La Vie – The Essence of Beauty and Taste II

After enjoying a fabulous lunch at La Vie as well as a wonderful trip to Schloß Ibbenburg’s lovely garden we returned to Osnabrück just in time to explore the beautiful old town centre – and to gain a little more appetite for the La Vie dinner that was waiting for us.

I knew from the superb quality of the lunch that something extraordinary was in stall for me, still I was to be surprised by what was put before me that evening. The intensity, the level of detail and the absolute uncompromising perfection of Chef Bühner’s kitchen would overwhelm me.

Oyster leaves

Since it was a warm and sunny summer evening we started out at the upstairs and outside terrace with snacks and appetizers and a glass of 2002 Moet & Chandon Rosé.

Coated olives

Then some beautiful small appetizers arrived. On the left it’s foie gras with orange leaf on top combined with some fruit which tasted like blackcurrant – a bit too dominant, however. The sea bass at the top of the picture was delicious as was the eel macaron with its very intense flavour. We also got a shot of a very good beetroot gazpacho in the grey cup. All in all the nibbles were like small, beautiful mini courses on their own, and I really liked that.

Marinated mackerel and sesame ice cream

The first course downstairs in the restaurant resumed the complexity we had experienced at the lunch – and oh my, what masterpieces.

Here the dish comprised a marinated mackerel with black sesame with notes of chocolate, tobacco, and coffee and with leaves from the flowers that we’ve witnessed being picked just a couple of hours beforehand. There was so much power in this dish that it felt almost like a small blow to my stomach. Sweet, sour, salt, bitter and strong, strong umami taste. What a fabulous start!

Skrei as tartare, flavoured with fume, litchi as gelee & iced foam from almond

The second dish was an amazing thing, unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I loved how the textures and temperatures played here. The soft  almost jelly-like skrei tartare and the creamy-flavoured, frozen almond foam. Again the level of detail was incredible and every single taste made sense and played its part in the composition.

Langoustine grilled, green tomato & ricotta, Iberico bacon, bulgur

The sweet langoustine and the tiny cucumbers are amongst the most delicious and full of taste ones I’ve had in my life. The million little things just supported it and broadened the perspective of the flavours.

Britain red mullet confit with fennel, olive, milk skin & jus 

Then all of a sudden this red mullet came in, seemingly so simple, but still beautiful. This was a nice and refreshing break of the strain of complexity. Top quality, pure flavours, clean and balanced. It was an interesting match combining the mullet with the nordic inspired milk skin and quite strong Taggiasce olives giving character to the delicate mullet and giving me a sudden flash back to sea side dinners at the Mediterranean sea. I feel this dish is a good example of the non-dogmatic approach to produce that really sets the German cuisine apart form the Nordic one.

Ailerons from guinea fowl, artichoke, beans & floral, mangold

Notice the fava beans that we picked up in the garden earlier in the afternoon at the Ibbenburg garden. Of all the courses the ailerons dish was the one that impressed me least. But, that fact I think was probably also because my tummy and my mind had been stimulated with so many wonderful impressions and sentiments that I was close to being overloaded.

As a warm up for the venison we had soft, velvet-like mashed potatoes with a core of an ice cream based on something I just can’t remember.

Saddle of venison softly cooked served with 5 times cauliflowers and cherries

Anyways, on to the fabulous venison. There’s no doubt that it’s in Germany that I’ve got the best venison I have ever had in my life. First Sven Elverfelds’ at Aqua, and then here again by Thomas Bühner. I think even the picture shows the superb quality of the venison meat, perfectly cooked sous vide and incredible intense, I didn’t know such quality exists.

Brebis de Pyrénées, date solid, liquid, pear & tamarind

It’s only rare that I come across a prepared cheese course and I always welcome (sort of) cooked cheese. It enhances the flavours of the cheese, I believe. This was quite a rich course with the fantastic dates and that  provided a nice bridge to the sweet servings.

Refreshing pre-dessert of very delicious, vacuum prepared and thus very intense-flavoured strawberries and elderflower…

Tanariva Lactée, airy – liquid – solid, marinated cherries, caramelized quinoa

The “donut” was filled with delicate soft, liquid milk chocolate inside and it was a nice match with the cherries. I appreciated the focus on milk chocolate here instead of the more typical rich dark chocolate. An outstanding end to the dinner.

I haven’t said anything about the wines and naturally I enjoyed both them and the way they were paired with the food. Somehow, though, the food completely stole the focus and had a bigger impact on me than the wines. I particularly liked the Von Bassermann Jordan Forster Jesuitengarten Grosses Gewächs Riesling and the Josmeyer Pinot Gris.

It was a warm summer night so after the last dessert we finished with coffee, petit four and yet another glass of 2002 Moet & Chandon Rosé (or more correctly: A few of them) on the roof terrace – just like we began this fantastic journey of the essence of beauty and taste. Besides Chef Bühner being a certified genius in his kitchen, both he and his beautiful wife, Thayarni Kanagaratnam, are splendid hosts and it got late before we left for our hotel.

So, what made the Ösnabruck experience so special to me? Well, it’s the stimulation of all my senses all at once; the sight of the harmoniously colorful beauties, tantalizing scents, flavourful creations of superb – well, perfect – quality, playful with textures and temperatures and, above all, the way that Bühner masters all of this with an incredible degree of complexity.

Bühner’s cuisine is beyond high tech. Vacuum is used in several ways to enhance the natural flavours of the produce without spoiling the protein structures and taste with heat, and La Vie’s experimental kitchen upstairs is more like a lab than a kitchen. But the great thing is: Tasting the food you wouldn’t know this. This is not about molecular smoke and mirrors – there are no test tubes on the table. The techniques and technologies are used delicately and always with the purpose of refining, amplifying and purifying what’s already there, inside the produce. They’re just tools in their master’s hands – not for show off.

The day at La Vie, accentuated  by the Ibbenburg intermezzo and my naïve imagination of being part of the creating process, really affected me. La Vie was my number one restaurant experience in 2011 and in the top-5 meals of my life. It was that good – that surprising.

Thomas, Thayarni and your entire crew: Thank you!

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