Finally I got to visit one of Frankfurt’s most acclaimed fine dining locations, Restaurant Villa Merton*, where Chef Matthias Schmidt is applying a cuisine which could be qualified as regional, experimental and natural. Without doubt, there are some striking similarities to restaurant Noma chef René Redzepi’s philosophy, as Schmitt as well has a focus on regional specialties, gathering herbs and fruit and sourcing meat and fish in the very region of Frankfurt.
After I had a provisional introduction to Matthias Schmidt’s cuisine at a pop-up restaurant last year, a friend’s visit was the right occasion to discover his philosphy “full throttle”. We opted for the seven course menu named “Stoff”, here’s the story of our dinner.
Poached quail egg in fried potato and leek. Nice idea and a good one-biter. There was a slight lack of salt for my taste though, but maybe I just forgot to pick up the grains which you can see on the picture above.
Dried meat of moorland sheep, goat cheese with rowan berries (in German: Vogelbeeren). There’s quite some vocab to be picked up with Matthias Schmidt’s cuisine, or have you ever heard of rowan berries? Anyhow: those account for a very sour taste which is balanced out by the rich, creamy and fresh goat cheese. The homemade dried meat has a slight smoke touch and was obviously made using many aromatic spices (juniper?).
Frankfurt cream cookies. Salty short pastry, preserved berries, rich cream and I think a herbs-powder they call “tea of Frankfurt herbs”. It all works well together.
“Maa Fische” – (river) Main Fishes. I never heard of any Frankfurter who has eaten fish out of the city’s river Main, but Matthias Schmidt makes it possible. On the plate we have a small variety of fish that resembles a little of anchovies. It is slightly battered and fried and served with a dip of Frankfurt green sauce herbs. A dish that is no revelation taste-wise, but foremost demonstrates the Chef’s intention to implement his regional philosophy into every aspect of his menu. Playful!
Iced beetroot soup. A very intense iced soup that shows a bright beetroot flavour and also depicts a minty character, probably coming from Juniper berries. A simple and clever idea that reveals a whole new refreshing dimension of beetroot. Very good!
Frankfurt Beef Sausage. Again a Frankfurt classic redefined. Here, the traditional Frankfurt beef sausage (nothing to do with the famous Frankfurters ) has been sliced vertically and rolled up. Texture-wise this nibble first reveals the soft bite of the meat and then a good crunch of its cabbage and fried onion filling. Regarding flavour, there’s a nice beef taste reminding Pastrami and I am fascinated how well such a dish works as a fine dining version. Good!
Onion, Caviar, horseradish cream. The vegetarian replacement for the Beef Sausage. Good
Herrschaftsgespritzter. A frozen mix of Frankfurt cider and sparkling wine, refined with a hint of verveine. Simple, playful and very good.
2002 Chevalier Montrachet “La Cabotte” Grand Cru Bouchard Père et Fils. A great white Burgundy which my friend Toby brought in his suitcase. Powerful, but not alcoholic. Perfect acidity, as well as subtle minerality and slight smokiness. At it’s peak and probably staying there for longer. Thanks a lot for this great bottle, Toby!
Cauliflower, Fir, Beechnuts and Buttermilk. Wow, what a stunning dish: beauty that my camera can hardly catch. And now we’re definitely entering the Noma kind of cuisine (..I suppose. As I’ve never been to Noma myself) where regional gathering meets gastronomic creativity. So we have fir buds or spruce buds, some are evidently smoked, some are just as is. They add a certain crunch and also the intense (incense-like) flavour of spruce. A puddle of buttermilk adds a sour contrast, whereas crunchy and creamy cauliflower add more texture and respectively a comfort-aspect. Beechnuts add crunch, but also a third, well, a “nutty” dimension. A creative dish that is about discovery of new flavours but also works very well from a fine dining point of view. Natural harmony. Very good!
Crayfishes with Dandelion Buds, Radishes and Horseradish. Again a beautiful dish. The slight sweetness of the crayfish is counterbalanced by the peppery taste of radishes. The radishes of course bring crunch as well. Iced horseradish-cream adds a refreshing depth. Also, I am surprised how well Dandelion-buds taste. They look a little like tiny artichokes, but are a sweeter in flavour. Good!
Ein Topf / Stew – Broth of brisket of beef with vegetables, rabbit kidney, egg and lovage. Fantastic dish. Very fascinating how the distinct flavour of each ingredient comes out in such a bright way. First, there’s an intense broth. Then we have spheres of onion (juice?), quail egg yolks, root vegetables and tasty bits of rabbit kidney. Lovage is added through leaves, which is a clever idea. I am missing out on other ingredients (iced cream of something, flowers..?) but what matters is the memory of outstanding harmony and flavours of this compositon. Excellent!
2001 Barolo Serralunga D’Alba, Cantina Fontanafredda. We ordered this red wine from the list and it proved to be a good choice. A Barolo at its peak: powerful and filigree at the same time! Also, great to see how this wine was decanted in a traditional way with a candle.
Lamb With beans, button mushroom, herbs and walnut oil. Flavourful and tender lamb with juicy button mushroom on top. The light green sauce is actually juice of beans, which I never had before, but brings a certain summer-lightness to a coarse meat dish and ties a link to the herbs potpourri on the right side of the plate. Don’t ask me for the name of all the herbs.They certainly were a flavour-discovery on their own. Good.
Rhubarb Gelee and Woodruff. What a delicous palate-cleanser. Excellent!
Handkäs’ mit Musik / Hand cheese with music. Another Frankfurt classic, de-structured and re-composed. Frankfurt hand cheese is one of the well-known regional specialties you would get in Frankfurt cider taverns. It normally comes as a rather hard and compact cheese which is marinated in vinegar and onions and eaten with black bread and butter and of course with the obligatory “music” on top. Here, the hand cheese is melted and warm. They thermomix it with chicken broth, resulting in a rich cream, although the cheese itself only has 2% fat. On the plate there are spheres of apple vinegar, black bread cubes, onion rings, burnet leaves (German: Pimpinelle) and cumin. A great interpretation of this local specialty and in particular for a Frankfurt citizen like me this dish is just excellent!
Woodland Strawberry ??? So usually desserts can be some kind of a let down, but not here. The woodland strawberries are bigger than the usual ones as the restaurant-team sourced a nearly lost varietal from the region. Needless to say: their flavour is intense and same goes for the sorbet of woodland strawberries. Then there are cubes of fermented woodruff gelee underneath which have a black tea kind of aspect. On top you can see dill flowers which taste sweet but with a bitter edge to it. There is cream of woodruff and I suppose what looks like trefoil also is trefoil. Then we have some caramelized bits adding the obligatory crunch. There’s great harmony and intense flavors in this dessert. It seems like the woodland strawberries have been combined with the most intense ingredients of its forest surroundings. Excellent!
Villa Merton truly is a gastronomic highlight in Frankfurt. Chef Matthias Schmidt not only applies a fascinating philosophy of implementing fresh regional ingredients and gathering forgotten herbs and fruits from the surrounding, he also manages to create harmonious and tasteful dishes that deserve the Michelin one star rating he has received. He shouldn’t be too far from his second star actually. Isn’t it true creativity when you manage to serve dishes which are put together with ingredients no one else is using? Go to Villa Merton and get inspired!
Restaurant Villa Merton
at the Union International Club
Am Leonhardsbrunn 12
60487 Frankfurt am Main
Phone: +49 (0)69 – 70 30 33
Mo – Fr 12.00-14.00 and 18.00-22.00
Sa and Su on request