Last week was held the second edition of the Valencia Culinary Meeting, a gathering of the best restaurants and chefs of the Spanish metropolis with friendly national and international chefs. But even outside the festival, it’s exciting to see what’s currently happening here in terms of cuisine.
During the first 24 hours we stop twice at Riff, the starred restaurant of Bernd Knöller. The man from the Black Forest turned his back on Germany almost 25 years ago and moved his center of life to Spain. At least when he’s not traveling the world, because Bernd Knöller is, as he likes to say himself, about 50 percent cook and another 50 percent gourmet. A perfect combination. And economically successful as well. The Reef is the only starred restaurant that has survived the great economic crisis of recent years in Valencia. Fortunately, things are looking up again overall and new restaurants are sprouting up everywhere, making the city extremely interesting right now.
For an extensive lunch Bernd Knöller serves a menu with many classics of his cuisine. And it is extremely focused and puts the product and its specific aroma in the absolute foreground. So strong, in fact, that many courses can do without spices altogether. Because really only then can the aroma unfold unrestrictedly and work best. Only if the basic products are not first-class, explains Bernd Knöller, does it take a lot of spices to conceal this deficiency. Of course, this will not happen at noon, we are already confident.
Alongside colleague Stevan Paul and Lithuanian cookbook author and TV presenter Beata Nicholson, Johannes King completes our little panel. This is a win-win from multiple perspectives. He and Bernd Knöller have been close friends for over 30 years and can look back on years of apprenticeship together at Henry Levy in Berlin. Hardly anyone knows the cuisine of the Riff better and can guide us through the menu more competently than the Sylt star chef. Incidentally, we’ll find out just how similar their handwriting is the following evening at the same venue (more on that in this post).
We start the menu with a sumptuous selection of small Mediterranean snacks: coca with chorizo and basil, macadamia nuts coated with smoky peppers, seaweed tempura with trout caviar, rice crackers with cod skin and sea grass.
The menu starts with mojama, a salted tuna pickled in paprika powder for 28 days. The texture change over this long aging period is impressive. The fish is served with a pure almond cream, accompanied by a white variation of Bloody Mary in a glass.
Also quite traditional and puristic the raw mackerel in the next course. Combined only with a slightly sour herb broth, celery, apple and cilantro. Fresh and Mediterranean.
The oyster that follows now is incredible. Not only because of their sheer size, but especially because of the texture. You might think it would be lightly cooked, perhaps steamed briefly in its own shell and broth – but not at all: The meat just has such a firm bite. Sensational. Only lightly flavored with bergamot and watercress.
This is followed by stick scallops with an intense green broth of parsley and some cream cheese. Perfect in the glass with a Manzanilla Palomino from Barrameda.
The small bonito from the next course, another classic from Bernd Knöller’s kitchen, then shows the balancing act that his cuisine always does: local products, regional traditions, but also always breaking away from them and adding influences from all over the world. Here in the form of an escabeche with grated poppy seeds from Austria, which subtly takes the flavor picture in a very different and unusual direction. Great.
Pickled egg yolk and roasted kale are basically already a great, but rare dream combination. Add salty anchovies and you have a small aromatic marvel.
This play with tradition and the break with the same has brought Bernd Knöller already several Spanish awards for his rice dishes. This course shows why: a touch of creamy but extremely light rice is served under paper-thin mushrooms and roasted brewer’s yeast, with a peanut foam on top. From this combination comes great depth of flavor and complexity – and yet the feeling of lightness remains. Excellent.
The striped mullet that follows is tender and fried to the point, with a surprisingly firm texture and complemented by a fresh foam of green peas and lightly sauteed basil.
My ever-increasing enthusiasm for Taube is further ignited several times during this trip. Especially here and now with a, let’s say very boldly cooked breast of pigeon, but especially with a cream of braised pigeon innards La Mancha style. Deep, earthy, great!
Chocolate, almonds and a strong créme of old Lagavulin form the sweet finale of this intense lunch.
Quick refreshment with lemon, Agua de Valencia, watercress and yogurt, and our small tour group continues. A guided tour of the city awaits us – and then dinner is just around the corner. Fortunately, in Spain it never starts before 21:30.
We could hardly have found a better prelude to our visit to Valencia and to the Valencia Culinary Meeting – but actually the fast direct flight from Hamburg was already completely worth it.
More about our visit to the reef can also be found next door by our colleague Stevan Paul.
Calle Conde Altea 18
Phone: +96 333 53 53
Many thanks to the Valencia Turism Board for the invitation to this press trip and the great organization on site.