The sprawling Relais & Châteaux property combines the listed castle ruins with a modern hotel and a total of three restaurants. The ruin, however, is not quite as old as one might think at first glance: it was built in 1876 by the Mumm family in the style of medieval architecture. Since then, the castle complex changed hands more often. Since 2004, the estate has been in the hands of Ursula and Ernst Udo Grossmann, who have brought it into the present and gradually expanded it. Part of this vision: The Schwarzenstein Restaurant.
The rooms are large, modern, tasteful and excellently equipped. The decisive factor for us, however, is the short distances. Of course, it is not the ruins but the restaurant next to them that attracts us to the Rheingau. And especially its new leading man: Nils Henkel. He has been working here as head chef since the beginning of 2017. In the luggage not only his Pure Nature kitchen, but also sous-chef and longtime companion Robert Rübsam from the Schlosshotel Lerbach. And of course the two menus around flora or optionally fauna can be found here in the Rheingau. Nils Henkel is one of the absolute pioneers and luminaries of modern German vegetable cuisine. The 48-year-old Kiel native was named Chef of the Year by Gault Millau in 2009. At that time, he first managed the gourmet restaurant at Schlosshotel Lerbach together with Dieter Müller, before taking over the scepter completely shortly afterwards. From 1998 to 2011 it held three Michelin stars, later two. At the end of 2014, the Althoff Group sold the house and put an abrupt end to the gourmet restaurant.
Now, three years after this cut, Nils Henkel is back in the thick of things – and has recently been awarded two Michelin stars and 18 Gault&Millau points again for his outstanding work at Restaurant Schwarzenstein!
On the evening of our visit, just three days before the announcement of the 2018 stars, the first rumors were already quietly circulating – but no one really knew anything binding. At that moment, however, it almost didn’t matter, because the focus of everyone involved today was on a menu that was completely without any doubt on an absolute star course. Strictly speaking, the focus was even two menus, because of course we chose both variants: The vegetarian Flora menu and Fauna, around seafood, fish, poultry and veal.
The prelude is made by four very different amouse. Among them, a sensational wantan with lobster stuffing in a calamansi and ponzu broth, a tapioca chip with beef and cilantro, a Parmesan bisque under an artichoke sphere, and a sensational fregola salad with mussels, seaweed, and puffed saffron rice. Accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine from the Schönleber winery – and the view from the restaurant over the extensive vineyards in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
As a prologue before the menu proper comes a small and crispy piece of Ora King salmon cooked on the skin with extremely intense créme of toasted sesame. Already a good foretaste of the numerous outstanding fish courses that will follow in the course of the evening …
On the other hand, the crusty bread with salted butter, oxalis cream and a sensational creamy whipped nut butter is a real threat.
The menu starts with a beautiful carabinero. The great plankton eater is accompanied fruity with avocado and variants of the tomato. The crispy roll holds the slight spiciness of the jalapeño in addition to some crunch. A very successful start!
Just like on the other side of the table. The plate, profanely announced as a farmer’s salad, turns out to be one of the most beautiful dishes of the evening: the interplay of beans, cucumber and a crème of feta cheese is excellent.
A roasted corn with chickweed and butter crumbs follows in the Flora menu. The cob is grilled on the Green Egg and full of intense roasted and smoky flavors.
St. Peter’s fish fried on the skin is the center of an unusually intense and powerful fish course. He is accompanied by a cuttlefish chip, smoked eel, black colored vegetable cream and a great paella broth.
Vegetarian meanwhile continues with a dish with variants of Jerusalem artichoke, one of Nils Henkel’s favorite vegetables, shield steamer and Pedro Ximenez vinegar delicious and strong.
The ceviche in the next course might have been placed further up the menu, as it plays more with acidity and fruit and comes across as far less powerful than the St. Peter’s fish. On the other hand, it thus sets a greater accent. The combination with coriander seeds and sponge, cauliflower and grapefruit is very exciting.
Miéral pigeon breast perched on a confit onion, black garlic cream and a bay leaf broth. The giblets of the noble fowl come as a sandwich under protein pearls. That sounds crazier than it is. I should deal with the pigeon much more intensively. Even in your own kitchen. A highly exciting product.
Flora continues with a sandwich. Celery, chanterelles, and a truffle vinaigrette complement each other in a combination that tastes much more profound and multi-faceted than one would expect from the sum of its components.
The veal chop from the Black Forest marks the dramaturgical highlight of the Fauna menu. Anticipation is awakened by a hot pan of gently bubbling clarified butter presented by the service staff at the table. In it a large chop, roasted vigorously under various herbs. It is then served on the plate a few minutes later as a menu-sized installment, complemented by pumpkin as a chutney, pickles and puree, herbed oyster mushrooms and a marrow dumpling. A part then another extremely strong lung haché from the calf.
Meanwhile, on the vegetarian side sitting with opposite, a raviolo with egg yolk and comte foam is enjoyed. Also a very fine and balanced gait, but I would not have wanted to trade for my pigeon.
A light, fruity and fresh dessert around the vineyard peach slowly gets us in the mood for the Auskalng of the menu, before the finale follows with plum and chocolate. Both desserts are rather classically worked around fruit or chocolate and nut components and offer an uncomplicated and enjoyable conclusion after the thoroughly complex and varied menus.
Whereby: The conclusion is an epilogue of various small delicacies, again between chocolate, fruit and acidity. I particularly remember the cauliflower macaron. Perhaps the best of its kind.
For me, the Schwarzenstein Restaurant is one of the most exciting addresses in Germany. The cuisine of Nils Henkel and his team is finely and elegantly balanced, but is not afraid of individual strong accents and flavors. The service of Maître Marina Saldaña Alonso, Sommelier Michel Fourquet and Max Wilbrand is on the one hand very knowledgeable and competent, but at the same time extremely relaxed, cheerful and confident.
Actually, one would have to travel to Geisenheim for at least two nights, on the one hand to be able to enjoy both menus completely, and on the other hand to be able to use the hotel far more intensively than we were able to in the few hours.
And of course there would be time to take a closer look at the vineyards of the region, with us it remained with the meetings in the glass.
We often ask for a regular menu and a vegetarian option. This is usually possible, but frighteningly not always. As consistently, confidently and independently as Nils Henkel implements the Flora menu, enriched by product-centered creations and intense flavors, only a few succeed at this level.