In the 2013 Michelin guide, Germany racked up an impressive 311 stars across a total of 255 restaurants—more than any other European country besides France. One of those awarded three stars was Vendôme, in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne. Managed by ‘Chef of Chef’s’ Joachim Wissler, Vendôme is consistently ranked as one of the best dining experiences in the world.
What exactly makes Vendôme such a special dining experience? Aside from the three Michelin stars, the gourmet restaurant has also been decorated with 19.5 Gault Millau points as well as five Feinschmecker F’s, and is ranked 10th in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 list. Named after the capital of Loir-et-Cher in northwest France, there is a touch of irony in this restaurant’s celebration of neue deutsche küche or ‘new German school’ cuisine. This trend amongst chefs is based on the faith that almost forgotten regional dishes and products specific to Germany are deserving of a modern rebirth. Wissler’s individual style of cooking combines provocative, modern and creative elements and the influence of molecular cuisine which accents his creations. It is Wissler’s love of clear flavours and simple compositions which combine to create the symphonies of ingredients that have earned him the reputation as one of the best chefs in Germany.
Joachim Wissler was born in 1963 in Nürtingen near Stuttgart and he grew up in the Schwäbische Alps. His interest in food can be dated back to his childhood on a dairy farm southeast of Stuttgart, where his chores included peeling potatoes for the farm’s adjoining restaurant. Wissler started his training at a hotel in the Black Forest and quickly gained exposure to many French cooking techniques. The chef achieved great success in the 1990s at a restaurant in a castle hotel in the Rheingau region near Frankfurt. During this period, he won two Michelin stars and attracted the attention of German hotelier, Thomas Althoff. Under the invitation of Althoff, Wissler opened a new restaurant on the grounds of Schloss Bensberg in 2000. A mere four years later under the influence of head chef Wissler, and Vendôme had already won its third Michelin star.
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Wissler was requested by one critic to remark upon his cooking as a reflection of national and international trends, in response the chef said: ‘food is like cars… when an innovation comes along, it is adopted by everyone’. From the nouvelle cuisine in the 1970s and 1980s, to the ‘Mediterranean wave’ of the 1990s that put olive oil in many German kitchens for the first time – Vendôme’s approach embraces decades of German dining habits. Wissler has taken inspirations from all over the world in his cuisine, for example the German interest in Asian cooking has shown up in the restaurant’s recent food offerings and wine pairings. The foie gras dish, which might usually benefit from a sweet German dessert wine, is matched perfectly with a plum-infused sake.
The Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg in which Vendôme is located offers fantastic views of the bay and the Cathedral of Cologne. The actual restaurant occupies the ‘kavaliershäuschen’ or knights’ house adjacent to the principal building. The interior was completely refurbished in 2007 replacing formerly florid style interiors with neutral furnishings and touches. An eclectic mix of Zebrano wood, stained glass and carved crown moulding, the spacious dining room creates a timeless ambience that is partnered well with the culinary expertise.
A popular choice for an overall experience of Joachim Wissler’s creative delights is the tasting menu, which costs approximately €160 per person. The delicacies that the restaurant offers depends on the availability of the best local produce and the season in which you dine, and the tasting menu consists of around fifteen courses, not including the amuse-bouches and petit four. The wine list is extensive, featuring over nine hundred selections and easily exceeding the standards of world class wine enthusiasts. The Head Sommelier Markus Berlinghof can assist you in your choices, and find delectable wines to match Wissler’s innovative takes on the traditions of German cuisine.
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