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La Belle Epoque in Travemünde - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 97.
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 Kevin Fehling has left La Belle Epoque and will open his own restaurant called The Table in Hamburg in August 2015.

It may well have been a Gillardeau oyster with Eisbein (ham hock), served with parsley, sauerkraut and horseradish that got restaurant La Belle Epoque in Travemünde its third star in the 2013 Michelin guide for Germany. Chief-editor Ralf Flinkenflügel said about this dish: „Dies gehört zu den eindrucksvollsten Gerichten, welche ich in den letzten Jahren gegessen habe“. (This belongs to the most impressive dishes, which I have eaten in recent years). It has been said that he may not have been the only one to harbour this opinion...

La Belle Epoque is housed in the beautiful seaside Columbia Travemünde hotel on the Baltic coast. Executive chef of La Belle Epoque is 35-year old Kevin Fehling, who received his training at a number of renowned German restaurants, such as l'Echalote in Bremen, Michelin starred Wollenberg and Piment in Hamburg, Restaurant Wullenwever in Lübeck, Harald Wohlfahrt's legendary Schwarzwaldstube in the Black Forest and he even did a stint at the MS Europa cruiseship. Fehling has been at the helm of the kitchen of La Belle Epoque since 2005 and in 2007 (2008 guide) he received his first Michelin star; a second star followed in 2010 (2011 guide).

With his 35 years Kevin Fehling is a member of very exclusive group of young European three-star chefs that all hail from the same vintage, 1977. Other members of this group are Arnaud Donckele of France's newest three-star restaurant La Résidence de la Pinède in Saint Tropez, Andreas Caminada of Schloss Schauenstein in Fürstenau, Switzerland and Eneko Atxa of Spain's newest three-star restaurant Azurmendi in Larrabetzu. The year 1977 may generally have been a poor vintage for wine in Europe but it certainly looks like it has been a good vintage for three-star chefs!

La Belle Epoque is located on the second floor of the hotel and from the restaurant you have an amazing view of the Travemünde coastline. The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday till Sunday and offers a single tasting menu only (4 courses €120, 6 courses €155 and 8 courses €185). I had dinner at La Belle Epoque with my husband on Wednesday 29 May 2013 and we opted for 8 courses.

Soon after we had chosen our aperitifs, the first three amuse-bouches arrived. 'Travemünder Shrimpbrötchen' (Travemünde shrimp roll) - a shellfish macaron 'roll' with a Fjord shrimp, dill mayonnaise and thinly sliced cherry tomato filling. Next to it was a 'Bauernfrühstuck' (Farmer's breakfast) - at the bottom of the spoon was a ham tartare (called Schinken pesto), topped with a poached quail's egg, a thin slice of beetroot, a foamy bechamel-like sauce and a some bacon crumble. Finally Hamachi tartare, topped with a Mojito foam and iced green tea pearls, served with avocado crème, cucumber, green apple and an algae tuile. These were three exceptional and (in the case of the shrimp roll and the Farmer's breakfast) playful amuse bouches, prepared with great attention to detail.

Next to arrive was the bread.

The fourth amuse bouche was Fjord trout carpaccio Waldorf style. Ultra-fresh trout carpaccio served with a light walnut crème, mandarin jelly, diced apple, finely chopped walnut, cayenne mayonnaise and iced celery pearls. The trout and the the waldorf flavours blended together perfectly.

Lobster with char roe and Cognac pearls completed the amuse-bouche collection. A perfectly crisp and wafer-thin carrot cylinder with a lobster tartare filling, topped with a lime foam and char roe. The carrot really intensified the sweetness of the lobster, balanced perfectly by the freshness of the lime foam. A very sophisticated take on the classic lobster and cognac combination.

Langoustine carpaccio 'Wiener Art' (Viennese style) was the first course of the tasting menu. Lovely fresh langoustine carpaccio in a perfect rectangular shape, served with all the traditional accompaniments of a Wiener Schnitzel - but Kevin Fehling style: cubes of anchovy jelly, halved capers, iced lemon pearls, tiny crisp croutons, cranberries and fresh flat-leaf parsley. A wonderful interplay of flavours with high and low notes.
The anchovy jelly was delicious and bursting with flavour. Lovely sweet bitters from the lemon pearls; the cranberries provided a nice bridge between these bitters and the salty flavours. The Viennese components were quite powerful on their own but fortunately there was enough langoustine on the plate to carry these flavours.

Second course was Goose Liver 'Johan Strauss II - Frühlingstimmen'. A goose liver dish ("ungestopft" - no force feeding) with spring flavours (strawberry, rhubarb and woodruff) that comprised three components. First a fantastic goose liver macaron with rhubarb and strawberry jelly that had an amazingly long aftertaste. Even better was 'Johan Strauss' goose liver served with cubes of strawberry jelly, dots of almond cream, pieces of iced woodruff cream, rhubarb and thin strawberry crisps. The presentation was very theatrical but that didn't distract me from the flavours, which were marvellous. Perfect balance between rich, sweet and fruity flavours. Lovely build-up too; first the splendidly lavish goose liver and the intense strawberry jelly, followed by the creamy, warm flavours of the almond. Last in line was beautifully caramelised pan-fried goose liver served with a gorgeous sweet strawberry gel, rhubarb puree and a lightly thickened woodruff stock. An original dish with a great balance of flavours. This trilogy of goose liver was an outstanding course and I loved the choice of ingredients. Woodruff is a popular ingredient in Germany but in this case it is also a brilliantly chosen one, not just because of its flavour, but especially since Waldmeister, the German name for woodruff, is also an operetta by Johan Strauss II (1895; RV 515).

Next up was Dover sole, cockles, Mikan liqueur, pumpkin, passion fruit, lemon Hollandaise and miso. Excellent piece of moist Dover sole served with a coconut and lime foam and a light, sweet Mikan broth. The sole was accompanied by a fantastic, smooth pumpkin puree topped with a slice of pumpkin, a nice and tart passion fruit puree and some miso pearls. Lovely sweet flavours balanced perfectly by the freshness of the passion fruit and the lemon Hollandaise; the miso pearls added an extra flavour dimension. The 'sand' was a concentrated mixture of shellfish cracker, ice cream waffle and algae. A complex dish with very precise flavours and a perfect sweet and sour balance.

Fourth course was Oyster, Unagi (Japanese eel), wasabi snow, green apple and cucumber broth, rice cream and coriander puree. This dish is the successor of the oyster and Eisbein dish which Ralf Flinkenflügel loved so much and in a way you can look at it as a deconstructed Unagi nigiri sushi. Lovely, juicy, lightly poached oyster and a sublime piece of Unagi that was moist and sweet on the inside and nice and crunchy on the outside. On top of the eel were some marinated tapioca pearls and some puffed rice. A delicate and airy rice cream came with the oyster. Pure and beautifully balanced apple and cucumber broth; lovely fresh, sweet-and-tart flavours from the apple and a nice freshness from the cucumber, the apple delivering enough sweetness to prevent the broth from tasting too 'green'. I liked that the wasabi was served as a snow; this way there was just enough heat. Lovely coriander puree too. The puree was made from the coriander stalks and therefore delivered the distinctive coriander flavour without being too powerful. A perfectly conceived and executed dish with truly evocative flavours. 

Scallop and champagne (served hot and cold) were the main ingredients of the next course. The hot part was a roasted scallop with a delicious, creamy champagne sauce served on top of a watercress puree. Next to the scallop was some bone marrow with a generous amount of caviar on top. On the rim of the plate was a yuzu gel. A wonderful dish with skillfully balanced flavours; the yuzu provided the right tang against the richness of the bone marrow and the champagne sauce and there was a lovely touch of piquancy from the watercress puree.
The cold part was a wafer-thin beetroot cylinder filled with a scallop and fresh herb tartare, served with a champagne foam and a few iced horseradish pearls. Lovely fresh and sweet flavours and subtle pungency from the horseradish.These were two excellent dishes with a wonderful synergy between intensity and freshness. Loved the choice of bone marrow to add a touch of richness rather than butter or cream.

On to the sixth and main course, Chicken 'a la Citron' with Moroccan flavours, chickpeas, couscous and kumquat puree. Gorgeous tender chicken covered with a light lemon crème, finely chopped confit lemon and Jasmine flowers. With the chicken came a fantastic light and fluffy Moroccan Hollandaise, delicately flavoured with warm spices and a divine chicken and saffron jus. The leg meat of the chicken was served as a traditional, Moroccan pastilla; the meat had been seasoned with lovely spices such as cinnamon and Ras el Hanout. Also on the plate was a chickpea 'praline' that had a lovely soft interior. An absolutely divine Moroccan feast with beautiful cooking on all levels.

The seventh course was Sun, Moon and Stars, a dessert with mandarin and orange as the main flavours. Kevin Fehling later told us that this dish was inspired by how a child (in this case his daughter) perceives the sun, the moon and the stars, combined with flavours from Fehling's childhood. First the sun: a beautifully made paper-thin blown sugar sphere, filled with a mandarin espuma and a mandarin and quark cream. Then there was a planet, made from an intense and clean-tasting mandarin ice ream and a crisp biscuit ring. The moon was made from an orange jelly and there was Little Bear made from orange puree. A glass with a delicious 'Streuselkuchen' (crumb cake) ice cream and star anise jelly was served on the side. A beautiful and skillful dish with citrus flavours of various intensities. Extra kudos for the grapefruit vesicles. There's only one other restaurant I know of that serves this extremely labour-intensive ingredient as part of a dish: it is obviously The Fat Duck with their legendary salmon in liquorice dish.

Eighth course, a dessert called Japanese cherry blossom festival. A delightful chocolate ganache shaped into a tree trunk, served with a cherry blossom puree, a cherry gel, mini cherry liqueur bonbons, cherry pearls, chocolate-cherry crumble, and coriander seed ice cream. A wonderful combination of flavours and textures and the coriander seed ice cream worked surprisingly well with the other ingredients. Loved the cherry liqueur bonbons.

Three delightful miniature desserts concluded this meal. First an open-faced pina colada macaron with mini rum bonbons, pineapple parfait and iced coconut pearls. Then there was a 'Whiskey Sour' and finally a beautifully presented dessert based on the ingredients of Daisy, a fragrance by Marc Jacobs: lychee sorbet, mandarin pearls, rose cream and rose crumble.

This meal was a dazzling display of skill and technique, of flavours and inspirations. The energy, the ambition, the methodical organisation and unrelenting perfectionism with which this restaurant has worked towards obtaining the highest accolade, reverberates from every plate. The food is very impressive, the dishes are very well conceived and the execution is immaculate. Kevin Fehling is not a chef who produces minimalistic food however, quite the contrary: he does not eschew complexity and the presentation is occasionally quite graphic and he does seem to like his iced pearls. It would be daft to speak of Fehling as a talent; he is an outstanding chef, a supreme craftsman. On the other hand, I do feel that he still has so much more to give and I will be thrilled to follow his gastronomic ramblings in the coming years. To quote Winston Churchill, speaking at a luncheon (!) in 1942: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Hats off to Kevin Fehling.

Posted 05-06-2013


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