The people behind the Michelin Restaurant Guide say that a two Michelin Star restaurant is one that offers “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. With that in mind, I recently took the opportunity to make such a special journey and visit a restaurant that several members of my family have long declared as being their favourite restaurant of all time: the Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer, in the world famous Adlon hotel. The Adlon utterly epitomises the roller-coaster ride that is 20th Century German history; it was a favourite haunt of Kaiser Wilhelm II at the beginning of the century, was a hospital for wounded German soldiers during World War II and was also very close to the site of the Berlin Wall – a horrific reminder of the divisions, inhumanity, conflict and strife that mankind is capable of when it is at its worst. Fortunately, the hotel finds itself in somewhat happier times now.
My impression of the restaurant was that it was going to be a brilliant meal, even before we arrived. A few days before the meal I was telephoned and asked whether the meal was for a special occasion; I answered in the affirmative, in that it was an (admittedly belated) anniversary present to my wife. As a result upon entrance to the restaurant, every member of staff greeted us warmly and wished us a happy anniversary. Furthermore, the staff had set up the rather charming table decoration that you see at the top of this page, featuring an interesting sculpture made from knives, forks and spoons. We took up our table, which had a sumptuous view overlooking the Brandenburg Gate and sitting in front of a majestic fire and a rather imposing bust of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Now, this was at 8pm; we weren’t to leave the restaurant until 12pm, somewhat overwhelmed by incredible food and gorgeous wine. As you may imagine, I wasn’t able to make detailed notes of the experience (I don’t think I’m going to make it as a future AA Gill or Jay Rayner); however I was able to take some snaps of most of the courses on my ‘phone, which I have included for illustrative purposes (incidentally, I don’t think I’m going to make it as a photographer either…)
We started the meal with an aperitif of a glass of Blanc du Blanc (made entirely from Chardonnay) Champagne from Ruinart. We were also served a selection of innovative and exciting amuse-bouche, which included a posh take on the German classic Hawaii Toast, a snowball made from horseradish and a chocolate lollipop with a paté filling. This allowed us to start deciding what we were going to have for our dinner. We decided on the Tasting menu as I was very keen to see what gastronomic delights they had in store.
My first impression was how beautifully arranged the dish was. I would come to realise that this would be the same for all of the courses. It looked almost as is if the various components had grown on the plate. The richness of the goose liver pate was verging on unctuous and was perfectly complimented by the wine, which was just sweet enough that it cut through the robust flavours in the food. The dish was accompanied by some little deep fried polenta squares that were served in a martini glass, which you can just about make out in the photo.
For me, this was one of the stand-out dishes on the menu. I was prepared for the gorgeous langoustine, but what blew me away was the calamari. You can see it standing proud like a shark’s dorsal fin in the photo, but it was not the rubbery calamari that you sometimes get; it was smooth and flavoursome. The wine was a nice match too, acidic enough to get through the curry sauce that the fish was served with (perhaps a h/t to Berlin’s currywurst that I mentioned in my last post?)
This was a dish where the star wasn’t necessarily the meat – although the salmon was, of course, beautiful. What I remember most about the dish was the foam that it was served with and the lovely crunchy, herby, nutty salad that provided a contrasting texture. I have only had a couple of Swiss wines, but they seem to be a country very much on the up in the wine world. This wine was delightful: bone-dry, youthful, fresh and expressing high levels of minerality, which complimented the food very nicely indeed.
Another winner on the menu; this was by far the nicest pigeon that I have ever eaten. As you can see from the picture it was served pleasingly red in the middle and gorgeously tender. The accompanying pieces around the plate were all very delicate and played nicely with the pigeon. I enjoyed the fact that that the paprika rings and mushrooms gave the dish a little height and drama. The wine was pleasant and a great accompaniment to the pigeon, redolent of black cherries and abundantly fragrant.
Quite simply I would walk back to Berlin to have this course again. It was quite simply, stunning. The picture doesn’t do it quite justice and like a lot of courses where there are intricate sauces put on, by the time it arrives at your table some of the sauces have started to run into each other. Notwithstanding this, the lamb was simply outrageous. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and, once again, served pleasingly pink in the middle; I did not want this beautiful little morsel to end! The belly was also beautifully cooked and presented. The intricacy of the dots of sauce on the strip of juicy aubergine was quite admirable. However, one of the most impressive things about this dish was the unconventional flavours that were combined into this course, for example Ayran (the Turkish yoghurt drink) and Passion fruit; however it was pulled off with aplomb. Not content with being my favourite food course, they also served it with my favourite wine of the evening. In fact, I was so effusive in my praise for this glorious wine that the sommelier poured me an extra glass! Proust!
If I’m honest, this was the only element that I wasn’t blown away by, however when you’re serving such an eclectic and diverse menu this was bound to happen. This course consisted of a slightly sour fresh-cheesecake, with a base of dried fruit and was served with a glass of Schnapps. It was impressive when it arrived (it started to droop by the time I took my photo), but I found the base, in particular, not be to my taste.
After all of these delightful courses we were pleasantly surprised to be served with a “pre-dessert” (because you need to ease your stomach into desserts right?), which I was very pleased to see was a deconstructed Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (or Black Forest Gateau). This is my favourite cake at the moment and as you will see from the photo they presented it delightfully; the chocolate, cherries and cream all came through strongly, with lovely side drops of Passion fruit.
Following on, we moved to the “main pudding”, which seemed to be a lovely and complex version of a mille feuille. The flavours were certainly interesting as once again we had sharp exotic fruits combining with rich chocolate; this was all accompanied by a ball of frozen herb snow. The sweet wine served with this course once again did a brilliant job of cutting through this extravaganza; sweet and fruity, but with bags of acidity.
After all of the above, you can probably imagine that we were absolutely stuffed and also a little tipsy! However, the restaurant then brought around a selection of absolutely delightful pralines, which they just insisted that we took; my wife, wisely, declined, however I had just enough room to be tempted… After this we were presented with a lovely little cake to commemorate our anniversary, which we were (luckily) able to take home as a souvenir.
A word on the staff, who were absolutely brilliant. Attentive to every detail, adapt at explaining everything to us in either English or German and always eager to assist. They were also extremely helpful when I emailed after the trip to ask for some details from the wine list.
All-in-all, the purpose of this meal was to taste some exquisite food, paired with some supreme wines; and I felt that this was achieved comprehensively. The price-tag is, of course, hefty and I would not normally consider spending as much as I did on a dinner for two; however I ask you – what is life without spoiling yourself occasionally? If you were looking to spoil yourself, I would heartily recommend letting the staff of the Adlon do it for you. You won’t be sorry.