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Perl-Nennig is not close to anywhere. Some might say it is close to Trier, Luxembourg or even Strasbourg but in reality it is not. The village of Perl is located on the German bank of the Luxembourg Moselle and it has very little to say for itself. Perl-Nennig boasts the customary remains of a Roman villa with floor mosaics and the ruins of some or other Schloss (strictly for rubble-lovers) that was destroyed centuries ago (in this case Schloss Bübingen, destroyed in 1668 by French troops). It is also officially the hottest place in Germany (40.3°C in the tropical summer of 2003).
In Perl however there is another Schloss too, Schloss Berg, erected in the 12th century as a "Wasserburg" and transformed gradually into a Renaissance palace in the 16th century. It was bombed to bits in WWII but stubbornly rebuilt in 1953 and used as a "Schullandheim". In 1990 someone managed to attach a rather hideous casino to this historic building and the "Tagungs- und Wellnesshotel im italienischen Stil für ein internationales Publikum" next door is only slightly less off-putting.
Amid all this desolation however, Schloss Berg hides a treasure. A three Michelin starred restaurant, run by husband and wife team Christian and Yildiz Bau. He (born 14 January 1971) is a guy from Offenburg (Baden); she is of Turkish descent (Istanbul; it would be rude to reveal her age - she does not look it anyway). They married in 1996 when Christian was working as a sous-chef at Harald Wohlfahrt's Schwarzwaldstube (3 Michelin stars then and now) in Hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn.
In the culinary family tree of Germany, this makes Christian Bau a quasi "grandson" of Eckart Witzigmann - Harald Wohlfahrt was one of his pupils too. Christian and Yildiz came to Schloss Berg in April 1998 and only seven months later Michelin bestowed on them their first star. The second one followed the year after. Christian was 28 at the time. The third star took a little while longer but it arrived in November 2005 when Christian joined the very exclusive international brotherhood of three-star chefs at the relatively tender age of 34. I visited the restaurant for the first time in May 2010, just before I started my website, and recently I returned.
Schloss Berg is open for dinner Wednesday till Sunday and on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays the restaurant is also open for lunch. The restaurant offers a so-called 'Carte Blanche' menu (3 courses €119, 4 courses €135, 5 courses €160), a 9-course 'Voyage Culinaire' menu (including cheese course) for €205 and at lunch there's also a 4-course set lunch menu on offer for €99. I had lunch at Schloss Berg with my husband and a friend on Sunday 3 March 2013 and we all ordered the Voyage Culinaire menu. It was quite an extensive journey; make sure you have a cup of tea to hand or a glass of wine - you will be around here for a while.
Our meal started with a extensive selection of amuse bouches. With our aperitifs the first one arrived. Savoury cornet with a smoked fish mousse filling, topped with fresh beef tartare and some Oscietra caviar. The smoked fish filling had a wonderful texture, not too smooth and the beef tartare was well-seasoned. The caviar brought everything together, lovely creamy and salty flavours that went perfectly with my aperitif, Markus Molitor Hausklosterberg Sekt Brut Cuvee.
The next three came on one serving dish:
- beetroot macaron with foie gras (from Les Landes) and smoked eel. The bright-pink macaron was wonderfully crunchy and had light beetroot flavours which combined so beautifully with the foie gras and smoked eel. Loved the build-up of textures.
- crayfish cracker with a creamy Tom Kha Kai jelly, fresh Fjord shrimps and coriander cress. A delightlful bite with clean and fresh flavours.
- nori and sushi cracker with Sockeye salmon, coriander and curry mayonnaise and shredded seaweed. Wonderfully balanced flavours, nice touch of warmth and spiciness from the curry mayonnaise.
Subsequently are more substantial amuse bouche arrived in which carrot served as the main act. On the left: chilled carrot soup with a basil and coriander infusion. A fantastic carrot soup with an incredible, long aftertaste. Great use of fresh herbs, the coriander delivering freshness and zing, the basil delivering a nice touch of warmth. On the right: Carrot puree and sorbet, yoghurt foam and carrot crisps. Amazing, intense and sweet carrot flavours, balanced out beautifully by the refreshing yoghurt foam. Great texture from the carrot crisp and a sprinkling of caraway seeds.
These were extraordinary amuse bouches that displayed amazing finesse but really only served as an introduction to the beauty that was yet to be presented to us.
The second part of the amuse bouche selection was called 'Japanese Raw Bar'. First 'Red gamberoni' wrapped in a thin layer of Lardo di Colonnata, topped with Oscietra caviar, Granny Smith apple and a small piece of crackling. Wonderful richness and lightly sweet flavour from the lardo, the fresh gamberoni adding a terrific contrast and the caviar delivered a nice salty finish. An utterly delicious dish with flavours that lingered on the palate.
Next mackerel. Lightly scorched mackerel fillet and belly served with thin slices of lightly curried potato, smoked bone marrow, quinoa cream, thinly sliced pickled limequat and a green daikon oil. Top-quality mackerel whose oily richness was intensified by the wonderful smoked bone marrow and balanced perfectly by the bitters of the pickled limequat. A fantastically elegant dish with a perfect balance of richness, bitterness and acidity. Lovely warm and herby finish from the daikon oil and the quinoa cream added a nice touch of luxury.
Then came ultra-fresh, buttery Hamachi served with a delicious fresh-tasting and citrussy yoghurt-bergamot sorbet, immaculate white oyster juice 'pearls', algae crumble, various types of thinly sliced radishes and carefully arranged dots of horseradish and green daikon dressing. Great use of radishes, they delivered texture, freshness and flavour. A sublime and beautifully presented dish with clean flavours, terrific bitters and a lovely touch of comfort from the flavoursome algae crumble.
Finally the so-called Japanese vegetable and rock garden. Lightly charred tuna served with avocado pearls and a refreshing basil and coriander ice cream. The 'garden' was made up of a selection of pickled vegetables such as radish and carrot, delivering sweetness and sharpness, and a smooth miso and passion fruit ganache, shaped into 'rocks', the passion fruit adding a nice hint of tanginess. Wonderful combination of fresh flavours with beautiful acidity. With the tuna came a miso and ponzu soup with fresh tuna, caviar, thinly sliced radish and some tuna tartare and finely diced creamy avocado at the bottom of the bowl. A fantastic soup with electrifying fresh and pure flavours.
These elegant Japanese Raw Bar dishes were absolutely exquisite, every one of them.
Before the first course of the tasting menu we were served one final amuse bouche: Foie gras mousse, Perigord truffle, red port essence, Parmesan foam. A fabulous, silky foie gras mousse with an amazingly light consistency. Lovely touch of sharpness from the red port essence and the Parmesan foam was wonderfully intense. Nice texture and contrast from the Perigord truffle.
So, the first course. Razor clams, kohlrabi (grilled - pickled - sorbet - juices), Hijiki seaweed, black garlic, chickweed, yuzu jelly. Delicately poached soft and tender razor clams that combined beautifully with the kohlrabi. Wonderfully earthy grilled kohlrabi, superb clean-tasting kohlrabi sorbet, great crunch and flavour from the pickled fresh kohlrabi and all these kohlrabi flavours were enhanced by the Hijiki seaweed. Lovely depth of flavour from the kohlrabi juices (mixed with soy) and the black garlic pearls. A perfectly conceived and executed dish with a marvellous synergy of fresh and more delicate and warm flavours.
Second course. Foie gras, seaweed, mushroom vinaigrette, Sudachi (Japanese lime). Top-quality foie gras (from Les Landes) wrapped in thin layers of Matsutake mushroom, carrot and seaweed, served with with a gorgeous mushroom vinaigrette mixed with foie gras 'caviar'. The vinaigrette had lovely sharp notes and became wonderfully creamy once the foie gras caviar had melted a bit. An indulgent foie gras dish with just the right amount of acidity to make it light and digestible.
Third course was Scallops, chicken, Hokkaido pumpkin, mushrooms. A brilliant dish of moist and flavoursome chicken wrapped in its own salty skin and a juicy scallop accompanied by various textures of pumpkin (a smooth pumpkin puree, crunchy pickled sliced pumpkin, soft braised pumpkin, small pumpkin roll with a pumpkin puree filling, pumpkin seeds and a pumpkin crisp), a light and very flavoursome beurre blanc and tarragon foam, sticky reduced chicken juices and some wonderful sweet and earthy mushroom 'soil'. There was a lot going on on this plate but the flavours all worked together beautifully. Loved the intricate latticework of pumpkin flavour and texture profiles.
Fourth course, Langoustine 'Thai Style', langoustine dim sum, Macadamia nuts, Jasmin rice, kaffir lime, broccoli, pak choi, puffed rice. An excellent plumptious and juicy langoustine with a chopped macadamia nut topping served with kaffir lime foam and a fantastic, rich, langoustine sauce. Also on the plate was a Jasmin rice cream sharpened with a hint of lemongrass and a delicious dim sum with a well-seasoned langoustine filling. An inspired dish with rich and powerful flavours balanced out beautifully by the light Jasmin rice cream.
On to the sixth course. Turbot, cauliflower, candied kombu, oyster. Beautifully cooked turbot served with a delicious rich and velvety cauliflower puree, grilled cauliflower, sea grapes and a fresh and tart yuzu puree. Both the turbot and cauliflower were quite rich on their own but when combined with the yuzu puree and the candied kombu they attained a magical flavour combination. On top of the turbot was some chopped fresh oyster and there also was some oyster foam that delivered a wonderful fresh briny finish. A spectacular dish with stunning bitters and acidity and flavourwise it almost got me into an umami coma. Bravo!
Next the main course: Wagyu beef (grilled and braised), chicory, pommes soufflés, Japanese Hollandaise, beef jus. Gorgeous rich and sticky braised short ribs and very flavoursome grilled fillet that was soft on the inside and lightly caramelised on the outside. On top of the braised beef there were three dots of yam puree and three of the most perfect miniature pommes soufflés. With the beef came a piece of lovely caramelised chicory with a sprinkling of lime and orange zest for some freshness. Finally there was the sublime Japanese Hollandaise, a fluffy and buttery Hollandaise beautifully flavoured with miso, possibly the finest Hollandaise I have ever tasted.
Before dessert we were served a palate-cleanser of Japanese peach (fresh and sorbet), plum sake foam and sisho. This dish was served as an hommage to three-star chef Cesar Ramirez of Brooklyn Fare in New York City. A wonderfully refreshing dish with lovely, fresh and sweet flavours from the Japanese peach. Nice subtle hint of alcohol from the plum sake foam. Very elegant.
Time for the eighth course and the first of two desserts: Exotic fruits. On the plate was a wonderfully smooth and clean-tasting watermelon sorbet, a beautifully made 'bonbon' with a liquid lychee filling; then there was a mango bonbon with a coconut casing and a fantastic, pure mango puree filling, delicious pina colada ice cream, carrot and ginger meringues and some coconut pearls. This was an absolutely spectacular and fiendishly complex dessert with impeccable, precise flavours and it displayed an extraordinarily high level of skill.
Nineth course and second dessert: Banana Split, well Christian Bau's take on this classic. A thin chocolate biscuit base with a layer of light and delicate banana cream, a layer of rich chocolate ganache and topped with some banana pearls, accompanied by a croustillant filled with finely chopped fresh banana and topped with some delicious vanilla ice cream. Also on the plate were some dots of banana puree. An indulgent yet light dessert with a great balance of flavours. Even hubby (who isn't fond of chocolate desserts and abhors banana) finished his.
With our coffees we were served a fantastic selection of sweets, chocolates and macarons.
Christian & Yildiz Bau are very well-travelled people; they have some 75 three-star restaurants under their belts. Christian received his three stars in 2005 for a relatively classical style of cooking but some four years later he decided to go with his own preferences and to develop his cooking into a lighter, more elegant and digestible cuisine with Asian influences. Michelin stuck with him and it is easy to see why. Christian Bau is a chef of amazing creativity, who manages to deliver a wide array of very digestible, flavoursome dishes that leave the diner inspired rather than numbed by lashings of butter and oodles of cream.
Schloss Berg's food is technically strong and complex, artistically presented and sports high-tech elements without forgetting its classical basis. Christian Bau produces cutting edge food with an international flair and style that is very attractive visually. His cooking does not necessarily evolve around the theme of "local and seasonal" (a tautological expression when you think about it), the quality of the ingredients is paramount irrespective of their provenance, but because of his location he has the larders of France and Germany at his disposal anyway. Schloss Berg serves immaculate, impeccable food that in many ways reminds one of haute couture. Incredibly precise, elaborate, labour-intensive, artisan and beautiful. Food in fact that is so beautiful that I would have liked to wear it.