Aqua, ***, Wolfsburg

We didn’t go out to restaurants much when we were small but when we did, my sister and I would both order a coca cola.  She would gulp hers down before the food even arrived and I would sip mine economically, making it last until the food was cleared and I could down it in one leaving my throat feeling raw from the bubbles.

It divides us, what we do with the things we love, squirrel them away for a rainy day or consume them at once.Aqua is the only 3 Michelin starred restaurant anywhere near Berlin (1 hour away by ICE in Wolfsburg), after that you’ve only got Fischers Fritz with 2 Michelin stars (which I didn’t like) and then a further 13 restaurants with one star.  I had been saving Aqua for the day when I hit culinary rock bottom and had to be resuscitated with a good dose of the good stuff, the showmanship, the fireworks.

My husband who is a ‘drink it now’ kind of guy (opposites attract and all that) announced that we had Saturday reservations.  He’s the only person I know who can surprise me without me going into catatonic shock (this has taken years of practice, when he proposed early on in our relationship, I spent most of the day hyperventilating on the bathroom floor).  We made our way to Wolfsburg.  Aqua is in the Ritz which in turn is in the  Volkswagen’s Autostadt theme park.  It’s a surreal landscape of defunct factory spaces, water and luxury. Like Elverfeld said to me later in the evening “It’s about the package, not just the food.”  The ‘package’ was looking pretty good, fancy but steel and glass not frills and chintz.

It’s rare, almost to the point of non-existent, for a Michelin starred restaurant not to have a dish featuring foie gras.  I look out for it and always order it because it tells me more about who is cooking than 20 amuse-bouches.

This is what Elverfeld  did with it : he took a shallow plate, no more than 10mm deep and filled it with foie gras; on top of it a layer of plum jelly; crouching on top of that like  a sleeping dog, foie gras bubbles; radiating outwards, pieces of plum; weaving through tiny chocolate orbs and some large crumbs of sweet biscuit.  Texture, temperature, a ping-pong of flavours, amplifying, repeating, interrupting.

His technique is whittled down to the sharpest possible point, there is no error.  But I think it’s his exceptional balance of flavour which won him the 3 stars.  He’s like a tight rope walker, who doesn’t once waver.We made our way through 8 courses.  The dishes built upwards from light fish to earthy and deep meat dishes.  There was a Tafelspitz of lamb, quite unlike any I’ve ever tried before.

There was only one dessert on the menu: blackberry, jasmine and sour milk ice cream.  A large chocolate mousse x marked the spot.  Each element only occurred once on the plate.  There was one blackberry ravioli, so delicate, it could have been made by fairies; 1 blackberry, quartered; a small wedge of honeycomb; a perfect praline (for which I would like the recipe now please!); scattered on the purple smear at on end, blackberry drupelets which, torn free of the white core, tasted like an entirely new fruit.  (The pastry chef at Aqua, Nadja Hartl won pastry chef of the year, 2011)

Even though we were on average half the age of the other diners the wait staff were just as obliging and friendly.  When all the main courses had gone out, Elverfeld came out and worked the dining room.  He got to our table last, my husband quickly asked him: “So what are your top 3 restaurants?”  (This is one of my husbands many talents, he can ask probing questions within seconds of meeting someone and then flash a dimpled smile, twinkle his blue eyes and instantly charm people to let down their guard.)  Elverfeld looked out at us from under one golden curl that dangled perpetually in front of his eyes, reminding me of a little child peeking out from behind a cabinet at a couple of adults and weighing whether they are worth the trouble of talking to.  I guess he thought we were.  ”Alinea, Michel Bras, El Celler de Can Roca” he answered without hesitating “and I have eaten at Noma, El Bulli (twice), the Fat Duck.”
“I dream of going to Alinea!” I replied “and I loved Can Roca. When we went last, our table was so excited about the food that they took us into the kitchen for a tour!” I wasn’t fishing when I said this I swear but he said to me: “You want to see my kitchen?” And in we went, it was well after service and there wasn’t much to see, it was sparkling clean and large. “Next time you have to come during service.” He smiled at me. Read more of this post


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