Vendôme is the restaurant of chef Joachim Wissler, with 3 Michelin stars, awarded best restaurant in Germany and #10 on the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world. The restaurant is located in Schloss Bensberg, a very stylish hotel that is close to Cologne and less than three hours from Amsterdam. For us it is the closest restaurant in the top 10, and so about time we went to check it out 🙂
We went all out and ordered the “Spring 2014” edition of the “Big Expedition” menu, 11 courses (+ 5 amuses bouche + 6 after-dinner sweets) for 248 euros plus matching wines for 108 euros. There are also smaller options, 5 courses for 170 euros or 7 courses for 200 euros, or à la carte. (On Wednesday and Thursday there is a 200 euros special, 5 courses including wine and coffee.) We had a glass of weissburgunder (pinot blanc) sekt from Rheinessen as an aperitif.
…was served with brittle seaweed and soy sauce ‘caviar’. It actually has the texture of caviar, but is made with (and tastes like) soy sauce and a touch of wasabi. The combination is of course inspired by sushi, with only the rice missing. Very nice indeed.
We were truly impressed by the amuses bouche. Although everything looks amazing, the flavor (and texture) is more important than just visual gimmicks, which is the way we like it. 10/10 for these amuses!
The first course is scallops marinated with miso with fermented jerusalem artichoke puree and lovage vinaigrette. There were also some dried slices of scallop on the side. This dish was absolutely delicious and had amazing depth of flavor. It is hard to describe but definitely 10/10. Paired adequately with a sauvignon blanc from Alto Adige.
Seared foie gras with chicory (witlof), smoked eel, and a curry-nut emulsion. The sweetness of the 2005 late-harvest pinot gris from Alsace really brought out the foie gras. Again a wonderful combination of flavors that was both interesting and delicious. 9/10
A ‘Spanish’ stew of langoustine and octopus with sobrassado (chorizo) and beans. The melted fat of the sobrassado was served on the side to stir into the soup, along with some crispy octopus. The beans provided texture but didn’t taste of much. The combination of sobrassado with octopus is of course a classic and it was delicious, also thanks to the langoustine and octopus that were tender and juicy. 9/10 The wine pairing was OK with a white from local graps (gros and petit manseng, among others) from Fresh Basque country. This wine seemed to have been picked for the next course, and the sommelier explained that they also used it for this course to prevent confusing the guests too much with too many wines. (I would personally to risk being confused and get a better wine pairing by pairing each course individually.)
The wagyu short rib with smoked potato and vegetables was cooked to perfection (probably sous-vide). Very nice but I wasn’t impressed, probably because I can do my own wagyu sous-vide at home. 8/10 A 2006 Chambolle Musigny 1er cru is of course nice, but a bit dry for the buttery wagyu. Again this wine was used twice and apparently picked to go with the pigeon.
The cheese dish was cooked and served in a very nice and original way: steamed with hay! You could actually smell the hay and the cheese served lukewarm had just the right balance in flavor. It was served with cranberries and paired nicely with some kind of fruity cider that worked well with it.
The second dessert tasted as amazing as it looks. Wow. The grey ‘stone’ is actually a tangerine sorbet, covered with some kind of powder to make it look like a stone. The shiso leaves and all the other thingies on the plate worked very well with the tangerine sorbet. The wine pairing with a chenin blanc from South Africa also worked very well. This is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. 10/10!
The deconstructed tarte tatin with tonka bean ice cream (called “Apple 2014”) was the third and final dessert and came with an apple ‘ice wine’ that had such a strong taste that it overpowered the dessert just a bit. The dessert itself was nice but not as nice as the apple dessert at Bord’eau. 8/10
The collection of sweets was very nice: lemon and pistacchio macaron, apple and cinnamon cupcake, chocolate croissant, grapefruit cream puff, coconut and passion fruit magnum, raspberry & lychee pâte de fruit.
Joachim Wissler is a great chef. We didn’t see him during the dinner. Perhaps he wasn’t even there, or he is just shy. The food was great, beautifully presented, technically perfect, and delicious. If I have to come up with some criticism, it would have to be that I didn’t notice anything particularly ‘German’ about the menu. Most chefs use the best local produce to ‘anchor’ the restaurant in the region. Germany is not known as a culinary paradise, but this seems almost like a statement. Even none of the wines were from Germany. This makes it more difficult to identify the chef’s style. Having said that, this is certainly in the top 10 of restaurants where I’ve eaten and I’m scoring 9.5/10 for the food, close to 10/10 but not quite.
The wine pairings were adequate, although I would have preferred to have a different wine with each dish as the two wines that were used twice weren’t as great a match for one of the dishes they were paired with. 8.5/10
The service was very attentive, although perhaps a bit formal. We like to have some more interaction. What adds to that is that there are a lot of different servers. But at the same time it also shows how well they work together, as everything was efficient, fast, and accurate. 8.5/10
I’m already looking forward to our next visit. It is good to know that such a great restaurant is so close to where we live.