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Waldhotel Sonnora in Wittlich - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 95.
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Outstanding (93-95)
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Germany currently has no fewer than 10 restaurants with three Michelin stars. Recently there's been much talk about "the rise of German cuisine" but those who are in this conversation seem to forget that German gastronomy has been world-class for decades and that Germany is a foodie destination that has been overlooked for many years. With 27 three-star restaurants, France is clearly in the lead when it comes to "La Grande Cuisine" in Europe but Germany has been the runner-up for years.

In 1979 Eckart Witzigmann's legendary Munich restaurant Aubergine was the third restaurant outside France to be awarded three Michelin stars, which it held until he retired in 1994. The other two at the time were Comme Chez Soi (1979, Pierre Wynants) and Villa Lorraine (1972, Marcel Kreusch), both located in Brussels. In the mid-eighties there were 6 three-star restaurants outside of France. Half of these were located in Germany: Aubergine, Tantris (Heinz Winkler, 1981) and the Goldener Pflug (Herbert Schönberner, 1982), the others were in Belgium and in the UK (Le Gavroche, 1982). The latest addition to the top of the culinary pyramid in Germany is restaurant La Belle Epoque (Kevin Fehling) in Lübeck; Michelin awarded this restaurant three stars in their 2013 guide for Germany.

For many years but mainly before the launch of this website, I have been visiting many of these German three-star restaurants. Last year there was a focus on French three-star restaurants on my website; this year I will focus on Germany's three and two-star restaurants. The restaurant to kick off this series is Waldhotel Sonnora in Wittlich/Dreis on the Mosel, a restaurant that has held three Michelin stars since 1999.

Waldhotel Sonnora houses both the restaurant and a hotel and is located in a small forest. Executive chef of Sonnora is Helmut Thieltges (born 1955). He and his wife Ulrike (maitre d'hotel) have run the hotel and restaurant since 1978. Sonnora is one of Germany's culinary icons; in the German Gault Millau restaurant guide Sonnora has been awarded 19.5 points, the highest rating the guide bestows, and it also holds a top rating in many other important German culinary guides (Feinschmecker, Aral, Varta).

Waldhotel Sonnora is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Sunday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu and daily changing multi-course tasting menus. I had dinner at Waldhotel Sonnora on Saturday 2 March with my husband and a friend and we had a 6-course tasting menu.

With our aperitif the first of four amuse bouches arrived: a delicious smoked salmon roll with a smoked eel filling served on a buttery potato rosti and a fresh cucumber and dill salad on the side.

The next three amuse bouches were served on one plate (from left to right): Oyster, elderflower, olive oil, pea shoots, mint; a wonderful combination of textures and the mint delivered a lovely finish - Shellfish 'bonbon' wrapped in crisp Kataifi pastry served with dots of curry puree; great textures and nice and elegant curry flavours - Creamy mussel soup with saffron and finely diced carrot, celery and leeks; a lovely creamy soup with juicy mussels, the diced vegetables added body.

The first course of the tasting menu was Langoustine tartare. A beautiful mirror of thinly sliced ultra-fresh langoustine drizzled with a light dressing of lemon and hazelnut oil and accompanied by some caviar-speckled crème fraîche. Beautifully balanced flavours, the dressing added freshness and depth and the salty caviar really lifted the dish.

Second course: Quail's breast, macaroni, truffle sauce, parsley mousse. Well-rested pink and succulent quail's breast served with a marvellous, rich and meaty truffle sauce. In the middle of the plate there was this beautiful ring of macaroni with a stunning chicken and foie gras forcemeat filling, a thing of great beauty. The forcemeat had a wonderful light and smooth consistency and was delicately flavoured; the foie gras added warmth rather than richness. Surrounding this gorgeousness were three baby quenelles of parsley mousse that had fantastic, clean and sharp parsley flavours. The parsley provided excellent balance. A wonderfully luxurious dish.

Third course: Turbot with a Bearnaise and veal sauce. An excellent piece of turbot with a beautiful thin and crisp potato crust served with a drizzle of Bearnaise and some well-reduced veal jus; the potato crust added a lovely sweet, caramelised flavour. Superb fresh 'al dente' vegetables like celery, mangetout and red and yellow peppers. Last but not least three perfectly made see-through pommes souffles revealing a tarragon leaf inside. A perfectly conceived and executed dish with impeccable flavours.

On to the fourth course, Scallops, chicory and lemongrass. Pan-fried succulent scallops served with some lovely glazed bitter-sweet chicory and a creamy sauce flavoured rather heavily with lemongrass. The light bitters of the chicory matched the sweetness of the scallops nicely but the use of lemongrass was heavy-handed.

Fifth course. Challans duck, polenta, red cabbage, cinnamon poached pear, orange zest, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts. Beautifully cooked tender duck served with thin strips of orange zest, sweet braised red cabbage and a rich and dark duck jus. The duck jus had a wonderful depth of flavour but the braised red cabbage was a touch too sweet and the orange zest slightly overpowered the duck. Also on the plate were a few pieces of sweet-and-sour apple and three perfectly shaped pear balls placed on top of some baked polenta. Both the apple and the pear added a nice freshness. I can't fault the execution of the dish but to my mind the flavours were slightly unbalanced; too much sweetness for my taste.

Next a fantastic Tangerine pre-dessert. A splendid clean-tasting tangerine sorbet, marinated tangerine segments and a lovely tangerine jelly accompanied by a wonderfully fresh and sharp yoghurt cream and some crunchy sweet crumble pieces.

Last and sixth course: Apple dessert. From left to right: a thick well-set marzipan cream on a light sponge cake base - a wonderful apple-caramel ice cream served with a fabulous intensely flavoured apple jelly - puff pastry topped with a light apple cream and a lovely tart apple puree. Also on the plate were a few spoonfuls of delicious foamy apple and Calvados sabayon. Flawless execution and I loved the various guises of apple.

On the basis of its stellar reputation and also on the basis of two previous visits (2003 and 2009) I came back to Sonnora expecting a truly exceptional meal. Let me be frank about it: that didn't happen this time. The overall quality of the cooking was excellent and there were some impressive highlights, but the scallop and duck dishes really didn't agree with me. Helmut Thieltges clearly is an exceptional, classical chef but the overall culinary performance on the night wasn't. The staff were very friendly and knowledgeable but service was too slow; sommelier Magdalena Brandstätter did an excellent job and Wittmann's 2002 Morstein (winner of the Bernard Breuer Trophy in the Gault Millau Weinguide Deutschland 2013) and JJ Prüm's exemplary Sonnenuhr Auslese 1995 proved excellent selections. My rating may seem conservative and in a way it is, but there were some unmistakable hiccups on the night and the rating reflects these. Is this what the cuisine at Sonnora is at today or was I unfortunate? I will gladly return to find out.

Posted 22-03-2013


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