Three stars is the zenith, the absolute pinnacle of culinary excellence, the top ten of German restaurants, at least according to the reading of the Guide Michelin. Even in this league of superlatives, Kevin Fehling stands out once again as the youngest German chef ever to receive this award. Moreover, the northernmost three-star restaurant in the world is La Belle Epoque.
So could the anticipation of an evening in Travemünde be any more heightened? You could. Because a few days before we arrived, I read that the menu had been completely changed, to a new, autumnal theme.
At first glance, one might not quite be able to imagine how the Columbia Hotel Casino Travemünde and La Belle Epoque come together. The hotel is a classic grand hotel in the best sense. Not modern, rather timeless and classically elegant, it is located directly on the beach and opens onto the promenade via a large garden, allowing a magnificent view over the Baltic Sea. The building was erected as early as 1914 and looks back on almost 100 years of glamorous history and certainly many celebrations in the grand ballroom.
La Belle Epoque found its original purpose in the 1950s as a nightclub, where stars of the time such as Josephine Baker or Vico Torriani also made appearances. In short, the house breathes history everywhere and is able to immediately put the guest in an indefinable state of calm and timelessness. At least that’s how it was for us.
However, the feeling of a noticeable break between the dignified hotel and the very modern, sometimes almost avant-garde restaurant on the second floor, cannot be denied. And the question arises, what does the typical guest look like, who both stays at the hotel and reserves a table at the Belle Epoque in the evening. You don’t know, but apparently there are many of them, because we had to book a good six weeks in advance.
Against the first excitement and in the selection of the menu, helps a glass of Egly-Ouriet Grand. Four, six or eight gears are available, so the decision is not difficult. And contrary to my now almost refelx skepticism, I decide nevertheless for the eight-wine accompanying wine tour, compiled and always very competently explained by Maître David Eitel.
And the very first ensemble, Fast Food, sets the compass for the course of the culinary journey.
Tuna croque with sauce remoulade and vegetarian tortilla not only visually testify to great craftsmanship. The eel dim sum directly sets my new taste umami reference.
With the Amouse Bouche lobster with black sesame & matcha tea and beef tartare with red flavors, Kevin Fehling then directly made another statement and gave us a feel for the rest of the evening. The perfection and graceful beauty of the presentation, the clear will to put up with incredibly elaborate manufacturing processes just to achieve the desired result, accounts for much of the fascination. If it is then possible to play with the sweet, red flavors in a way that is both brilliant in taste and surprising, as in the case of the beef tartare, then this is true art on the plate in my eyes. Whereas in this case the plates themselves are already fantastic and make the served dishes almost float on the table.
Now in art there is always some room for interpretation – and with the next ensemble, the trimmings from France, Italy & Spain, I couldn’t quite follow.
The trio of bouillabaise, langoustino “gremolata” & paella was not a bad dish at all, but a bit further from the awesomeness of the rest of the evening’s dishes.
The forms of gold followed: bars, nuggets, coin & dust. Foie gras with orange, hazelnuts, sea buckthorn & rum, accompanied by a very strong sweet wine from Jo Pithon. If the design as embossed gold bars were even a tiny bit less perfect, the concept could quickly seem a bit mannered. But it was not. On the contrary. The playful and creative realization of the fruity accompaniments in their initially unexpected textures also contributed to this. The absolute reference for foie gras.
A small but perfect fish then found its way to our table in the form of the “Cod cooked in cardamom cinnamon oil bulgur with dates, mint pearls & argan oil hollandaise”. Once again, an exciting and creative play with flavors and textures. Left unmentioned in the description was a delicious seafood stock, shrimp and surprisingly crunchy Salty Fingers.
“The Evolution” Kassler & oyster with frozen mustard dust, white cabbage slaw, potatoes & parsley. An incredibly exciting plate with a very broad spectrum and strong associations with the German classic. By combining it with the very fine frozen mustard dust, which disintegrates quite delicately when touched, and the noble oyster, of course, on another level. A course with tradition, by the way, as variations of this dish have been offered on previous menus; at the Swiss Cook Tank, Fehling served the Gillardeau oyster in conjunction with a glazed eel.
At the latest with the scallop with caviar, marrow, champagne & yuzu, began a process that I can not yet describe exactly. People tend to make constant comparisons, and the classic foodie even more so, of course. Until now, I thought the scallop I ate in Fäviken last November was the best and clearest way to prepare this product. Cooked briefly over fire in its own juice and peel. Completely without any other spices or ingredients. Pure. Sure. Huge. Without cutlery, eaten with fingers.
The scallop at Belle Epoque is also a fantastic product. But the court is extremely complex. So complex that even in this case the detailed description of the card was not able to enumerate all the components. So it was only in the subsequent technical discussion that one or the other detail was clarified. The transparent cap on the caviar, for example, consists of the gelatinized starch of baked baked potatoes.
First, I focus again on a glass of the once again formidable wine accompaniment and just realize that there was an extreme amount happening on the plate with Kevin Fehling’s last dishes. Conceptually as well as in terms of taste. Then I am suddenly relieved by the thought that I am in the lucky position of not having to award the best scallop in the world. I am here to enjoy – and this succeeds to the fullest. In its own right, it’s a fantastic, sophisticated dish and visually one of the most beautiful creations to ever sit in front of me on a plate.
In this course, the choice is between a bison filet or the pink saddle of venison with peach melba gel, nut butter foam, pine nuts & pink pepper jus, which I chose. The sweetheart, on the other side of the table, also opted for the venison, but in a slightly different variation. Since we didn’t inquire about an all-vegetarian menu until it was too late, the kitchen did some variation and conjuring here and there – including a cooked-through version of venison. For the almost vegetarian a workable compromise, for the kitchen certainly reason to beat hands over the head. But really, the additional roasted flavors did the saddle of venison really well, I would have liked a touch of Maillard as well.
Another visual work of art found its way to us in the form of the combination of apple-dill sorbet with goat’s milk pearls, Ayran foam, raspberry & “Hugo” à part.
The “Pisa Tower” with chocolate & amalfi lemon, cantuccini ice cream, basil, baba de limoncello & albatrüffel followed on from the foie gras by using a molded ingredient again, without quite reaching its perfection. Again pearls, again very many facets. The slight but lasting desire for a somewhat clearer, more reduced composition sets in for me.
However, this is followed by a trio of small, again complex preciousnesses: Marc Jacobs “Daisy”, plum roaster and macaron, pomegranate, peach, lavender. For me, that was perhaps a little bit too much of a good thing at this point. From a purely visual point of view, this combination was of course a worthy conclusion to a fantastic and very multifaceted evening.
Kevin Fehling succeeds in doing something really great: the menu not only appeals to almost all the senses, it also reaches the intellect, little question marks are created, associations are given only to be immediately discarded again, at the same time there is a lot of room for one’s own interpretations and entirely new, presumably lasting impressions.
La Belle Epoque
Emperor avenue 2
23570 Lübeck – Travemünde
Phone: +49 4502 308-0
Note: We were in Travemünde at the invitation of COLUMBIA Hotels & Resorts and traveled at press rates. This did not affect the reporting.