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Hidden Gems – Sonnora

In the run up to the Elite Traveler Top 100 Restaurants 2015, Andy Hayler picks out some of his favorite restaurants, including Sonnora. 

It seems odd to describe a three star Michelin restaurant as hidden, and yet Sonnora seems invisible to social media and is about as far from foodie fashion as it is possible to be. Waldhotel Sonnora’s full name means forest hotel, and it lives up to this with its leafy location in the Rhineland, an hour’s drive from Luxembourg. Chef Helmut Thieltges has been cooking classical cuisine here since 1978, and his cooking style is gloriously free of the culinary tricks and obsession with innovation for its own sake that bedevils so many modern kitchens. Here the food is all about glorious ingredients, faultless cooking technique and enjoyable flavour combinations.

A meal might begin with very fresh crayfish, flavoured with mint, a little tarte of onions with crème fraiche, and a nibble of sweet crab with apple. Balance is apparent throughout the design of the dishes. Rich goose liver parfait comes with pears and iced fig, the pears providing the acidity needed to cut through the glorious richness of the liver. Wild sea bass is paired with fennel but also Mediterranean vinaigrette, the balsamic vinegar in the dressing lifting the overall dish and working well with the fish. Another illustration comes from lightly cooked langoustines with endive and a lemon beurre blanc. Here the inherent sweetness of the shellfish, the bitter note of the endive and the acidity of the lemon combine to beautiful effect.

Luxury ingredients are treated with considerable respect, allowing their flavour to be showcased. Turbot comes with a sauce Choron laced with celery, the garnish working with the flavour of the fish but not overpowering it, the celery providing an earthy counterpoint to the turbot.  Venison saddle is coated with almonds and raisins and comes with a silky, rich game sauce with green peppers and cranberries, the latter cutting through the deeply flavoured sauce, chanterelles and celeriac puree providing an earthy flavour component.

Desserts maintain the high standard set by the savoury courses. Chocolate cake with mango and coffee sauce is prettily presented and paired with unctuous chocolate fondant, the fragrant mango having enough sharpness to cut through the richness of the chocolate.

Service is impeccable here, and the wine list has an excellent selection of bottles from carefully chosen growers in Germany and elsewhere. Sonnora is a bastion of high quality classical cooking, immune to the vagaries of today’s restaurant faddishness. Long may it continue.