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Vendôme in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 98.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
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Joachim Wissler, Vendôme, and "New German Cuisine" are often mentioned in the same breath. The rise of German haute cuisine started as early as 1979, when Eckart Witzigmann's Munich restaurant Aubergine was Germany's first restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars, quickly followed by Heinz Winkler's Tantris in 1981, Herbert Schönberger's Der Goldene Pflug in 1982, and later on by Im Schiffchen (Jean-Claude Bourgeuil) in 1987. In the nineties chefs Harald Wohlfahrt, Dieter Müller and Helmut Thieltges continued to build on this foundation and in 1992 (Schwarzwaldstube), 1997 (Restaurant Dieter Muller) and 1999 (Waldhotel Sonnora), their restaurants were all awarded three Michelin stars.

The noughties saw the rise of a new generation of chefs, including Joachim Wissler, Christian Bau, Juan Amador, Sven Elverfeld and Clauss Peter Lumpp, who all made their contribution to New German Cuisine as we know it today. Joachim Wissler was the first one to be awarded three Michelin stars in the 2005 German guide, thus kicking off a three-star Michelin boom that went on for a number of years.


To this day, Joachim Wissler is seen by many as a figurehead for New German Cuisine, and Vendôme is an internationally acclaimed restaurant, which currently takes the number 12 spot in San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants list. For more information on Joachim Wissler's background and the location of the restaurant, I gladly refer to my April 2013 review.

Vendôme is open for lunch Thursday through Sunday and for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. The restaurant offers several tasting menus which all come with a wide selection of amuse bouches and sweet treats. There's the "Modern Classic" Menu (5 courses €170, 6 courses €190, 7 courses €210), a seasonal menu (6 courses €200, 10 courses €268) and there's a 4-course lunch menu for €120 (including a glass of champagne and tea/coffee). I had lunch with my husband at Vendôme on Sunday 21 December 2014 on we both ordered the seasonal Winter menu.

Lunch started with four amuse bouches. First to arrive was an amuse bouche based on the tradional German "Brotzeit", literally meaning bread or snack time. I guess in a way Brotzeit is Germany's take on tapas, in fact I have even seen it been described as such on the menus of restaurants in Germany. It's generally a spread of cold meats/charcuterie and cheese, often served with condiments such as mustard, horseradish and pickles. I'm using the words "generally" and "often" here, because I want to avoid discussions about what is - and what is not - included in Brotzeit. However this may be, Vendôme's dressed-up version of Brotzeit was thinly sliced, tender, mildly-cured Wagyu beef, served on a wooden board, and accompanied by a quark-horseradish dip, a cottage cheese cream flavoured with chives, quinoa mixed with mustard and flavoured with "Brotgewürz" (bread spice used to make traditional German dark bread), and a garden cress dip sprinkled with fresh garden cress. A delicious and original take on Brotzeit, particularly the use of Brotgewürz, a great and creative way to include the "bread".


The second amuse bouche was a piece of grilled mackerel, served with a light and smooth sardine puree, an escabeche cream/mayonnaise, grilled sliced baby leeks, and two puzzle piece-like potato slices, brushed with some vinaigrette and garnished with capers. Perfectly moist mackerel and the sardine puree was nice and elegant. A lovely flavour combination with nice grilled flavours in the aftertaste, and the escabeche cream gave the dish a nice, rich finish.


This was followed by an amuse bouche called "Milchferkelschnäuzchen" (the suckling pig's snout), the combination of the serving dishes resembling the shape of a pig's head. On the "ears" were two puff pastry crackers covered with a delicious "Schmalz", garnished with hazelnut strips. On the "head" was a piece of tender pork belly and pork jowl, sliced fresh oysters, cucumber, caviar, and the "snout" was made of a mildly sharp pea and cress puree. A playful dish with well-balanced flavours, both the pork belly and jowl being wonderfully flavoursome. Lovely touch of freshness from the oysters.


 

The final amuse bouche was comprised of four bites/dishes and described on the menu as Fischstäbchen (fish fingers) & Pina Colada. The fish finger was a fabulous dish of lightly smoked salmon topped with crispy red mullet scales, served with horseradish powder, a horseradish-lime puree and some smoked salmon dust. A great marriage of precise flavours. Then there was the "Pina Colada", a small glass bottle filled with coconut and pineapple juice and a drop of chili oil. The pina colada theme continued with the third dish, a homemade "Rafaello" chocolate made with white chocolate, coconut and lime, and seasoned with long pepper. A nice and fresh flavour combination. The fourth dish was a small cocktail glass filled with bright green apple caviar and apple jelly. Both the caviar and jelly had wonderful, intense apple flavours. Even though I didn't really get the connection between these four dishes, they all had complex flavours and were a joy to eat.


 

 

Altogether an exquisite but sizeable selection of amuse bouches, executed with great precision and impressive attention to detail. But we were only getting started.

The first course of the tasting menu was "Yin & Yang". Goose liver marinated with miso, the bottom coated with finely chopped nori, and the top covered with a thin layer of green (yang) and red (yin) apple jelly, garnished with jasmine flowers. The goose liver was accompanied by some jasmine jelly, jasmine oil, peanut cream, a wasabi and cucumber jus, and some sliced aloe vera. A complex and eclectic combination of flavours and ingredients, creating a dish that was full of character. The elegantly floral-sweet flavours of the jasmine came through beautifully and the peanut lingered on the palate without being overpowering. Loved the creamy texture of the goose liver, the miso adding a nice salty edge and the refreshing apple jellies gave the dish a lovely colourful appearance. A jasmine rice cracker topped with cucumber puree, aloe vera and a jasmine flower was served on the side; it was attractive but not as exciting as the main act.


After this there was Brittany lobster (tail and claw meat and a 'cooked' lobster tartare, beautifully seasoned with fresh herbs, such as tarragon), served with roughly grated pumpkin, pumpkin puree, pumpkin oil, and a few pieces of bone marrow. All this was brought together by a creamy pearl barley and "Kalbskopf" (calf's head) dressing. A sensational assembly of flavours and textures, with a wonderful synergy between the lobster and the pumpkin, the pumpkin oil adding extra complexity, and the calf's head dressing providing an elegant richness. To top it off there was a side dish of intense and pure lobster broth flavoured with cognac and dill.


On to the third course. Grilled scallops (marinated with miso), served with a dashi and mushroom broth, a concentrated miso and sesame paste, fresh mushrooms, cauliflower puree and barberries. A glorious affair of staggering umami flavours, great complexity and a seamless balance between intensity and elegance. Some scallop crisps were served separately and there was a side dish (served slightly chilled) of algae caviar and cauliflower puree topped with a soft egg yolk, the latter providing a nice refreshing contrast.


 

Next we were served a piece of supremely moist lake trout (from Lechtal), marvellously paired with a buttery sauce based on the ingredients of the traditional Bavarian dish Tafelspitz (in short: boiled beef served with horseradish). At the same time we were presented with a large tin of spruce caviar, from which a spoonful was placed on the trout. Also on the plate were some pieces of salsify and a few dots of ham gel. Alongside this we were served a delicious puffed buckwheat pancake topped with trout caviar, crème fraîche, and smoked trout. The lake trout and the Tafelspitz sauce were a wonderfully indulgent pairing, the spruce caviar adding a nice touch of lightness, and the meaty flavours from the sauce and jelly delivered a lovely extra flavour dimension.


 

 

The fifth course was a glass with a layer of Belotta ham jelly at the bottom, followed by a layer of spinach and parsley puree, a soft egg yolk, brown butter foam, and finished with some freshly shaved white truffle. A superb and most satisfactory dish with rich, complex flavours, balanced out beautifully by the spinach and parsley puree.


Lunch continued with two meat courses. Tender braised veal oxtail was served with trumpet mushrooms, elderberries and a well-reduced jus flavoured with Riesling and a touch of orange. The veal's sweetbread, lacquered with veal jus, was served with pickled red cabbage, elderberries and a smooth sweet potato puree. Then there was a halved haricot blanc filled with a white bean puree, served on top of a salad of hemp seed and finely chopped smoked eel. A dish with many, rich flavours, but the elderberries and the pickled red cabbage delivered a nice sharp contrast. Nonetheless, I wasn't entirely convinced by the combination.


This was followed by a hare dish called "Hasenpfeffer" (jugged hare). Moist and tender fillet of hare was complemented by a rich hare jus, and served with brussels sprouts, brussels sprout puree, red currant and ginger jelly, rowanberries, and finally, two terrific black pudding and sour cherry bonbons, garnished with crisp onion rings. A delicious, smooth and creamy hare liver crème was served on a crisp crouton, garnished with a thin slice of dried game sausage. Equally good was a side dish of gorgeous hare stew served with celeriac puree and garnished with "Backerbsen", deep-fried batter pearls. An exquisite hare dish with detailed flavours and pleasant complexity. Certainly a brilliant version of jugged hare.


 


 
The eighth course was a luxurious Gruyère and Vacherin Mont d'Or cheese fondue, enriched with a few drops of Kirsch. There were three dippers: (i) crisp and featherlight, dehydrated beans, (ii) dehydrated green asparagus, and (iii) truffled brioche. Cheese fondue refined to its most sophisticated.
 



 
Time for dessert. The first one was pickled beetroot, with a mildly sharp blackberry and beetroot sauce, walnut crème, deep-fried batter pearls, lemon zest jelly, beetroot caviar/tapioca shaped into a disc, and some small chunks of frozen milk/whey, which were flavoured with warm spices such as cinnamon, star anise and cloves. An elegant dessert with a beautiful balance between sweetness and sharpness, the spices adding just the right touch of comfort. Great interplay of textures too.


Second dessert and tenth course: "Kleines Frühstück" - Small Breakfast. By now I was glad it wasn't a Full English. There were dehydrated "rolls" served with Vendôme's own Nutella and kumquat marmalade. The rolls had an incredibly airy meringue-like texture, but once melted it became rather sticky. "Coffee" came disguised as a coffee and yuzu flavoured cream, and there was a third dish of hazelnut ice cream, served with milk crumble, a few dots of yoghurt crème, an intense kumquat and orange sauce and a crunchy milk crisp. An enjoyable and witty dessert, but also quite substantial considering the previous courses, and for me I didn't work completely as a dish.


 

 


Lunch ended with a selection of sweets, including apple marshmallow "snout", chocolate-raspberry macaron and Vendome's iconic Marc de Champagne "Magnum".


 

This takes us to the conclusion. This four-hour meal was a supreme effort from the kitchens at Vendôme, which produced a masterful array of virtually flawless, generous dishes, presented with almost military precision at intervals of 10 (amuse bouches) or 20 minutes (the 10 courses of the menu proper). As such, this unashamedly extravagant menu required a not inconsiderable effort from the diner too, whose mental and physical endurance were being severely tested by the unrelenting parade of outstanding but ultimately also daunting dishes. The sheer weight of this Wissler-broadside should not make us forget however, that there is real beauty to be found here in almost every dish.

After my slightly underwhelming experience on Easter Day 2013, I was glad to see that today Joachim Wissler's cooking lived up to its stellar reputation. He has a unique way of transforming traditional, usually hearty, German dishes and ingredients into outstandingly sophisticated dishes that showcase skill, technique, creativity and precision of the highest order.










Posted 17-02-2015




 
 
 
 

 
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