This September one of the main themes on my blog will be German food and wine, starting with this post. German food has been a favourite of mine for as long as I can remember. I've been travelling to Germany ever since I was a child. Throughout the years I have spent many weekends and holidays in Germany. With every trip I learnt more about German cuisine and still there is so much to explore. When I tell people about the excellent food they serve in Germany nowadays, many of them are really surprised and start talking about Schnitzels and the famous Bratwurst. So is there more to German cuisine than the Bratwurst?
German food and German chefs/restaurants have been evolving rapidly in the last decade. At the moment Germany has the largest number of 3-star restaurants in Europe after France. France is still leading with 26 but Germany is an excellent runner-up with a number of 9, although Spain is catching up with 7. They're not doing badly on the number of 2 star restaurants either - 18 at the moment (23 in 2011).
In 2010 Eckart Witzigmann was awarded a lifetime achievement award by The World's 50. Rightly so, because he's a legend in Germany and seems to be at the top of a "family tree" of German Michelin starred chefs; a very large number of them seem to have trained with him or with one of his pupils.
If you want to "do a Bray-on-Thames" (two 3*) in Germany you can choose between Bergisch Gladbach (near Cologne) and Baiersbronn (in the Black Forest). In Bergish Gladbach you will find Gourmetrestaurant Lerbach (formerly: Dieter Müller) and Vendôme, the number 22 of the World's 50 list and in Baiersbronn the Schwarzwaldstube, number 47 and restaurant Bareiss. Baiersbronn has 7 Michelin stars in total (two 3* and one 1*) and as such the highest concentration of Michelin stars in Germany.
But it's not just the Michelin starred restaurants in Germany that I love. The category of fine-dining restaurants in Germany (which they call "Feinschmecker" or "Gourmet" restaurants) is broader than that. Some of these restaurants serve really excellent modern or more traditional food without striving for the finesse that Michelin requires. As such, some of these restaurants are almost as good (or in some cases even better) than the 1 starred restaurants. If I want something more informal I often go to a "Stube" which in a way can be compared to a pub or gastropub German style. These places usually serve traditional regional food. Between the Stube and Feinschmecker restaurants there is a category of restaurants that serve simple but good quality home-cooked food.
This last category of restaurants is the most difficult to explore because the quality of the food is sometimes less dependable. Even after all these years of travelling to Germany occasionally I still come across greasy, usually overcooked, uninspired, over-seasoned or bland food. That's why a good food/wine guide comes in handy. Apart from the Michelin Guide I use the Gault Millau Deutschland and Stuart Piggott's wine guides. Unfortunately all these guides are in German, although some of Stuart Piggott's books are available in English too - unfortunately not his latest wine guide series called Stuart's Weinreisen. Another guide I often use is the Feinschmecker Guide, this guide is great for hotels as well.
My husband's German is excellent and mine's not bad (I can order food and wine). But for the non-German speaking world it can't always be easy to find your way in culinary Germany. Maybe that's one of the reasons why many people don't recognise Germany's culinary quality. It's always nice to have some sort of guidance. I will always happy to give tips on where to eat and sleep.
My husband and I visit Germany 2 to 3 times a year. Sometimes we travel to Germany just to visit one of the Michelin starred restaurants. My first 3 star restaurant in Germany was Dieter Müller in Bergisch Gladbach in 2005. But it's not just the food that takes me to Germany. Driving on German motorways where there is no speed limit is great and you get to arrive at the restaurant sooner. So Germany for me is about food, speed and of course wine. My husband has been a fan of German wines for as long as I can remember and we visit the Rheingau, Ahrtal and Mosel quite often.
At the moment the Rheingau is our favourite. One of the reasons is a wine and food festival we have attended in the last 3 years. The festival is called Rheingau Wein & Gourmet Festival http://www.rheingau-gourmet-festival.de/ (google should be able to translate this page into English). This festival takes place in February/March. During this festival you can attend tastings (not just Rheingau wines) and lunches and dinners cooked by Germany's top chefs. Last year's line-up was quite impressive. It included five of Germany's nine 3 star chefs. Apart from the German chefs the festival featured Chicago's Charlie Trotter in 2009 and Daniel Boulud in 2010.
Two images of this years's festival. The first is the menu of Joachim Wissler's (& Henschke wines, including Hill of Grace) dinner. The second is of the Alejandro Fernandez tasting.
The dinners are paired with some of the Rheingau's and the world's top wines and can be quite expensive; some of the tastings can be too. The winemakers are often present at the tastings and dinners. Some of the events are more reasonably priced. This year we attended the VdP Wine Presentation in Kloster Eberbach, which was a great opportunity to taste many relevant Rheingau wines. Usually we select a number of events, spend a couple days at the festival and splash out on 1 or 2 events.
At the Kloster Eberbach tasting.
At the moment my husband and I and a British friend seem to be the only non-German guests at this festival and it would be lovely if more foreigners attended the festival. It's a great way to experience top quality food and wines - and not only Germany's. In 2009 we attended the festival's Lafleur tasting and we were fortunate enough to meet the owners Jacques and Sylvie Guinaudeau and taste many of their gorgeous wines - among which the 100 Parker point Lafleur 2000.
The Lafleur tasting
As soon as next year's programme is announced I will let your know which chefs and winemakers will attend the festival. I wonder which foreign chef will attend the festival next year?
Germany is definitely beyond the bratwurst, although the humble bratwurst is still one of my favourites.