In the Black Forest, don't mention the G-word
You'll get more than the gooey, rich gateau on a gastronomic tour of this German region, says Andy Lynes
Sunday 24 August 2008
'Too simple, too good," says Mr Fischer, the maître d', with endearing understatement as he lays out an exquisite dessert of cherries marinated in sherry, holy flower ice cream and chocolate biscuit. It's four hours since I was served an amuse-bouche of foie gras with curry and lemon grass soup, accompanied by a glass of Krug champagne in the restaurant's wood-panelled bar. In that time, I've eaten nine courses: the best meal I've ever had.
But I'm not in Paris or New York. From the comfort of my spacious banquet seat, I can see the afternoon sun over the spruce covered hills of Baiersbronn in the north of the Black Forest.
Since the publication of the 2007 Michelin guide, this community of nine villages has been home to two of the nine three-star restaurants in Germany. My memorable meal, at Schwarzwaldstube in the village of Baiersbronn-Tonbach has held the accolade since 1993 and was joined last year by Hotel Bareiss in nearby Mitteltal. Not bad for an area with a population of just 16,000. It also lays claim to the one-star Schlossberg in the village of Schwarzenberg.
There seems to be no particular reason for such dense culinary excellence, other than the owners of the luxury spa hotel, Traube Tonbach (originally a public bar serving local lumberjacks), having the good sense in 1980 to employ Harald Wohlfahrt as their head chef. He's still there today having trained German chefs such as the Schlossberg's Jörg Sackmann.
The Black Forest is known for its gateaux, but I was interested to discover what other gastronomic delights the forest offered. I was told that chef Friedrich Klumpp of the Hotel Rosengarten was just the man to show me. A sort of German version of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall only much better groomed, Klumpp is as passionate about hiking in the Black Forest as he is about cooking the wild food he collects there on his regular gourmet tours.
The local tourist authority has dubbed Baiersbronn "hiking heaven", and for once you can believe the hype. Apart from the magical views across the valleys, there are the 3,500 miles of well-signposted trails, an information centre where you can rent hiking equipment and free use of public transport for lazy returns to your village.
Foodies are well catered for on the hiking trails. Apart from chef Klumpp's guided tour (one of many offered by the information centre), you're never far from a Wanderhütte, a wooden lodge that serves traditional dishes and local beers. Hotel Bareiss's beautifully appointed Wanderhütte Sattelei in the forest near Mitteltal and the Panorama Stube overlooking Huzenbach village are particularly worth a visit.
Apart from hiking and cooking, chef Klumpp's other passion is talking. The scheduled three-hour, four-mile hike lasted closer to five hours as our guide's eagerness to share his extensive knowledge got the better of him. We hadn't walked more than a few hundred yards before it was time for a glass of homemade sparkling elderflower wine and a short lecture at what turned out to be the first of many food and drink stops.
Chef's advice not to eat the wild berries growing close to the paths, due to possible contamination by any passing animals, came a little too late for me. Tainted or not, they were delicious and I escaped any ill effects.
Don't bother looking for wild mushrooms in the forests around Baiersbronn. Chances are that chef Klumpp has got there before you, but as he served up generous helpings of prized chanterelles in a cream sauce with a light Bavarian-style bread dumpling, his minor subterfuge was forgiven.
At the Schlossberg, I turned down an invitation to one of its superbly refined dinners as it was to be served while in the tub, being intermittently massaged by a very large German man (apparently a local tradition). I opted instead for Traube Tonbach's Bauernstube restaurant and its Swabian cuisine.
In a tiny candlelit room dating back to the hotel's beginnings, I tucked into a delicious plate of hausgemachte maultaschen (home-made ravioli stuffed with herbed meat, caramelised onions, chicken broth and served with potato salad) and could only agree with Mr Fischer. Too simple, too good.
How to get there
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) offers return flights from Stansted to Karlsruhe-Baden from £24. Andy Lynes stayed at the Hotel Tanne, Tonbachstrasse 243, Baiersbronn (00 49 7442 83 80; hotel-tanne-schwarzwald.de) where double rooms start at £76 including breakfast.
Germany Tourism (020-7317 0908; germany-tourism.co.uk)
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