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Aqua in Wolfsburg - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 98.
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Outstanding (93-95)
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Its location is somewhat unusual to say the least: Volkswagen Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany. Autostadt is a 70 acre theme park right next to the Volkswagen factory and it attracts over 2 million visitors a year. Eight pavilions represent the brands under the umbrella of the Volkswagen AG, such as Audi, Seat, Porsche, Lamborghini and obviously Volkswagen itself. You can also pick up your new car here. Right on the edge of the Autostadt complex you will find the immaculate Ritz-Carlton hotel that houses the beautifully appointed restaurant Aqua ('Aqua'). The hotel overlooks the very impressive original (1930's) Volkwagen "Kraftwerk". With a three star restaurant so close to the Volkswagen factory, you would almost be inclined to think that a person or persons unknown on the board of directors of Volkswagen AG like their food - if Aqua did lunch (they don't) it might almost be their staff canteen...

The Ritz-Carlton and Aqua opened their doors in 2000 and Sven Elverfeld (b. 1968) has been at the helm of the kitchen since the beginning. Sven Elverfeld, who started out as a Konditor (pastry chef), received his training at well-known (Michelin starred) German restaurants, such as Dieter Müller in Bergisch-Gladbach, Humperdinck in Frankfurt, Hessler in Maintal and the Gutsschänke at Schloss Johannisberg (a personal favourite of yours truly) in the Rheingau. In the late nineties Elverfeld joined the Ritz-Carlton group, first taking a position in Dubai and since 2000 in Wolfsburg. Aqua was awarded its first star in 2001 (2002 guide), a second star followed in 2005 (2006 guide) and in 2008 (2009 guide) Aqua received the ultimate accolade and became the first three-star restaurant in Northern Germany. For four years now, Aqua has also featured in the World's 50 best restaurants list. Its highest position has been number 22 (2012) and it currently holds the number 30 spot.

Aqua is open for dinner Tuesday till Saturday and the restaurant offers two multi-course tasting menus: Menu Visionen (4 courses €135, 5 courses €145, 6 courses €160, 7 courses €175) and Menu Impressionen (6 courses €160, 8 courses €190, 9 courses €205). I had dinner at Aqua with my husband on Friday 24 May 2013 and we both ordered the 7-course Menu Visionen.

Our meal started with a selection of appetisers. First to arrive was Tomato Caipirinha, a dark red tomato bonbon with a liquid Caipirinha filling and a small piece of anchovy on top. Sven Elverfeld's signature "Knusperillos" were next. From right to left: Flammkuchen with a creamy filling - Cornet with a veal 'Tafelspitz' filling (including a brunoise of the traditional Tafelspitz vegetables) - Crispy cylinder with a creamy black forest ham and quinoa filling. These were four incredibly precise appetisers, the crispness and the thinness of the Knusperillos was extraordinary and the flavours were spot on.


The bread was served with a delicious goat's cheese crème, covered with a mixture of crisp roasted onions and fresh herbs.

Two 'soup shots' and a Parmesan and caraway seed cracker were served next. A wonderfully concentrated, smoked, sweet potato soup, served with drops of wild garlic oil (Bärlauch oil). The flavours were beautifully layered: First an intense smokiness, then sweetness and finally a light garlicky finish. A sensational flavour combination. The second shot was a powerful mustard soup served with blood sausage foam and crumbs. Loved the strong mustard flavours.

Finally there were two amuse-bouche spoons. Salsify (puree, crisp and pickled) with Pedro Ximénez gel on the right and Smoked eel with sorrel cream and white radish on the left. Two fantastic bites with lovely textures.

This was a delightful selection of appetisers, all executed with great precision. I was particularly impressed with both soup shots.

First course was Scallop, foie gras, lentils, pak choi, sesame crème. A gigantic scallop half (cooked a la plancha) served with fresh and crunchy pak choi, luke-warm mixed 'Asian' lentils and grated foie gras. Beautiful caramelisation on the scallop and the lentils were delicately flavoured with lime, sesame and soy. The scallop coral was turned into a delicious crème served with some enoki mushrooms. An exquisite, energetic dish with clean and well-defined flavours.

Second course: Cod, veal brawn, cauliflower, brown butter and silverskin onions. An excellent piece of cod, still moist and opaque in the middle, with some veal brawn melted over it - some gorgeous brawn meat was left on top. With the cod came two thin slices of cauliflower sprinkled with very fine, brown and buttery bread crumbs and a divine cauliflower puree that had a wonderfully smooth, silky texture. The cod/cauliflower combination can sometimes be a bit bland, but not here. The veal brawn made this an exceptional dish with a brilliant architectonic build-up of flavours: first the soft cod, followed by the creaminess of the cauliflower and subtle acidity of the veal brawn and then BOOM! the gorgeous brown butter. Great textures too, especially from the delicious, lightly charred silverskin onions.

On to the third course. A warm asparagus salad with a creamy asparagus sauce, hidden underneath a layer of thinly sliced marinated beef. The beef was covered with a layer of beautifully clear, jellied beef stock, jewelled with caviar and a poached egg yolk on top. Three asparagus tips were topped with a rich bone marrow crème. A sumptuous and rich dish with the cleanest, yet most intense flavours and terrific textures. The bone marrow delivered an almost unending aftertaste. Exceptional seasoning too; there was plenty of black pepper, which was perfect.

An excellent and much needed palate cleanser arrived next: a sorbet made with Ruinart rosé champagne. A superb, clean-tasting sorbet served with Ruinart rosé champagne poured over. The sorbet had a wonderful smooth and creamy texture and the characteristic Ruinart rosé flavours. Lovely extra freshness from the champagne.

Fifth and main course was Bresse chicken, served in two courses. First a rich but elegant combination of braised chicken leg Fricassee served with fresh peas (halved and foam) and sliced green beans, presented in a beautiful glass bowl. This was followed by two superb pieces of moist and tender chicken fillet, covered with finely chopped crisp chicken skin and served with a delicious creamy chicken sauce. To make the crispy chicken skin, the skin is roasted, then finely chopped, and then roasted again. The chicken was accompanied by buttered carrot and beetroot, carrot and beetroot purees and a gorgeous morel mousseline. Two formidable chicken dishes that brilliantly marry full-throttle chicken flavours with elegance and finesse.

After the main course there was cheese. Aqua offers a truly comprehensive selection of well-matured (mainly French) hard and soft cheeses. In the picture you will see Jimmy Ledemazel, the restaurant's excellent maitre d'hotel and one of the three (!) silver Christofle trolleys.

Seventh and last course of the tasting menu was Liquorice, beetroot, rhubarb, yoghurt, poppy seeds, sorrel, violets. An absolutely beautifully presented dessert of poppy seed cake, violet meringue crumbs mixed with poppy seeds, rhubarb (gel, meringue, cream, poached) and some dark liquorice jelly. Then there was some superb sorrel ice cream placed on top of some yoghurt foam and a delicious liquorice crème shaped into a liquorice stick. But the very best was a gorgeous bonbon with a rhubarb sorbet filling. A complex dessert that displayed outstanding technical craftsmanship.

Two final desserts were served next. On the right a refreshing dessert of Kefir (a type of yoghurt) and woodruff foam, cucumber sorbet and fresh cucumber and on the left a wonderful dessert of fresh apple and celery, celery sorbet and walnut crumbs.

For me, Sven Elverfeld's unique and distinctive style of cooking personifies New German cuisine. He successfully incorporates traditional German ingredients and concepts in meticulously prepared, modern dishes with cutting edge flavours. More than almost any other chef, he will use every technique necessary to get the maximum from his ingredients, resulting in blockbuster dishes with innovative flavour and texture combinations. Flavour wise these are 4.2 litre V8 dishes; in some cases you really need to buckle up. The Menu Visionen was a bit like a high-speed drive around the Nurbürgring; exhilarating but sometimes also a bit overwhelming.

This is not a place of understatement or restraint - in any respect. No expense or effort is spared to achieve greatness. I bought Sven Elverfeld's cookbook at the restaurant and browsing through it back home, I noticed that not a single one of the actual dishes that I had been served, featured in the book. Elverfeld's creative freedom seems unlimited and with only five dinners a week and a "Sommerkreativpause" his "Arbeitspensum" should not be too forbidding. Sven Elverfeld and his team use the space the are given wisely and the results are quite spectacular. Aqua has everything what it needs to be among the best restaurants in Europe and it delivers very convincingly.

Posted 14-06-2013


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