Germany

Claus-Peter Lumpp, chef at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Bareiss, recently brought out a spectacular book about his cuisine. If you haven’t yet had the chance to taste his food, here’s an updated piece about what makes this world-famous restaurant worth a special journey

When Hermann Bareiss received the news of Restaurant Bareiss’s third Michelin star, he was caught leaping into the air with joy. “Freudensprüngen (jumping for joy) is not really my thing”, admits this tall, distinguished hotelier with a wry smile – “but these were special circumstances.” It was a fabulous moment, a stunning reward for him, for his jovial chef Claus-Peter Lumpp and for all the staff who’d helped to make it happen. (The next morning they were all lined up waiting for the chef at the kitchen door with a guard of honour – presumably of wooden spoons and soup ladles.)

A meal at Bareiss is an assault on all the senses. Expect extraordinary, multi-layered tastes and textures, and depths of flavour to set tongues wagging. Whether you choose one of the set menus (6 or 8 courses at dinner, 4 at lunch) or put yourself in the chef’s hands, every dish has, as he explains it, “a story to tell, in several different chapters”.

The intimate dining room has huge wraparound windows framed by swagged pelmets and damask curtains. Above there’s a deeply carved wooden ceiling twinkling with starry lights, below is deep pile royal blue carpet. You glide to your seat – a capacious Louis XVI carver chair with matching stool for your reticule (or perhaps for your pug). The table (one of eight) is draped in pristine linen with bustles and bows for petticoats, adorned by a single candle, a gorgeous but not intrusive bunch of flowers and sundry weaponry and china ready for the feast.

After a succession of appetite-ticklers (char with hazelnuts, foaming choucroute under a mirror of sweet-sour cranberry jelly) came foie gras in various guises: a chunk enveloped in an overcoat of port jelly with dots of palest green avocado mousse, accompanied by a 4-layered confection of some kind of white savoury sponge, avocado mousse, foie gras crème brulée and foie gras ice on top.

The wine list, not only the food, is worth a special journey. There’s every international name you’ve ever heard of (and a few you may not have), but here in the Black Forest it would be madness (given the huge strides made of late in the vineyards of both Baden and Württemberg) not to drink local. Sommelier Jürgen Fendt, twice a finalist in the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde competition, produced a glass of golden Riesling Spätlese from Stigler in Baden for the first course; to go with the sweet crab claws on black rice he came up with a delectable Sauvignon Blanc from Sven Ellwanger in the Remstal (Württermberg).

With the olive oil-poached sea bass with essence of beetroot came an elegant, lightly oaked Chardonnay from Martin Wassmer, brother of Fritz (with whom there’s apparently some stimulating – but friendly – sibling rivalry), while the venison with mushrooms and corn blinis (and the groaning cheese trolley, hot on its heels) brought forth a Baden Pinot Noir from Dutchman Duijn, who’s doing good stuff in Bühl (near Baden-Baden).

Final nail in the coffin was a Riesling TBA from the Mosel (Schmitt), which smoothed the path for a rather gorgeous passion fruit and lime leaf sorbet.

The eight tables are turned over just once at lunch and at dinner – the chef wants people to linger at table for as long as possible, “to have a really memorable experience”. The restaurant is run as a separate entity from the eponymous hotel and closes two days a week (Monday and Tuesday) so Claus-Peter’s travels and television appearances are fitted into his days off. “When people book a table at Bareiss, they know the chef will be in his kitchen” explains Herman Bareiss.

Guests who can choose their dining hour and linger as long as they like, and a home-grown, three-star chef who stays home and does the cooking? Now there’s an idea.

Restaurant Bareiss,
Hotel Bareiss,
Gärtenbühlweg 14,
Baiersbronn-Mitteltal,
Germany
+49 744 2470
www.bareiss.com

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A TASTE OF THE BLACK FOREST

Living in Alsace with the Black Forest close by, we get plenty of opportunity to check up on what’s happening on the food and wine front across the Rhine – plenty, as you’ll see from this piece originally published in FT Weekend April 2008

If you’re planning a gastro-getaway any time soon, it’s possible that Germany hasn’t made it to your shortlist. German food? Sausages and beer hove into view, with Sauerkraut marching along behind. Everyone knows Riesling is the aristocrat of white wines and that the finest come from Germany, but German wine has an image problem – and labels proclaiming Trockenbeerenauslese in heavy Gothic script definitely don’t help. But dismiss Germany as a foodie destination at your peril. Stow your prejudices, pack your bags and set off across the Rhine to the Black Forest.

People have always beaten a path to this bucolic area for relaxing holidays with a big dose of wellness thrown in. But increasingly it’s the food and wines that are calling the shots. Formerly, many chefs working here commuted across the river from Alsace. These days they’re more likely to be home-grown, while the canny alsaciens (who know a thing or two about eating and drinking and who appreciate value for money) are the customers.

Baden-Württemberg (the state in which the Black Forest lies) boasts the highest concentration of Michelin stars in Germany. As for Baden wines, better known in the past for quantity than quality, these are now winning international plaudits – and prizes – for their elegance and complexity.

Traube Tonbach exteriorThe Traube-Tonbach in Baiersbronn, some 50km east of Strasbourg, is a good place to start. Owned and run by the Finkbeiner family since 1789 and listed in1000 Places to See Before You Die, this impressive destination hotel is a monument to the joys of fine food and wine. Viewed from afar, the building even looks like a Schwarzwälderkirschtorte. The outside is slathered with a thick frosting of white stucco, like luscious swirls of whipped cream, layered with chocolate-brown timbers and cascades of cherry-red geraniums.

Inside there’s everything you need for some sustained Erholung (relaxation): rooms of generous cut, a state-of-the-art bathing Bereich, every conceivable spa treatment you could wish for – and four restaurants to choose from.

Harald WohlfahrtAmongst the four, the plushy, pale blue, wood-panelled Schwarzwaldstube, one of Germany’s handful of three-star Michelin restaurants with chef Harald Wolhfahrt at the helm, is the one with pulling power. Wohlfahrt describes his inspiration as French, his hero as Robuchon. Discreet hints of Asia and Italy creep in, along with the now obligatory foams (though the Pacojet, happily, is kept on a tight leash). It’s classic, finely honed, three-star stuff.

A nice teaser was the ‘windowpane’ of four tuna variations: a kataifi pastry morsel, a mouthful of tartare, a spoonful of mousse and a single, succulent, seared cube. Poached crayfish with coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger and fresh almonds preceded pinkly roasted pigeon breast on an ethereal broccoli emulsion, rounded out by a dazzling chocolate ensemble.

If the Schwarzwaldstube is grand opera, the delightful wood-panelled Köhlerstube is more musical theatre – creamy mushroom soups, local freshwater fish, lamb from the valley and buxom Tortes. The tiny Bauernstube, on the other hand, is a sort of in-house gastro pub offering typical titbits like Maultasche (ravioli with different fillings), smoked trout, rib-sticking game stews and Spätzle.

Pumpkin soup with ceps Schloss NeuweierFurther north at the Restaurant Schloss Neuweier just outside Baden-Baden you’ll find biker-chef Armin Röttele and his cucina della passione. Expect deliciously pronounced southern accents (the chef spent years in Switzerland’s Tessin before returning here to his roots), intense flavours and colours, silken home-made soups and pastas, toothsome vegetables, locally raised meat and game.

To the south is the Kaiserstuhl, a small enclave of volcanic outcrops sandwiched between the Basel-Freiburg Autobahn and the Rhine, where some of Baden’s finest wines are grown in terraced vineyards. It’s worth setting up a few tastings here to get a feel for how far the wines have come.

Reinhold and Cornelia Schneider’s winery in Endingen, founded only in 1981, was flagged in 2007 by the annually published Wine Report as the fastest-improving producer in Germany. Their reputation for whites (Weissburgunder/Pinot Blanc, Grauburgunder/Pinot Gris) is firmly established but the Schneiders are no slouches where red is concerned (principally Spätburgunder, a.k.a. Pinot Noir).

Karl-Heinz Johner, whose wine career started at Lamberhurst Vineyard in Kent (southeast England), works 17 hectares in Bischoffingen (and a further 12 in Masterton, New Zealand) with his son Patrick. Their benchmark is Burgundy, their aim to make the wines that best express the unique terroir of the Kaiserstuhl. Their range of racy Spätburgunders is a lesson in what Pinot Noir can do outside its homeland in skilled hands with the right clones and good terroirs; their mouthfilling Weissburgunder knocks spots off its Pinot Blanc cousins across the Rhine in Alsace.

Close by in Oberrotweil is Weingut Salwey, another family-owned and -run estate making floral and fruity Weissburgunder, elegant Grauburgunder and finely aromatic Spätburgunder.

For eating out, the Kaiserstuhl has plenty of options from honest country inns to elegant, Michelin-starred tables. The appealing Gasthaus Kaiserstuhl in Niederrotweil with its flowery-curtains-and-formica décor is run by a two-man father-and-son team. The chef, Herr Koch Junior, cooks locally sourced ingredients (kid, rabbit, pike-perch) enlivened with armfuls of fresh herbs and edible flowers from the chef’s garden and the surrounding fields and vineyards (wild garlic and dandelions take starring roles in spring), while Herr Koch Senior attends single-handed to the small dining room.

In nearby Vogtsburg-Oberbergen is the firmly established Schwarzer Adler, a cosy-elegant, wood-panelled Gasthof whose classic French cuisine with local accents served by fulsome, smiling women in Tracht (traditional Black Forest costume) has merited a Michelin star since 1969. Owner Franz Keller was a pioneering wine grower in his day, making distinctive and idiosyncratic wines which fell foul of the (arcane) rules of German wine labelling, a tradition proudly carried on by his son Fritz. The wine list is spectacular – 1800 references, including top Bordeaux and Burgundies, as well as the cream of Baden.

If roast chicken speaks to you more than poached poularde with truffles, a final option could be the Keller-owned Rebstock just across the road. Here you can feast on classics like Mistkratzerle (a proper farmyard bird that’s been scratching around in the Mist or manure heap), Wienerschnitzel or calf’s kidneys, with voluptuous apple tarts and cream cakes to finish.

A TASTE OF THE BLACK FOREST

  • Hotel-Restaurant Traube Tonbach, 72270 Baiersbronn (+49 7442 4920)
  • Restaurant im Schloss Neuweier, Mauerbergstrasse 21, Baden-Baden-Neuweier (+49 7223 957 0555)
  • Weingut Reinhold and Cornelia Schneider, Königschaffhauserstr. 2, 74396 Endingen am Kaiserstuhl, (+49 7642 5278)
  • Weingut Karl-Heinz Johner, Gartenstrasse 20, 79235 Vogstburg-Bischoffingen (+49 7662 6041)
  • Weingut Salwey, Hauptstrasse 2, 79235 Oberrotweil am Kaiserstuhl (+49 7662 384)
  • Gasthaus Zum Kaiserstuhl, 79325 Niederrotweil (+49 7662 237)
  • Franz Keller Schwarzer Adler, Badbergstrasse 23, 79235 Vogtsburg-Oberbergen, (+49 7662 93 30 10)
  • Winzerhaus Rebstock, Badbergstrasse 22, 79235 Vogtsburg-Oberbergen (+49 7662  93 30 11)

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TAKING THE WATERS IN BADEN-BADEN

Baden-Baden bather

Bathing in Baden-Baden, whether at the gorgeous Brenner’s Hotel and Spa or at the Friedrichsbad, a wondrously marbled, pillared and porticoed public bathing emporium, should be experienced at least one in a lifetime. Here’s how…[originally published in FT Weekend]

It had been a long and wearisome journey and it was past one in the morning when we finally fell into bed at Brenner’s Park Hotel in Baden-Baden.

“We would like to extend to you a warm welcome to the Beauty Spa in Brenner’s Park Hotel”, read a note on the bedside table. “From now on you may say goodbye to the pressures of everyday life, for we, the staff of the Beauty Spa, will endeavour to make your stay here as enjoyable and beneficial as we possibly can.”  A seaweed pack, the promised panacea for jet-lag, was apparently scheduled for 1 p.m. the next day. I crawled gratefully under the plump, down-filled duvet and slept soundly till breakfast glided silently in on a trolley.

Down in the Beauty Spa, Alice awaited. I shed bathrobe and bathing suit and was laid out on a gently warmed bed. The seaweed pack, it was explained, consisted of a purée of algae combined with particles of volcanic dust. Gradually the volcanic nature of things would start to make itself felt and I would feel agreeably warm all over; the treatment would last about 30 minutes.

A sludge-green paste smelling deliciously of the sea was liberally applied to all areas excepting cleavage (bosoms were out of bounds, explained Alice, for fear of overheating). I was wrapped in plastic and cocooned in a blanket, the lights were dimmed, a Brahms symphony seeped faintly out of somewhere.

Soon I began to feel as though I were floating in a gently bubbling bath of warm mud. The volcanic particles came alive, my skin prickled and tingled delightfully. It was quite simply sensational.

All too soon it was time to sluice off under a warm shower, ready for the final step of the therapy. Though familiar with walnut and sesame oils, I had never before been massaged in them. I vowed never again to squander them on vinaigrettes and stir-fries.

After a brief lounge, lizard-like, beside Brenner’s exquisite marbled and colonnaded pool which overlooks the Lichtentaler Park, we opted (on Alice’s recommendation) for the bio-sauna or sanarium. A conventional sauna is a blistering bake (90o C +) in a hot, dry box. Eyebrows seem at risk of singeing, nostril hairs overheat dangerously, kneecaps (and nipples) come under savage attack. The bio-sauna is an altogether less violent experience, a gentle, aromatic, steamy braise at around 50oC. Mint and menthol were flavour of the day.

Next day the hotel director – determined that we should experience all that Baden-Baden had to offer in the way of bathing – had booked us into the Roman-Irish baths in the Friedrichsbad. We enquired at the desk what to take with us. “Nothing”, beamed the concierge complicitously, “everything is provided. Enjoy your bath!” On arrival at the beautifully restored Friedrichsbad complex we were directed upstairs, gentlemen to the left, ladies to the right.

It’s a novel (not to say disturbing) experience to wander in off the street of an elegant town into a public bath fully dressed, then to shed every stitch of clothing, stow everything into to a locker and launch oneself, stark naked save for a bracelet bearing the locker number, into the unknown.

Slightly cheered by the fact that everyone else was in the same boat, and discovering that some were also first-timers (my German suddenly became surprisingly fluent), I decided the best course was simply to go with the flow. Besides, we were assured, at each station there would be clear instructions for use in German, French and English.

First came the obligatory shower, followed by a 15-minute bask on a wooden bench in the (fairly warm) Warmluft room. Then came a shorter spell in the (considerably warmer) Heissluftbad at 68oC. We all began to look distinctly pink. At this point, explained an Austrian woman – an experienced bather with three sessions to her credit – we should have looked forward to a Seifen-Bürsten-Massage. This being Sunday, however, the soap-and-brush massager was having a day of rest.  Regretfully we proceeded to Fairly Warm Steam Bath Number One, followed by Even Hotter Steam Bath Number Two.

The significance of the word gemischt (mixed) as applied to the bathing experience now became apparent, as the Austrian woman peeled away from the (so far strictly segregated) company of women and launched herself with an impressive splash into the central, extravantly colonnaded thermal bath where her husband was happily basking.

The effect was electric. Those who had a partner with whom to get gemischt promptly did so, and there was a brief but joyous spell of communal bathing in the bubbling Sprudelbad. A notice on the wall politely asked bathers not to sit on top of the bubbling jets, but this was largely disregarded. Another notice demanded Ruhe – quiet – but there was a good deal of disobedience in this area too.

The time came for us to go our separate ways again and we each went back to our corners for further spells in baths of ever-diminishing temperatures. After a brief dunk in a distinctly chilly (18oC) tub, we towelled ourselves off and were channelled into the cream application parlour. Once again the Austrian lady bemoaned the Sunday rule on cream massages. The ultimate treat was to be placed on a warm bed in a darkened room, wrapped in a linen sheet and swathed in a blanket, mummy-style, where we dozed peacefully for a full half hour.

We retrieved our clothes and emerged, blinking, onto the streets of Baden-Baden feeling quite nonchalant about the experience, wondering vaguely why it is that we British are so bashful about the whole business of bathing and vowing to do it again soon – and often.

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