When you ask someone about which countries they associate with high end dining they will usually respond “France”. Widely traveled ones will add Japan to that, and then ponder as to their next choice – should it be Spain, Italy, somewhere Scandinavian, Peru, the USA or even, whisper it, the UK? They will almost never name Germany in their list, but they are wrong. At the present moment there are 27 three star Michelin restaurants in France and 26 in Japan, but the next European country in that sequence is Germany, with 10 three star places (the UK has 4). That is no fluke. Germany might in the public eye be thought to have some of the wurst cuisine around (sorry, I couldn’t resist) but at the very high end its restaurants are top notch.
Unlike many countries, the German three star restaurants are dotted around the countryside rather than being clustered in major cities – Berlin is home to some two star restaurants, but no three stars. One, Aqua, is actually in a car plant, or at least next to it, by the main Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, its chef Sven Elverfeld producing masterful cutting edge modern cooking. There is Gästehaus Erfort in the industrial state of Saarland, and the unfortunately named (to an English ear) Überfahrt on the very pretty lake Tegernsee in the Bavarian Alps. The newest three star is Kevin Fehling’s The Table in Hamburg, where twenty diners sit at a single sinuous table in an industrial district of the city. Osnabrück in Saxony has an attractive historic old town but is also home to the elaborate and technically sophisticated cooking of Thomas Buehner at La Vie.
Much credit for the depth of high-end restaurants in Germany should be given to Harald Wohlfahrt, whose Schwarzwaldstube was the first in Germany to be awarded the ultimate three star accolade in 1992. Located on the hillside of a beautiful Black Forest valley where the scent of pine trees hangs in the air, his restaurant not only cooks lovely classical food, but acted as a training ground for many other chefs: almost half of the other three star chefs in the country trained under him. Just a few miles down the road at the base of the valley is Bareiss, where Klaus-Peter Lumpp cooks fine classical French cuisine with a few Germanic touches. More modern food can be found at Vendome in Bergisch Gladbach, where Joachim Wissler prepares lengthy tasting menus in a beautiful stately home.
A master of classical cooking in a gorgeous woodland setting is Helmut Thieltges at Waldhotel Sonnora in the Rhineland. Not far from there, near the village of Perl Nennig, is my personal favourite, Schloss Berg. Chef Christian Bau is so certain of his abilities that he has three Michelin stars tattooed on both arms. He prepares magnificent modern dishes with a Japanese influence, based on glorious ingredients and with flawless culinary technique. If you are looking for world-class restaurants then give Germany a try – you won’t regret it.