hidden underneath the sweet and sharp citrus fruit foam was a gorgeous sweet and succulent piece of lobster. The intense sweetness from both the white port and the citrus fruit foam didn't overpower the lobster but on the whole the dish was a bit sweet for my taste. Nice freshness and texture from the crunchy beans however.

Fourth and main course, Fillet of veal, foie gras, truffle, 'biscuit de pommes de terre', mushrooms, Perigueux sauce. A stunning piece of veal that was full of flavour and covered with a sensational foie gras, breadcrumb and truffle crust. Beautifully made 'biscuit pommes de terre' with a delicious mushroom, green cabbage and pine nut filling. All this was served with a superb Perigueux sauce which had an amazing depth of flavour. Perhaps not the most beautiful presentation but the flavours were unbelieveable.

Fifth course, Les Fromages. A wonderful selection of (local) French cheeses.

Sixth course, Apricot poached with rosemary, sheep's yoghurt smoothie, almond cake. A gorgeous juicy apricot with lovely subtle rosemary flavours accompanied by a wonderful fresh sheep's yoghurt smoothie and an almond cake.

Seventh and last course, 'Feuille à feuille' with seasonal red fruits (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), fennel ice cream, lemon crème. Lovely fresh berries which went surprisingly well with the fennel ice cream. The ice cream was nice and creamy and had a wonderful, profound fennel flavour. Nice sharp lemon crème and gorgeous crisp wafer-thin pastry. A lovely dessert that was executed very well. 

Auberge de l'IIl is a legendary restaurant. Only Paul Bocuse has had his three stars longer (since 1965). The restaurant, with its magical riverside location, stands out with its welcoming charm and its authentic hospitality. The ambiance is chic but not stuffy, the service is very professional but not formal, the quality of the food is as excellent as it is reliable. Auberge de l'Ill unquestionably lived up to my high expectations. Marc Haeberlin presides over an impressive culinary legacy and who delivers classic dishes with the occasional modern touch with fantastic flavours. As befits a great chef, the sauces in particular were done to perfection; both the sweet red pepper sauce and the Perigueux sauce were absolutely brilliant. Auberge de l'Ill is a restaurant with a soul like only family restaurants have and I trust that, as it continues to evolve, it will remain true to what it is in essence.

Posted 08-10-2012


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