Thursday, November 23, 2017

La Vie Thomas Bühner

For a foodie in search of the very best among German restaurants, a visit to Aqua naturally will be followed by having a meal at La Vie, a culinary landmark in the Lower Saxony state. The restaurant was housed in the old building, known as Haus Tenge; it was located in the heart of Osnabrück's historic old town. Contrary to its exterior and surrounding, the interior of la vie had plenty of contemporary elements. The main dining room, covered about 20 people, was well-spaced with elegant brown curtain, large tables, wooden floor and modern arts. The hallway was lined with wooden panels and on the 2nd floor, there was a smaller (private) dining room with colorful chairs and beige walls. In short, the 'simple' decor displayed an understated luxury of the restaurant.

Similar to the building, the cuisine of chef-owner Thomas Bühner also combined the classic and modern elements. He skillfully integrated traditional French cuisine as the foundation with modern technique by exploring various range of textures and flavors to produce avant-garde dishes as well as innovative menu. In addition, Chef Buhner was adventurous and loved using top ingredients from around the globe, often producing European fusion. Despite this, he would ensure that the dishes served at his main restaurant were unmistakably German in its root. His tasting menu (no a la carte here) was well-structured and carefully sequenced. The food here was more than just some wonderful dish by itself but more like a symphony ... though I somehow disrupted it by mixing some "tunes".

My meal began with some nibbles. First, it was consomme of walnut with wakame (seaweed) tea and new leaves - a bit salty but felt healthy; then it's followed by Thin goat cheese with grapes - tangy & light met with juicy & sweet flavors. The bread was of high quality and made from scratch here. There were 2 kinds: Sourdough with cumin had nice crispy crust and soft inside. It was served with deep Spanish olive oil and creamy French butter. Secondly, Focaccia with thyme was aromatic with puffy texture. There were 2 menus you could choose from - Tradition & Qualite, served mainly the classic dishes of La Vie. Another one was Le Grand Chef, served innovative and avant-garde dishes of Thomas Buhner. I selected the later one since it had more dishes. Furthermore, I added a couple of dishes from the chef's specialties ... talking about me being greedy

Le Grand Chef menu with some extras

Wagyu japanisch 30 d dry aged | salad kabeljau consommé (Japanese Wagyu beef, dry aged for 30 days, served with Cod fish, wild herbs salad, and saffron + fish consomme) - The thinly sliced beef, by itself, was pure and creamy (a decent pairing with the salad) while the radiant Cod was delicate and light. The consomme was flavorful but a bit too intense - it complemented the fish better while somewhat too dominant for the wagyu, distracted the wagyu's natural flavor instead of enhance it. Overall, it was still a nice dish

Saint Pierre & King Crab {cresson, chanterelles | wasserkresse, pfifferlinge} (John Dory and king crab served with watercress and chanterelle mushrooms) - The white fish was firm and rather mild in contrast to the tender and 'sweet' red crab. The sea creatures were combined with subtle white Cod fish sauce, earthy / woody mushrooms and their cream, fresh & nutty green peas, peppery but not-so-pungent watercress sauce. Innovative dish with tons of elements in which you could try many different variations. It was interesting & quite delectable though at times not necessarily harmonious

Octopus | wildschwein – emulsion kimchi | apfel (Octopus served with Iberico pork belly and its emulsion, kimchi + apple sauce) - The thick octopus, carefully cooked, had good texture (pleasantly bouncy). The pork was tasty albeit very small. The more concentrate flavor was coming from the dark boar emulsion, then in contrast to it, the kitchen prepared lighter and a bit sour kimchi / apple sauce. A dish with Asian influence that went well ... nice combination and not as complex as the previous dish; like it

Accompanied by wine: 2016 Weingut Manz Weissburgunder (fresh, fruity and quite good balanced)

Spargel weiß | tintenfisch | carbonara style (White asparagus, formed like noddles, served with thin squid underneath, salmon roes and consomme) - The asparagus and the squid showed some texture contrast; the salmon caviar was pleasant, popping with briny yet sweet ocean flavor. The squid broth was rather strong that sometimes it overwhelmed the main ingredients. It's alright

Auster (gillardeau) | kalbsbries portulak | austernsauce (Gillardeau Oyster served with sweetbread, purslane leaves and oyster sauce) - The oyster was excellent - refined, plump, a bit nutty and sweet - truly a premium ingredient. It went along well with the 'pure & simple' sweetbread - creamy texture and mild flavor. The oyster sauce, thankfully not overly salty and strong, brought together the main produces and the many elements on the sides such as leeks, turnip, potato and quince; they made the overall dish to be more delicious. Awesome! A great example of maximum dish (a dish with numerous ingredients) that worked together properly. The flavor and even the plating showed some Chinese influence - not so beautiful ;)

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Testalonga Chenin Blanc El Bandito (white wine from South Africa; light, fresh, floral perfume, and "pure + natural")

Etouffée taube | wacholderrauch karamellisierter kürbissaft (Etouffee Pigeon smoked with juniper smoke and served in caramelized pumpkin sauce) - The Canadian pigeon was pink with thin but crispy skin, hence the carefully seasoned and meticulously cooked meat was succulent, flavorful and juicy. The dish was really delightful. The sauce (pumpkin + pigeon jus) enriched the wonderful bird - simple, generous portion and perfectly executed - love it very much

Filet de bison Canadien {racine de tournesol, ortie, morilles | kerbelwurzel, brennesseln, spitzmorcheln} (Filet of Canadian Bison served with chervil root, stinging nettle and morels) - The bison meat was naturally leaner and less flavorful than beef, but it was still tasty, slightly sweet with no gamey taste. The chervil root was good - some nutty flavor, starchy texture, quite fragrant - a good 'pairing' for the bison. The white sauce (sour cream & soy milk) was decent, neutralize any cloying flavor while the morels were intense. I was told that the presentation showed how German people often ate their veggies + meat + cream altogether. A well-deserved classic from La Vie

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco (nice body, decent complexity in particular in the nose, some acidity and fruity - a good Italian red)

Tonkabohne & edelweiss I geeist  selleriemilch I dill (Tonka bean and white chocolate served with celery milk, green apple, iced, olive oil and dill) - At first, I thought it was a vegetable dessert, in fact looked like salad, since it's predominantly green. I usually was not a fan of white chocolate but I was glad that it's not too sweet here. Tonka bean was a versatile ingredient (great taste and scent); it's pretty much the backbone of the flavor. There were lots of elements with different textures ... When I scoped many different ways, they generated many pleasant taste and "feel". An innovative dessert that worked better than I initially expected

The petit four introduced some unfamiliar flavor combinations. For instance: a macaron of black tea and lemon, chocolates with curry flavor and for fun, there was a gumball machine containing chocolate in yuzu, cherry and passion fruit flavors. Forgot to mention that, the pre-dessert was sweet caramelized soya milk ice cream with grapes and green melon; no sour or acidic taste. The wine served was also sourced from all over the world, consistent with La Vie's approach. The pairing above was satisfying.

The service has been exceptional throughout. I reached Osnabrück by train and was picked up by the restaurant's staff driving Mercedes-Benz S class with the restaurant's logo. The round trip transport was provided for guests dining at la vie. With 4 staffs, including the assistant sommelier, taking care only 10 of us during lunch, they delivered smooth hospitality. The wine and water were topped up promptly, dishes arrived in good pace and for a lone guest like me, I was offered some magazines and the senior staff took time to chat with me. After finishing his cooking class, Thomas Bühner visited each table in the dining room including mine. He even took time to sit in my table and patiently listened and answered my questions. It was a weekend lunch in a small town, probably that's why the atmosphere was relaxed and guests tended to dress down (I was the only one with jacket and tie).

La Vie offered one of the most attractive dining experiences in the country. The kitchen was very ambitious and had unique approach towards contemporary German cuisine. Thomas Buhner was not afraid of creating complex dishes featuring many components (there's hardly any meaningless element) yet they did not lack focus; in fact, they usually worked together harmoniously. Dishes after dishes displayed the ingredients natural flavors, some texture contrasts and the chef's imagination without being pretentious. It's recommended that a foodie visiting Germany should make an effort to detour to this place. You can see the pictures of the food: La Vie May '17  

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 95.5/100


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Guy Savoy Paris

Guy Savoy, the Legion d'Honneur recipient, is one of the most famous and respectable French chefs. His eponymous restaurant has held 3-star Michelin for 15 years or so. I had a chance to savor his creations for the 1st time in 2008 when the restaurant was still located at rue Troyon (now converted into a sea food restaurant named Etoile-sur-Mer), then around 2013 in Guy Savoy Singapore (closed for good unfortunately). The meals were good but nothing spectacular. However, the restaurant attracted my attention again when the chef-owner announced that he would move to a grander place at Hôtel de la Monnaie, on the Left bank near the Seine. It became a reality in 2015; in addition early this year La Liste selected restaurant Guy Savoy Paris to be at the top of its list. I thought that probably now it's time to return there and it happened when I visited Paris in May 2017.

As I arrived at the restaurant, I had to walk up a majestic red-carpeted staircase. Then, as you approached the main entrance, the door would open on its own accord. I was escorted to my seat by the hostess and soon after that, a familiar face greeted me - Mr. Hubert Schwermer! I was surprised and glad that he's still with the restaurant. I was not after any particular dishes of Guy Savoy, hence degustation menu was my logical choice. The meal began with several amuse-bouche, such as small foie gras sandwich, a plate of vegetables and purple beetroots. There was no more bread trolley (or bread pairing). The bread was baked in the house and supplied by Frederic Lalos, the youngest "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" winner.    

Set Menu: Colours, Textures and Flavours

L'huître concassée, granité algue et citron (“Concasse” of Oysters, seaweed and lemon granite) - The oyster tartare was fresh, briny and filled with iodine essence. The seaweed, tart granite and a bit of olive oil highlighted the creamy and tasty oyster. It's a dish that's full of ocean flavor; very pleasant

Surprise de homard (Lobster 'surprise') - The lobster, served slightly below room temperature, was surprisingly rather lack in flavor but the texture was still nice. The subtle clear consomme and carrot helped the shellfish - decent but not as delicious as I had expected

Caviar, l'œuf en sabayon fumé (Caviar, potatoes with smoked sabayon and chips) - The mild and earthy potatoes were 'improved' by the creamy & flavorful sabayon as well as distinctly nutty & salty caviar. Dip the crisp chips in the light, smoky yellow 'sauce' to optimize the experience ... it was a very good caviar-based dish but I missed the Colors of caviar

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet Domaine Jean Dauvissat Père & Fils (In short, it's long, beautiful and complex - floral & herbal aroma, mineral nose and delicate taste. A good matching for the oyster and lobster) 

Des legumes ('Vertical' vegetables) - Essentially, it was a combination of raw and cooked seasonal vegetables served with their broth and perfumed by lemongrass. Some of my seasonal items were asparagus, carrot, leeks, celery, radish, turnip etc; alright - not as impressive as l'Arpege veggies

Un morceau d'énorme turbot cuisiné tout simplement (Fillet of giant Turbot, cooked simply) - About 1 hour before this course finally arrived, the staff brought and showed to all customers the giant "pretty" Turbot that would be cooked as part of the dish served at degustation menu. The fish was firm and yummy especially when eaten with the sauce made of its jus and vinegar. In contrast to the firm Turbot, we had softer and buttery mashed potatoes. A nice and balanced dish!

Puy lentils with black Truffles - This was an extra dish from the kitchen. A simple and humble dish that was carefully prepared can be awesome. The lentils were earthy with some peppery flavor; they went along well with the scented truffle

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Condrieu Les Grandes Chaillées Domaine Du Monteillet Stéphane Montez (Aroma of oak and honey, less dry compared to the my earlier wine, medium palate and a bit bitter - quite good pairing, but I may not enjoy to drink this by itself)

Soupe d'artichaut à la truffe noire, brioche feuilletée aux champignons et beurre de truffes (Artichoke soup with black truffle; layered brioche with mushrooms and truffles) - The timeless and arguably the most popular dish of Guy Savoy. I felt that the soup was more intense and deeper in flavor than during my first visit, which was a good thing. The rich soup worked in harmony with the salty parmesan, pungent / garlicky truffle and flaky + 'sinful' brioche with black truffle butter. I asked for a second brioche to wipe clean the soup

Selle et carré d'agneau « version Sud » (Saddle and loin of lamb; 'South version') - I forgot to take the picture of this dish. The young milk-fed lamb was from Pyrenees. The saddle was fine, smooth and flavorful while the loin was fatty, tender and also delicious. It was served with artichoke, spinach and the lamb jus. The portion was very small sadly ...

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Saint-Joseph Cuvée Le Berceau Domaine Bernard Gripa (Deep, some fruity and tannin, woody - a lot of potential for further development, 3 more years should be more ideal. It went nicely with my lamb course) 

Saint-Nectaire, la croûte et le champagne en gelée (Rind-on Saint Nectaire farmstead cheese with champagne jellies) - The cheese was kinda sweet with rich & creamy texture and fruity aroma. The condiments 'helped' elevate the already succulent cow cheese a bit ..

Coconut sorbet with pineapple and passion fruit - A good palate cleanser that almost tasted like "deconstructed" virgin pina colada. Sweet, refreshing and a bit sour

Le mille-feuille minute à la vanille de Tahaa (Millefeuille ‘à la minute’ with Taha’an vanilla) - What can I say? It's pretty much perfect. The puff pastry layers were light and delicate but held the vanilla cream well. The Tahitian vanilla cream was amazing - pure, not overly sweet and fragrant; I ended up finishing the 'extra' cream put on the sides. It's the most delicious thing I ate for this meal

L'écrin de chocolat noir (Dark chocolate parcel) - The presentation was visually beautiful. It was made of Papuan dark chocolate with its strong cream, sea salt biscuit and chocolate sorbet. Pure decadent for chocolate lovers

At the end, Hubert himself came and served me trolley of ice creams, sorbets, dessert jars and traditional biscuits. This was one of the best things about the 'old school' French gastronomy. There were lots of stuffs but the small portion was just right. I had praline and vanilla rice pudding (the best), passion fruit and chocolate macaroons, strawberry shortcake, cheese and chocolate cake, caramel cream and sorbets (mango, ginger and earl grey). Overall, the food was about as good as the one I had nearly a decade ago except the desserts were much better. The service dropped slightly simply because the restaurant was full and the staffs tried their best to balance serving the dishes promptly and entertaining guests. Approximately, there were at least 50 diners occupying 5 different salons, therefore I could understand why compared to my last visit, the hospitality was less personalized. I did not see chef Guy Savoy visiting the dining room or greeting guests this time.

I was glad that Guy Savoy finally got a much deserved and better place for his restaurant. The establishment was palace-like and architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte led the renovation of this old building so that it would be more 'relevant' in the 21st century. The interior was generally dark with some shades of grey; high ceiling and tall windows allowed plenty of natural lights. The 'dominant' black colors were contrasted to the bright and white tablecloths as well as a few colorful tableware decorations. Similar to his old restaurant, there were plenty of (modern) paintings and sculptures enriched this dining room and enhanced its atmosphere. Ultimately, a meal at Guy Savoy was not about incredible and uber delicious dishes. It's always the whole package - high level cooking using superb ingredients; affable, fun and caring hospitality; comforting environment and generous food by the host. Regardless of any not-so-positive things I wrote here, I was glad that I made this return. The link for the pictures: Guy Savoy Paris May '17

If any of you want to see how Guy Savoy food has progressed, here are the pictures of my old meal at rue Troyon: Guy Savoy Oct '08

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 95/100