Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg
51429 Bergisch Gladbach
Telephone: +49 2204 42 1941
Overall rating: 7.5-8/10
Date of visit: September 2013
Vendome is run by chef Joachim Wissler and is one of the top restaurants in Germany and has held three Michelin stars since 2004. For those who care about that list, it was placed 10th on Restaurant Magazine’s top 50 list of best restaurants in 2013.
The restaurant is part of the hotel Schloss Bensberg just outside of Cologne, although the restaurant itself is in a smaller building next to the hotel. It’s modern and elegant with 3-d art on the walls.
The restaurant offers a long and a short tasting menu as well as a la carte dishes. The long menu was €230, while the short one was €185. We went for the short tasting menu per the staff’s recommendation, although I wouldn’t call this meal short.
We asked for just a glass of white and red wine each, but the restaurant also offers wine pairings for both the long and the short menu, priced at €90 and €70 respectively.
We were asked if we wanted to start with an aperitif. My wife at the time had wanted asti, but they only had champagne, so instead the waiter suggested making a cocktail consisting of elderflower concentrate and a German sweet wine.
I don’t pay much attention to bread served in restaurants in general, but this bread was very nice, and especially the butter was spectacular (and I’m even saying being a person that comes from a country which is famous for its butter).
First a string of appetisers appeared. Before we were even presented with the menu we had a foie gras serving of foie gras ice cream. I must admit that I don’t recall all the other components, but I think it might have been a elderflower granite and a cucumber soup. If it was something more exotic than cucumber at least it tasted very much like cucumber. My wife at the time was not fond of foie gras, so they took hers away and quickly swapped it for the same dish but with a sour cream ice cream instead.
Next up was smoked but still raw mackerel on a crispy cracker. The smokiness here was very well controlled and really had that lovely charcoal flavour.
Field’s caviar (a first for me – it’s an Asian plant that looks like caviar and therefore was named after it) was topped with an egg yolk from quail and on the side was a cream of artichokes, which unfortunately was very salty, and a crisp of the same.
A leaf was topped with a fake walnut, probably made from foie gras.
Lovely langoustines were topped with a bit of lemongrass. This was one of our favourites in the entire meal.
Slowly cooked pork was served with a bit of paprika sauce and thinly sliced apples on the side. This was another one of my favourites.
As my wife at the time didn’t eat pork, she had calf head instead.
Then the first dish of actual menu arrived: Grilled mackerel with melon, aged balsamic vinegar, sardine cream, and a salad of pickled melon, fruit and capers on the side. Mackerel is not one of my favourite fish, but I must say this one was incredibly fresh and extremely well-cooked. Not a hint of dryness.
Next up was our favourite dish in the actual menu: A mascarpone ravioli in a cheese sauce stuffed with mushrooms. It was topped with white truffles and then drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. This was a lovely dish, but the truffles had no flavour at all. As my wife at the time put it: If they hadn’t told her it was truffles she would never have known – and she is particularly good at sensing when something contains truffles (she could taste truffle oil in a dish at Quique Dacosta where I couldn’t – and the waiter confirmed that it was truffle oil).
John Dory was served with a mussel salad, and an almond cream with curry powder. As I don’t like mussels, I had a prawn salad and spinach instead. A light sauce was drizzled around it. Unfortunately, both our fish was a bit dry but not extremely overcooked.
The main course was deer two ways. The filet was topped with a slice of foie gras for me. A braising sauce was drizzled around it, and the accompaniments were many: Cream of celeriac, mushrooms (probably ceps), and lingonberries. Best was a green, refreshing disc of spring onions and cabbage, although it was topped with a few pieces of liver that I would have preferred to have gone without as I’m not keen on liver in general. The deer itself seemed a tad dry to me, but worse was that it simply lacked flavour and seasoning. My wife at the time had asked for her meat to be cooked well-done, which it wasn’t but she was okay with how it was cooked.
The dessert was refreshing: Sour cream ice cream, fennel granite and apple discs.
Petit fours were an onslaught: Chocolate-coated marshmallow treats, mini cupcakes with muscovado sugar and cherry, raspberry and litchi jelly, orange blossom marshmallows, magnum ice creams with coconut ice cream, and chocolate and cumin macaroons.
But that wasn’t all. After this another waiter came up and offered us chocolate confectionary. We could choose as many as we liked. Some of the highlights were white chocolate with buttermilk and lemon, white chocolate with strawberry, chocolate with pistachio, chocolate with hazelnut, and chocolate with passion fruit. This confectionary clearly belonged in a three-star restaurant.
As you can see, I haven’t scored each dish this time, nor have I gone into great detail about the food. And this is for a very simple reason: There wasn’t much that stood out. There were of course highlights (the langoustines, the mackerel appetiser, the pork, the ravioli, the petit fours/confectionary) but I felt it very difficult to score any of the dishes here. Quite quickly I forgot what I had just eaten.
The food was very creative and well-cooked, and it was definitely my type of food. When it comes to execution, there were only a few minor flaws, and it was one of the most perfectly executed meals I have ever had. If somebody was to give this meal 10/10 I wouldn’t flinch at all. Still, we both felt there had been something missing throughout the entire meal.
There was a bit too much waiting for the fish course, but other than that the pace of the meal was perfect. No rushing and no waiting. The only odd thing was that the appetiser of pork/calf head was served while my wife at the time was in the toilet, but that is really a minor detail.
The service was great – friendly, professional, smooth, attentive and with a bit of humour. One of the waiters also came up and made small talk with us and asked about our trip. Although it might not have come naturally for him (he told us it was his second night there), the most important thing is that he made the effort, which the entire staff did. Yes, maybe the staff wasn’t as warm as certain places in Spain and Italy, but that’s just how we are in northern Europe, so we were very, very happy with the service here. We felt welcome from the beginning and until we left.
We don’t like dry wines but they only had dry red wines. They let us try two different ones (which actually doesn’t happen so often in three star restaurants), and then we settled for one. Then the sommelier gave us another full glass so we could “become a bit acquainted with German wine” as he said.
We saw the chef in the kitchen (there was a window when you passed by) but unfortunately he didn’t make an appearance in the restaurant.
Then there’s the price. The menu was €185, and my wife’s cocktail was €15. The bill only listed those two items, so when I asked if they didn’t want to charge us for wine, the waiter asked his colleague and came back and said that this was an offer they had Wednesdays and Thursdays. So, in total this was €192.50 per person, which is less than the price of a five course menu itself at Hof Van Cleve, where we were a few days later. Germany is not a cheap country, so you can’t expect as low a price as in Spanish three-star restaurants, so when you take the country and the food served into consideration, this was top value for money! I don’t know what they would have charged for wine if we had come another day, but with this particular offer this has been some of the best value I’ve had in a three-star restaurant. This meal reminded me of the one I had at Pierre Gagnaire, although there weren’t quite the same highlights here as in Pierre Gagnaire, but the value was definitely much better here.