The Northern German city of Wolfsburg could also be called “German Motown” as it is mainly known for having the Volkswagen headquarters and consists of plenty of Volkswagen factory buildings. In recent years though, the car company has invested in building an attraction park and visitor centre for car lovers, including a luxury hotel of the Ritz-Carlton brand. The hotel facility is nestled in between the visitor center and from its windows one can overview a harbour basin and the impressive Volkwagen factory with its century-old smokestacks. I’d call it industrial romanticism. More important for food travelers though is the hotel’s own fine dining Restaurant Aqua, where Chef Sven Elverfeld has built a reputation for being one of Germany’s top chefs.
Elverfeld, who started his cooking career as a pastry chef now holds 3 Michelin stars since 2009 and offers food which is both inspired by regional German specialties (also from his hometown region around Frankfurt) as well as from international flavors from all around the globe.
The premises are modern, elegant and comfortable and offer enough spacing of the tables. The background music is of movie themes on the piano such as from American Beauty or Amelie Poulain. It has a good volume level and is by no means obtrusive. We started our meal with an excellent glass of Jacquesson Cuvée 735, a dry and fresh Champagne I enjoy very much.
Elverfeld’s menu starts with a few snacks such as stuffed pointed pepper, dressed black radish and Büsum crab with mustard and tarragon. All very tasty and with a clear flavor profile.
Carrot with Anchovy – sweet/sour has a nearly pungent anchovy flavor which marries well with the crunchy bit of carrot and is like a wake-up call for the dinner. It goes aprticularly well with the glass of Jacquesson Champagne.
One cold, one warm soup-shot. Cold cucumber soup with Yuzu and ginger as well as mint-cilantro sour cream: the refresher. Vitello-Tonnato and rocket-foam: the comforter.
Spoon-degustation. Smoked salmon with almond and iced orange. Pickled Celery with apple-vinegar and yoghurt. Both original and tasty
Herring & spicy elderflower marinade. Pickle, radishes & cream of pumpernickel bread. A glorious start! Full of contrasts, textures and intense in flavors. Also, quite a bold statement at the beginning of a meal. As for the style, this appears to be a very German inspired dish which will be a starting shot to a culinary trip to several countries.
Sole “Murat”. Artichoke, potato & brown butter. A very good dish again. The potatoes are tiny and very crunchy cubes, whereas the artichoke comes in superfine shavings of the artichoke heart. There is a slight sour component in this dish which makes it quite original. The luscious and intense brown butter achieves the balance. The sole is of outstanding quality and cooked perfectly.
Char and caviar from the region Tainach. Rape oil, peas, chives and dill. The Char caviar and the char meat are coming from the same fish, which reminds me of the famous Russian dolls. This is a great dish with lots of freshness from the peas, contrasted by the saltiness and the texture of the char caviar which are actually cracking and popping under your teeth. The dill works wonderfully in this combination and somehow acts as a link between all ingredients.
With the first courses of our meal we are having this wonderful bottle of 2010 Monzinger Halenberg GG by Schäfer-Fröhlich. It is surprisingly ready to drink with a wonderful balance, great minerality, a little funk in the nose and perfect presence and length.
Langoustine & Charcoal grilled belly of young pork. Raf-tomato, crustacean mayonnaise, balsamico emulsion. Those are very good and tasty ingredients on the plate but unfortunately the pork belly overpowers the very delicate flavor of the langoustine. The idea was obviously to achieve a transition between fish and meat. This one could definitely be improved.
As a second white wine we ordered a dry 1993 Riesling Spätlese by Rheingau winemaker J. B. Becker. Becker is one of a kind and famous for his bone-dry and long-living wines. This one has age-notes, but they are few and it is foremost a wine of balance and freshness with great minerality.
Stewed topside of Müritz lamb. Frankfurt Green sauce, potato & egg. One of Sven Elverfeld’s signature dishes and one I was particularly looking forward to, as it is an interpretation of one of my home town (and the chef’s home town) specialties. The plate is just beautiful, reminiscent of a Mondrian painting – and it also tastes as good as it looks. Elverfeld elevates a typical tavern specialty to fine dining level. There’s this mild sweetness of the herbs, some very tender and flavorful meat (you wouldn’t know it is lamb) and luscious egg yolk.
Roasted duck foie gras & Paella aromatics. Chimichurri, Joselito ham & Bomba rice. The Foie is of excellent quality and seared to perfection. The crackling Bomba rice adds structure. Not sure I am liking the fact that the ham is covering the foie. I am missing a little contrast in this dish, maybe some acidity to respond to the richness of the Foie.
“Onglet” of US-prime beef. Barlex bread stock with Danieli butter, French bean & Chanterelles. The American beef is of excellent quality and cooked to perfection. There is some meticulous work on the side with the so called French beans which are actually a purée of french beans. Good dish. Still, I am missing a little of the excitement of the first dishes.
Our red wine: 2009 Kammerberg Pinot Noir by Becker from South Palatinate. I was actually surprised the sommelier recommended us this young vintage: I know 2009 is an excellent year for German Pinot, but the big wines still would need years to be ready. We let ourselves convince, but although it shows nice structure and signs of a velevty texture in the future, the wine is lacking fruit. I guess it is in some kind of phase – barrel toasting is also very prominent. We probably should have picked the 2008 Frühburgunder by Fürst which is also on the wine list.
Hand formed cheese – iced “Homage to my native land”. Again, a wink to Frankfurt and its regional specialties. This time: the Frankfurt hand cheese with music. A version with, I suppose, melted and then nitrogenized hand cheese, as well as cubes of harder, raw hand cheese. Then a dressing of tiny choped onions and chives, plus a powder of roasted onions. It is a very oniony dish to say the least, quite unusual for fine dining. But I like it. I have to think of the hand cheese dish at Villa Merton. But apparently Sven Elverfeld makes his version of hand cheese for a few years already.
Buttermilk & currant. Liquorice & fennel. Our first dessert. It is a wonderful mixture with aromatics of fennel seeds but also with the crunch of shaved fennel, raw or just cooked. A beautiful composition with enough freshness to hold as a palate cleanser.
Grand cru chocolate from Madagascar /56% milk chocolate. Berries & Mumme Beer. A dessert full of contrast with acidity from the berries, luscious, creamy chocolate and some sorbet of Mumme beer, a regional beer specialty from Braunschweig, which has a bitter, hoppy flavour (not malty). Chefs like to use beer in their desserts these days, which I like, but this isn’t my favorite creation. I enjoy the fact though, that the portions is just right and also that it has enough freshness.
Pumpkin-Cupcake and Cream Cheese Mousse. Ingenious and refreshing.
Watermelon sorbet and tomato. A comforting nibble
Coconut-Espuma, Corn and Finger Limes. The intense flavor of corn is used in a very clever way here, being combined with coconut and a lemony flavor.
One might criticize that there isn’t enough thematic focus in Elverfeld’s cuisine. And it is true: compared to some of today’s hotshot chefs such as, for example, Noma’s Rene Redzepi or Kobe Desramault of In de Wulf, no clear avantgardistic principle prevails, no naturalism, no concentration on regional ingredients is to be found.
Of course, there are some regional dishes, some German inspired dishes – the 2 Frankfurt specialties and also the herring are to be cited- but there is no superlocal sourcing of ingredients and no clear recurrent theme in the Chefs menu.
But it doesn’t matter. Elverfeld is a playful Chef, a clever Chef, who likes to let himself inspire by all great foods and ingredients that come to him. There are those interpretations of regional dishes, and maybe I would have wished more of that kind, but all other dishes which are inspired from international specialties have inspiration and are perfectly executed. With this journey, one is being taken to France, Spain, the Middle East, even the US. Also, classic cooking skills are very present, but never appear to make the meal heavy or conservative. As I said: a clever chef.
Looking back on this meal, especially the fish creations were distinguished, with perfect cooking and great harmony. Some of the compositions that followed weren’t as convincing, but product quality was always excellent.
Service in the restaurant was definitely at 3 star level, always noticing an empty glass and at the same time never to close.
For a great journey through international fine dining, with a few great regional interpretations, go visit Aqua, you’ll find satisfaction.
at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg
38440 Wolfsburg, Germany.
Open from Tu -Sat, 18:00 to 22:00