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Vendôme in Bergisch-Gladbach - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 93.
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When you look at German two and three-star restaurants, it's safe to say that the majority of them are housed in hotels. Vendôme restaurant is located in the very grand and stately Schloss Bensberg in Bergisch-Gladbach. The Schloss was originally built as a 'Rhenish Versailles' for Elector Palatine Johann Wihelm II's second wife, Anna Maria Luisa de'Medici. Unfortunately Johann Wilhelm died before the Schloss was finished in 1716 and after his death his wife returned to the de' Medici' base in Florence, taking the artists, painters and stucco workers with her.

Through the centuries the hotel was used as a military hospital, a royal Prussian cadet academy and even as a barracks for Belgian occupying forces after World War I. In 1997 the Schloss was bought by the Aachener & Münchener life insurance company and in 2000, after a 75 million Euro remodelling job, the Schloss re-opened as Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg with 84 rooms and 36 suites. At the same time the hotel's fine dining restaurant Vendôme was launched with Joachim Wissler as executive chef. Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg is part of the Althoff Group, which also runs the other grand hotel in Bergisch-Gladbach, Schlosshotel Lerbach.

Joachim Wissler (born in 1963) started his career in the early eighties at the restaurants of Hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn (not the Schwarzwaldstube), Weissen Rössl in Hinterzarten and subsequently worked at hotel-restaurants in Baden-Baden, among which the famous Brenners Parkhotel. In 1991 he settled down in the Rheingau area, as head chef of the then Marcobrunn restaurant at Schloss Reinhartshausen in Eltville. In 1995 he won his first Michelin star, a second star followed the next year. But Wissler's success story continued at Vendôme with a first star in 2001, a second in 2002 and finally the third star in 2005. Joachim Wissler is one of Germany's most celebrated chef's and with Vendôme's number 23 position in the World's 50 Best, he's probably one of the best-known German chefs internationally.

Vendôme is open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday till Sunday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu and several multi-course tasting menus. You can choose between a small (€185) or large (€230) seasonal menu, a 6-course 'Degustationsmenü' for €160 and there's a 5-course Gourmet lunch menu for €110 (including a glass of champagne, water and tea or coffee). I had lunch with my husband at Vendôme on Sunday 31 March 2013. This was Easter Sunday and unfortunately the seasonal tasting menu was not on offer that day, so we decided to go for the Degustationsmenü.

The meal started with four lovely canapés (from left to right): 'golden' puffed rice cracker served with an ice-cold lychee granita and lychee and pickle jelly - macaron made entirely out of foie gras, with a mango puree filling - black olive oreo biscuit with goat's cheese and dried black olive - lightly salted potato crisp with Jerusalem artichoke and a tender snail.

First course of the tasting menu was 'Life in autumn'. I have to say that I was quite surprised to see this dish on the menu since it was almost April. Spring certainly didn't arrive early this year but Autumn is really way behind us. Anyway, Life in autumn was quite a complex dish of autumnal flavours and lots of different textures. There was a lovely dark mushroom and truffle crème and an elegant and creamy bacon crème, fresh hazelnuts, hazelnut jelly (shaped into a hazelnut) with a hazelnut cream filling and a quite pungent douglas fir jelly. Finally two 'leaves' made from mushroom essence and beetroot, which were rather sticky. For me there was too much going on on the plate, there were some nice elements in it but overall the flavours didn't really work for me.

Second course Crayfish, Tonda di Chioggia, lemon-Kefir. Perfectly cooked juicy crayfish (including the claw meat), served with wafer-thin sliced Tonda di Chioggia (a type of beetroot with bright red and white striped flesh) and a light and airy lemon-kefir cream. A beautifully presented dish with clean and precise flavours that was very well-executed. A lovely rich and creamy crayfish soup was served separately.

On to the third course: one of Joachim Wissler's signature dishes, Truffle and mascarpone ravioli. A ravioli comprised of a thin sheet of tomato essence jelly with marvellous mushroom, truffle and mascarpone 'filling' and topped with some crispy bacon crumble, julienne of black winter truffle, a few drops of aged balsamic and a creamy tomato foam. The first time I had this dish was 3 years ago and at the time it blew me away. In fact it was so good that I ordered a second helping on the spot. This dish exemplifies beautiful cooking on all levels. It's got freshness, it's got texture, it's got unctuousness. For me this is one of Joachim Wissler's most iconic dishes.

Fourth course, Dover sole, beurre blanc, lemon Hollandaise, cockles. A well-cooked but rather small fillet of sole served with a foamy lemon hollandaise, a runny beurre blanc sauce, finely chopped winter vegetables, wilted spinach and some fresh peas. Flavourwise this was a wonderful dish but the presentation was messy. The a la carte version of this dish which I had enjoyed during my previous visit in 2010 was much more refined.

The fifth and main course was Venison, celeriac, parsley, 'Schupfnudeln', salsify. Beautifully cooked saddle and fillet of venison served with lovely fresh morel mushrooms, sweet braised shallots, delicious smooth parsley and celeriac purees, braised salsify and a wonderful well-reduced venison jus. Also on the plate was the venison liver, which was severely undercooked and 'bleeding', and therefore left untouched. The tiny Schupfnudeln were nice but I would have liked some caramelisation on them. A good but not a great dish.

Finally an elegant dessert of fresh apple and quince served with a tarragon-olive oil ice cream, honey meringues, some nice and sharp goat's yoghurt snow and a fantastic clean-tasting and flower-scented 'Sud'.

This was a good meal but not a great one. In view of Joachim Wissler's reputation and of my two previous visits I was distinctly underwhelmed. From a gastronomic point of view one cannot really fault this food but this is hardly representative of Wissler's famous New German Cuisine; apparently you can only experience that when you order the multi-course seasonal tasting menu and they didn't offer that when I was there. Why didn't they? And why did they serve dishes from autumn 2012 at Easter Sunday lunch 2013? Or dishes that I had eaten three years before? Surely the innovative powers of a three-star chef go beyond this? The a la carte menu is more a selection of 'greatest hits' (or golden oldies, if you prefer), but Joachim Wissler is neither Paul Bocuse nor Heston Blumenthal. Usually I gladly subject myself to tasting menus, but it would be nice to have a choice. Service was rushed - the place was packed of course, but one would hope this is not an exception? I will be back, but it won't be on an Easter Sunday.

2014 review of Vendome (click here)

Posted 25-04-2013


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