Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube, Hotel Traube Tonbach
Three stars for Michelin mean "worth a special journey," which would indicate it's worth getting on a plane from London to Stuttgart, then driving over an hour through the Black Forest to spend enormous sums for one four-and-a-half hour lunch. Was it worth it? That depends. Yes, this is definitely the best restaurant for miles and one of the best in Germany. Yes, the service is perfect, the surroundings sumptuous, and the wine cellar well stocked. But what I really want at this level is to be thrilled. I want the taste bud equivalent of shivering goose bumps. The meal was indeed excellent. But instead of that blissful feeling of wanting it never to end, I found I kept looking at my watch. Dining is no different from dating—and watches aren't a good sign. And I can't put my finger on any real reason, except that there just wasn't any chemistry between us.
The scene was set for romance. Panoramic windows provided a backdrop of sunshine and a sweeping view of the hills. Majestic carved ceilings, chandeliers and manorial chairs were offset by whimsical animal sculptures made of Christofl cutlery on every table.
The meal started with some of the most interesting nibbles we'd had in a long time. Three spoons held salmon eggs with smoky liquid eel fat, a clear seafood gelatin with Japanese baby shiso leaves and wasabi flying fish eggs, and a dollop of horseradish mousse mixed with another wonderfully fresh, crunchy fish roe. The intrigue continued with four elaborate preparations of tuna and five preparations of crab, including an eye-catching roll of striped gelatin of seafood consommé and crab bisque stuffed with creamy crabmeat. Despite the fact that all of the ingredients had been brought from far away, I could tell I was in a German, as opposed to French, restaurant. The flavors were lively, the combinations bold, the execution careful.
Then the seduction seemed to lose steam. The foamy asparagus velouté on foie gras cream with summer truffle was tasty but seemed heavy and fattening for summer. The rosette of sliced scallops spiked with chili and floating in a sea of coconut milk, macadamia and pineapple brought to mind tropical beaches wall to wall with German tourists. The octopus risotto was soggy, with no discernible octopus flavor, while the combination with grilled red mullet, artichokes, red wine sauce, and onion marmalade seemed busy and contrived. The delicious Bresse pigeon breast perched on a paté of its own organ meats and a thin croûton had an extremely peppery pine honey crust. It was served with some sliced root vegetables and three enormous, mealy gnocchi instead of the customary Spätzle. The chef, I was informed, believes only professional old women can make Spätzle properly, and he is not an old woman. You won't find Spätzle at the Schwarzwaldstube, and I think that's a shame. I think gnocchi are also best left to specialists.
Instead of cheese, we had an excellent hot Parmesan mousse with sliced summer truffle and crunchy fleur de sel (sea salt). I correctly suspected the chef of using a gas siphon, a famous technique by Spanish avant-gardist, Ferran Adria, to create the foamy hot mousse.
The pace of the restaurant had been perfect thus far, but it started to flag around the desserts. Finally, a fantastic Black Forest "torte" arrived, three perfect, preserved black cherries with gilded stems on the thinnest of spiced gingerbread crusts, sprinkled with crushed pistachio and hazelnut. It was accompanied by a mysterious frozen granite that might have been an elderberry ice. Next up was a mysterious modern dessert consisting of a frosty glass of flower-infused liquid, which I presume was marigold, accompanied by a strong saffron sorbet. After the mignardises with coffee came a fun pink popsicle of champagne encased in white chocolate.
I suppose I was a bit disappointed by certain attempts at fusion cooking that were neither innovative nor well conceived. There was a distinct rejection of local ingredients and regional traditions, which made me think that this was the cooking of a native son who wishes he were somewhere more exotic. Maybe the Schwarzwaldstube provides a cosmopolitan window into international culinary trends in the Black Forest backwater, but it seems hardly worth it to me to journey all this way to eat essentially a Teutonic Thai seafood curry or a French pigeon.—by Lydia Itoi
Menu Prices: Appetizers: €37-55, soups €18-20, main courses €42-52, cheese €16-20, desserts €20, degustation menu €140 per person
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 10/20