I’ve been itching to return to Burg Schwarzenstein since news broke that acclaimed chef Nils Henkel would take over the hotel’s own gourmet restaurant. It was a much awaited return of one of Germany’s few three-star chefs after a two-year hiatus following a forced departure from Castle Lerbach due to a battle between the property’s owner and hotel management that led to the closer of the place.
Not a surprise to many, after less than a year at the helm of Restaurant Schwarzenstein, the chef regained two of his former three Michelin stars, and the third is likely not far away judging from the quality of food and service at the new restaurant.
The small, 20-seat Restaurant Schwarzenstein is located on the premises of Relais & Chateaux Hotel Burg Schwarzenstein in one of Germany’s best known wine regions, the Rheingau. It prominently sits in a glass pavilion that offers breathtaking views over the surrounding vineyards and the Rhine valley below.
The interior of the restaurant is kept in a very classy gray and white colour scheme with only the smallest hues of gold and green in between. Despite the definitely elegant looks, the atmosphere is very relaxed and pleasant also thanks to the very friendly staff.
On the card at Restaurant Schwarzenstein are two tasting menus: The vegetarian Flora menu and the Fauna menu offering exquisite fish and meat courses. Both are offered as either six or eight course menu.
Although several courses of the vegetarian menu grabbed my attention (the asparagus with truffle jus or papardelle with artichoke sounded really tempting), being a huge fan of both fish and meat I naturally opted for the Fauna menu.
Lunch kicked off with a selection of small appetizers. The crispy prawn tempura and the tiny bowl of tandoori soup were my favourites, delivering an insense flavour experience and greatly setting the scene for the rest of the menu.
I am not a fan of oysters at all, so will not comment on the Gillardeau oyster. It was done perfectly and also beautifully presented in a small ceramic oyster shell. Still I don’t think I will ever develop a taste for oysters, so that’s that.
What looked like a small tomato on mozzarella was actually a very innovative nod to one of the most classic (and controversial) foods from the Frankfurt region: a marinated cow’s milk cheese seasoned with a mixture of raw onions and cumin seeds. The original dish has a very strong and not very aromatic smell but here it turned out to be a little ball of tasty milk cheese coated with cherry jelly, served on top of a meringue that incorporated the cumin flavour.
Next came an amuse bouche of pickled and flamed Bavarian shrimp served in roasted onion stock that perfectly enhanced the intense, slightly sweet flavour of the shrimp. The little dots of citrus gel and garlic reduction together with a tiny garlic meringue added a very powerful flavour mix.
I love a good bread and the freshly baked sourdough bread ball was absolutely delicious. It was served with a trio of salted butter, a ricotta cream of oxalis (sourgrass) and – my absolute favourite – an incredibly light and fluffy battered cream of nut butter.
The first course of the tasting menu was brown crab served in various textures of its flesh cooked in almond milk. Little morsels of grapefruit added a welcome zing of citrusy flavour that worked very well with the tasty crab meat.
Next came a Breton plaice served with juicy morsels, chives jus and green asparagus. It was a true flavour explosion, the fish was expertly cooked and the contrasting texture of crisp green asparagus worked perfectly well.
The third fish course, a rocket mullet was just perfect too, its flesh still moist and juicy whilst the skin had a perfect char. It was served with ribbons of squid and crunchy seaboard vegetables which provided an interesting flavour balance.
The first meat course was a refined interpretation of a very traditional German favourite: a backed chicken served with potato salad and cucumber. Though very simple and straightforward, it was very delicious and had all the right flavours.
A rack of lamb, sourced from the nearby Pfalz region, was served as the second meat course. It was cooked to the perfect temperature with perfectly tender meat, accompanied by celery and black olives.
The dessert was a play of different textures of strawberries, a little cheesecake and a chervil sorbet which added a welcome contrasting flavour mix.
Following the dessert was a epilogue of petit fours. Probably my favourite was a very smooth, rich chocolate mousse paired with a sanddorn sorbet.
Also very delicious were the macaron with coconut cream, a little cubic of fruit jelly and a small slice of cake.
And finally, a bar of caramel chocolate topped with caramel candy, caramel gel and little flakes of sea salt the created a real caramel flavour explosion.
Restaurant Schwarzenstein Nils Henkel
Hotel Burg Schwarzenstein – Rosengasse 32 – 65366 Geisenheim-Johannisberg
Open Wednesday to Saturday, 6.30 pm – 10 pm; and Sunday and Bank Holidays, 12 pm to 14 pm and 6.30 pm – 10 pm