Aqua is the restaurant of chef Sven Elverfeld and host and sommelier Marcel Runge that is located in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Wolfsburg, about an hour West of Berlin in Germany. Michelin’s definition of a three star restaurant states that it is worth the journey just to eat there. Some restaurants are located in areas that are worth traveling to anyway, but unless you really like Volkswagen cars then Wolfsburg is not really such a destination. But we did travel to Wolfsburg just to eat at Aqua again, based on our great experience there four years ago. We were very curious if it was still as good as we remembered it to be. They still have great package deals that include a meal with accompanying wines and a club room at the Ritz-Carlton. We opted for the nine course Inspiration menu (255 euros) with accompanying wines (175 euros).
The greetings from the kitchen are accompanied by a glass of rosé champagne. The caramelized kalamata olives have a nice contrast between the salty olive and the crispy sweet coating. The spicy chicken skin with avocado and green olive is a complex and delicious mix of flavors and textures.
The mackerel with paprika and coriander was very creamy and super fresh. The saltiness of the cockle brought out the flavor of the fennel.
Last but certainly not least of the greeting was a soft boiled quail egg with raw mushrooms, crispy croutons, and braised calf’s tongue. All the greetings from the kitchen had great complexity and balance. 10/10
First course of the menu: marinated foie gras with macademia nuts and green apple sorbet. The contrast between creamy and fresh, as well as between sweet and sour was absolutely perfect and made this dish much lighter than many foie gras dishes. It was paired with a 2018 Chateau d’Avernier Neuchatel from Switzerland. This wine is made from Chasselas grapes and is dry but very creamy and not acidic, and worked wonderfully with the foie gras and the green apple sorbet. This is a tricky dish to pair with a dry wine, but this wine even improved from the dish. This shows the quality of the sommelier. 10/10
Cuttlefish (squid) cut into the shape of tagliatelle and cooked in a stock of smoked sturgeon with Beluga lentils, imperial caviar, sauce of smoked sturgeon and samphire. The combination of flavors and textures in this dish was just wonderful. The crispy samphire, the creamy sturgeon, the chewy lentils, the tender cuttlefish, it all worked together and was paired with a white wine from Tenerife. The wine is made in an oxidative style from local grape varieties and by itself seemed nothing special, but with the dish it really came to life and was a perfect pairing. 10/10
The combination of lobster and cauliflower may sound unusual, but together with the bisque (called “crustacean-essence” on the menu) it was a wonderful combination. The cauliflower was thinly shaved and sprinkled with a tiny bit of broccoli. The wine was unusual as well: from Bairrada in Portugal, a white wine made from the local blue skinned Baga grape variety. Another wine in an oxidative style that became so much better with the dish. 10/10
An egg yolk cooked sous-vide at 65C/149F with the texture of custard with grey shrimp, spinach, piment d’Espelette and a crisp with shrimp flavor that reminded me of krupuk. Yet another contrast of flavors and textures: fresh green, crunchy crisp, unctuous egg, and the deep flavor of the tiny shrimp. This was paired with a great Chardonnay from California in a modern style that was more “ripe” than Chardonnay from Burgundy but otherwise very elegant and balanced. It worked very well with the dish. 10/10
Braised (‘pulled’) chicken thigh, chicken breast cooked sous-vide, crispy chicken skin, fresh peas, morels, and a very flavorful brown chicken and morel jus. This was very tasty, especially the braised meat, and paired very well with a beautifully aged dry 2011 Riesling from the Rheingau in Germany. A red Burgundy would be a more conservative choice, but this Riesling was very special with the dish. 10/10
Short rib from wagyu beef, cooked sous-vide, with radish, sesame, and fermented black salsify. The meat was very tender and flavorful and unctuous, and the radish worked well to cut through the grease. This was paired with a 2001 Chateau Musar from Lebanon, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault that was at a perfect age for drinking. A great wine that worked very well with the dish. 9/10
The menu included a selection of cheese from the trolley, that was accompanied by 10-year-old and 40-year-old tawny port.
The signature palate cleanser: ruinart rosé champagne cream sorbet, served in the punt of an actual bottle of that same champagne. (The “punt” is the dimple at the bottom of a wine bottle.)
The dessert was sweet corn and honey with raddicchio and almond, served with a dry Muskateller (Muscat) from Wachau in Austria.
According to my table companions this was excellent, but bitter is just not my thing (I won’t drink beer or tonic or grape fruit juice for that reason).
Strawberry with curd and green pea cress.
And the praline trolley to finish.
Like the sequels to movies, returning to a restaurant that was really great the first time around can sometimes be a disappointment, as the expectations are high and there is less novelty. But for our second meal at Aqua our high expectations were not only met, they were even surpassed! It was even better than the last time.
The quality of the dishes is very consistent throughout the meal. At this level you expect everything to be technically perfect, which it was. The food of chef Sven Elverveld is also delicious, well balanced, a great play between textures and flavors, varied, and with great use of vegetables. He told us that he changes the menu gradually, adding dishes only after they have been perfected and only keeping them on the menu as long as the ingredients are available in the highest quality. 10/10 for the food!
I am often very critical about wine pairings, and it rarely happens that all wine pairings even work. But at Aqua sommelier Marcel Runge manages to pair all nine courses perfectly. The wine pairings do not only ‘work’, but they even elevate the enjoyment of the wine by bringing out the complexity of the wine. It is not often that properly aged wines like the 2001 Chateau Musar and the 2011 Rheingau Riesling are included in wine pairings. The food is excellent and Aqua, but compared to other restaurants with three Michelin stars it is the wine that makes Aqua truly exceptional. 10/10 for the wine!
The service is outstanding as well. Fine dining has a reputation of service that is too formal, but that is not at all the case here. We had plenty of pleasant and friendly interaction with the serving staff. Both the host and the chef took their time to chat with us about the food and the wine. Recently the previous host left for another restaurant, and so Marcel Runge has now taken over the role of host besides being the sommelier. Despite the recent change, the service was nearly flawless. The pace of the menu was perfect — never too rushed or too slow. There are also some personal touches, like a personalized greeting from the restaurant staff in the hotel room and every guest receives a personalized printed copy of the menu that has taken into account any food allergies. 9/10 for the service.
Of course fine dining like this comes at a price, but the prices at Aqua are very reasonable compared to other restaurants at this level. Compared to prices in places like New York City or San Francisco, I would even call it a bargain.
Wolfsburg may not be your ideal vacation destination, but I definitely agree with Michelin’s 3 star rating that Aqua is worth the journey. Luckily it is ‘only’ a 5 hour drive for us. We will be back!