Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Schloßcafé im Palmenhaus, Schloß Nymphenburg, Munich

Munich is a city I shall be returning to again and again, assuming I am blessed with a few more years. There is so much to do and see there, that even were I living there, I imagine it would take me years to see all its attractions. We sent the lads off to BMW-Welt and my friend and I headed off for Schloß Nymphenburg. We had determined that the tram could drop us off really close to the entrance, so popped on one of Munich's very accessible trams, Straßenbahn. Unfortunately, the wherever one goes ubiquitous road-works meant a change of trams. Nonetheless, we were dropped off at a bridge over one of the palace's waterways, the Schloßgartenkanal. We strolled towards the famous edifice and our jaws dropped. Instead of the building we had seen in an image all over Munich, we discovered an immense complex of linked palaces and mansions surrounding ample formal gardens and waterways. Both my chum and I struggle to walk due to disability and this huge spread daunted us. Still there were plenty of benches dotted hither and thither. Indeed, we had to sit for quite some time. We discussed viewing the palace; but given its immensity it was quite impossible. We decided to find a spot for a wee nibble.

[Image description: one corner of the spralling palace; the birds on the lawn are geese]

The Schloßcafé im Palmenhaus, the 'Palace Café in the Palm-House', was a delightful spot on a bright, warm day. Our quietly spoken, handsome waiter handed us menus after taking a drinks order. Our coffees came, and he made a note of our choices. Whilst awaiting our brunches, the terrace outside the eatery gradually filled up, mainly middle-aged Germans but even a gay British couple after their morning hit of Kaffee und Kuchen and a young in-love pair.

[Image description: laid tables under parasols]

I opted for the Schloßcafé's eponymous plate: ham; cheese; salami; smoked chicken breast; scrambled eggs; a fresh fruit kebab; butter; jam; and, a basket of freshly baked breads. This I washed down with a freshly squeezed orange juice.

[Image description: brunch set out at table]

The whole ambience of the place was hushed, peaceful and tranquil. Service was a tad slow, given when we arrived there were so few diners. However, the day and environment was glorious and we were in no hurry to move along. The quality of the food compared to price was very good. I also have to admit that the coffee served was one of the best I tasted in München. The table, as can be seen from the photograph above, was set perfectly with a vase of cut blooms.

Just delightful! %D

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hotel Restaurant Ochsen - a MUST-EAT-AT eatery!

Following on from my post on the live-blogged dinner and round-up of my foodie reviews of Hotel Restaurant Mühle, I am now going to review the best restaurant by far in the 3,000-inhabitant small town of Binzen in the south-west corner of Baden-Württemburg.

Whilst the food at Mühle is for the most part very good it never quite attains the excellent level. Their cuisine is very much in the old-fashioned "cordon bleu" style - heavy on sauces to just plain heavy - which appears to be known locally as Markgräflerstil. The service in Mühle's restaurant, including the breakfast pavilion, is highly variable depending on who serves one. (Tanja cheered us up at breakie whenever she was on duty; and I now call by morning coffee "Powerkaffee"!). Greetings were generally poor, making us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Salutations at the end of one's repast were nonexistent - even when departing the hotel (when co-owner Frau Hechler suddenly realised the receptionist was not going to do so, she called out a last-minute goodbye). It is true that the restaurant is frequented by many wealthy Swiss, both at lunchtime and in the evenings: but wealth of itself does not endow taste or epicureanism.

Why so much of the negative in respect to Mühle - which is a perfectly good restaurant and very much worth trying? Well, because I wish to highlight the higher quality and better treatment at Hotel Restaurant Ochsen. I have no difficulty in recommending Mühle; but Ochsen is a MUST. Gourmands and foodies of all persuasions ought to dine there if in the area. Ochsen also has large numbers of Swiss visitors, given the collection of number-plates in their car-park each time we passed.

We were warmly welcomed once our hostess realised we were there. We were allowed to select where we wished to sit, rather than it being dictated by staff. The traditional wooden chairs (see image above; © Ochsen) were surprisingly comfortable and I did not need to stretch my legs during the whole meal.

Apéritifs were immediately offered - we opted for a very welcome, punchy G&T - and then menus were brought over. Our hostess cleverly worked out that I would cope with the German and my companion required their English-language version. We were left to mull over our options with no pressure to order; but neither were we left waiting once ready to do so.

Whilst awaiting our orders, chef sent out a taster platter: piping-hot cream of cauliflower soup (Blumenkohlsuppe/Karfiolsuppe), not too salty, not too creamy and naturally sweet from the brassica; a pot with a slice of cold, pink, tender roast-beef atop a zesty tomato-based mouse on a tomato-based chutney, which was all unbelievably light and so full of complementary flavours.

My companion opted to pass on starters. I on the other hand selected a beetroot soup with lighter-than-light edamame spume and crispy, melt-in-the-mouth, deep-fried fungi. The beetroot tasted sweet and was so light, no trace, whatsoever, of that oft accompanying earthiness one experiences in Britain. The dish was served in a hot-chocolate style glass beaker with metallic surround. It looked fabulous, smelled delicious and wowed the palate. My companion sampled the soup, despite far from being a lover of beetroot, and even he was totally won over. Success on a plate… well, in a cup!

For my mains I ordered wild hare - which I have had in Austria, but have never encountered in the UK. It came perfectly roasted: slightly red; tender to the knife; sensational on the tongue. It was served on a bed of Apfelrotkraut (Blaukraut in München) which is red cabbage with apple. I was just amazed at the presentation (see image above for a similar example; © Ochsen), the quality and the taste.

My companion advised he was not hungry, so selected vegetarian cannelloni. What arrived was a golden hillock, a mound of fresh pasta stuffed with spinach and roasted veggies topped with cheese. It looked stunning and, to be honest, over-facing. Nonetheless, chum ate every last morsel and was up for licking the plate too!

We decided to share a desert. What arrived looked like a Miró painting: colours and lines played across the plate. Mint caviar gave off a bright green glow as the tiny jelly globules reflected the light. Sorbet both cleansed and titillated the tongue. Lots of flavours and textures all wrapped in a fun package.

Wine-wise we opted for a local rosé at the behest of my friend. It was perfectly quaffable to me; but I prefer something with more body. My companion on the other hand was fully delighted with the selection.

Service throughout the repast was attentive, friendly and from time to time the staff jested with us, both in English and German.

We went on a Wednesday night. The restaurant was never full, but folk continuously came and went. All appeared to be treated equitably (as in without favouritism) despite some of the habituées being dressed and bejewelled extremely expensively. And we were given amiable salutations by staff on exiting.

An almost perfect meal. Top-notch! %P


Can hardly believe I have reached the age of fifty. Was unsure I would get here; but here I am, alive and… well, hobbling.

[Image description: yin & yang birthday cake with #50 candle]

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Live-Blogged Dinner

I have been staying at the four-star Hotel Restaurant Mühle since Sunday afternoon. Thus far I have eaten a supper, a luncheon, a dinner and two breakfasts. This evening I thought I would try to live-blog my dinner. I have never seen this done nor researched this, so in that sense from my perspective this is completely experimental.

Right then, at nearly ten past eight, let's see how this pans out…

Well, I am sitting at table - co-incidently the same as last night - although the waiting staff are not aware of this as it is a completely different set of servers. I cannot say I was exactly welcomed or that despite the fact there are plenty of empty tables, it seemed to be an issue whether or not I could be accommodated - and this despite being a guest of the hotel.

Nonetheless, within four minutes, I have my glass of smooth, blood-red house-wine, my half-litre (liter) of Lieler Scloßbrunnen mineral-water, fresh bread-rolls and local butter plus the menu in front of me.

Now it's time to let my imagination and taste-buds be stimulated and excited:

Well, despite the member of staff who originally greeted me attempting to press me to order, I have been left in peace to savour the menu. I am hoping that a Salat "Gourmandise" followed by Mistkratzerli will make me a happy chappy. I have no idea what the former is, other than a salad, as a google image search gives dozens of totally different dishes. A surprise then! The main appears to be a chicken plate and is to be accompanied by Rösti. Just need someone to take my order now; but personally no hurry, as I can sip my delicious wine…

At 20.38 my order has been taken. The salad is a mixture of salad leaves, melon, tomato and Parmesan. Sounds right up my street. The main is indeed a roast chicken dish. Looking forward to this.

My affable waiter is having to rush hither and thither and has built up quite a sweat on his forehead. The ambient temperature of the dining-room in which I have been seated is just right for me: not too warm with a pleasant cool zephyr whispering through. The waiter is certainly having to work hard for his money. Who said waitering is an easy option: damned hard, physical work!

A Scampi Salat taster arrived with the compliments of the kitchen. Two large, firm prawns on a bed of shredded mixed leaves and a very light, nutty dressing. My Salat "Gourmandise" arrived before the previous plate had been cleared. The original greeter however deftly slipped it to one side and then proffered a huge family-sized salad-bowl of "offering'. As well as the ingredients already stated (excluding the Parmesan), it included sliced white mushroom - quite flavourless - and grated carrot. Some of the salad leaves were obviously past their best having already begun to turn reddy-brown where white should be. The dressing was overly heavy, oily and far too salty. The salad had been so heavily salted that the natural sweetness of the melon was completely swamped. The cherry tomatoes used were soft and squishy. Over all, a disaster. The original waiter has just tried to serve me more; but I have had to politely explain why not, giving constructive criticism. Yikes!

Well, nearly an hour since I sat down and have thus far drunk half a glass of red wine, a few sips of mineral water, the chef's taster (really yummy!) and a few mouthfuls of the salad. Despite trying to avoid wheat bread, I have had to resort to consuming bread & butter. The roll has a fairly tough exterior, so not to be attempted with falsies, but the tug is followed by the satisfactory flavour of lightly salted butter on REAL bread. Mmmmmm……

Slightly stuffed now. So glad I did not gorge on the second bread-roll. My main turned out to be poussin (for which I cannot track down a German equivalent - so if you know it, please let me know!). Again it had been over salted with the effect that the breast meat was, whilst not dry, not exactly moist either. The poussin appears to have been salted prior to cooking, as the underside was just as salty as the topside - presumably to crisp the skin - but obviously this also has the effect of drawing out moisture from the flesh. As one would expect, the thigh flesh was the tastiest. The accompanying Rösti was perfectly acceptable to me, as I have been brought up on raw potato, but I imagine many Brits would have returned it as undercooked, although completely heated through. There was no crispy or crusty outer layer, which one would normally anticipate back in Blighty. However, the added (smoked?) bacon lardons were a mini orgasm on the tongue! Overall, simple cuisine cooked simply. Without boasting: no better than my own efforts chez moi. I personally would have preferred the addition of herbs to add flavour. Waitrose's own brand poussin have much more flavour than the local example I was just served. Perfectly acceptable however: a good dish.

Two minutes ago, my amiable waiter and I lapsed into Italian (!) whilst I ordered Crème brûlée mit Sauerkirschen und Vanilleeis. I am assuming this comes with something like Morello cherries and vanilla ice-cream. Oh, and a wee espresso…

Whilst I await my dessert, a few words about the restaurant’s furnishings. It looks like a typical traditional good quality French/German/Swiss restaurant. It’s beautifully appointed. Anyone familiar with dining in Spain will be pleased to hear that the dining-chairs are quite comfortable. After two hours of sitting, I am not yet feeling uncomfortable. Beautiful bunches of fresh blooms adorn each table. As soon as one is seated a single, white candle is lit - quite elegant. The table linens are top notch and napkins are substantial - so one’s clothing is not in peril! Cutlery is all silver: so for those worried about bugs, you can chill!

A word on accessibility. There is no ramp into the Hotel Restaurant. However there are only three (fairly steep) steps but with hand-rails aplenty. I have managed to enter as I am not currently wheel-chair bound. Were one in a chair, one would have to visit elsewhere. Furthermore, the WC’s are in the basement and there is no disabled facility on the ground level.

Definitely worth waiting for, dessert was smashing. The crème brûlée was better than fair. A minor criticism would have been for all or most of the sugar to have been crystallised rather than just the centre - but that is being picky. It was accompanied by warmed, sour cherries (probably not Morello as they were red rather than purple) which was an inspired contrast with the sweetness of the custard. The vanilla ice-cream was a temperature contrast, but did not really add to the dish flavour-wise. Perhaps a more interesting flavour might have been to choose espresso - to add bitterness to the palate - or caramel to bring the other tastes together.

My espresso is spot-on, not too strong for this time of the evening, but nevertheless still providing the caffeine-kick some of us enjoy at the end of a good repast.

My friendly waiter is no longer perspiring and the original waiter has been smiling for the last hour. Stress has passed.

To give a more rounded view of the restaurant I am now going to list my facebook updates from the past few days in relation to previous meals.

Sunday supper:

Hotel restaurant due to close at 21.30. We turn up at 20.45 and were eventually greeted by sullen maître d' who swiftly advised us that there was very little time. As Rico wanted nothing but a glass of wine and I a salad or a soup, we could not see why there could be any issue. Thankfully I was served the most perfect Kürbiscremesuppe, which had I known what it was probably would not have ordered it and would thus have missed a treat. It was cream of pumpkin soup. Rico & I both adored the lighter than light white wine which almost evaporated on the tongue. Fantastic! Slightly over salted for my personal tastes, so 9.5/10. %P 

Monday breakfast:

About to go exploring Binzen after a hearty breakie of:
fresh orange juice
1.5 pots of coffee
muesli with full-fat milk (sole choice, no plain yoghourt)
scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on toast
a Semmel roll with butter & honey
a raspberry yoghourt


Monday evening dinner:

Service this evening came with the winsome smile of a stunningly beautiful local lass. My Trilogy of Goose-liver Delights was orgasmic (tho' a shame someone microwaved the Brioche bun that came with it so badly that it was still frozen on the inside!). My main was pork medallions which I quite literally broke up with a fork, the flesh was that tender. Delicious cuisine! So happy!!! %PPP
Rico dined on the cream of pumpkin soup, having tasted and enjoyed mine from the previous evening. He followed this with fresh ravioli stuffed with truffle. Mmmmm-mmmm!

Hotel Restaurant Mühle is definitely worth a try if one happens to be passing through the district of Lörrach. Binzen itself is quite pretty and the folk are friendly - most will greet you in passing on the street or on entering a shop (store).

Postscript: the bill has just arrived and I am informed they are not charging me for the salad. Bless them! %)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hofbräuhaus on a Friday evening in Munich

Whilst in München I had the pleasure of experiencing the famous Hofbräuhaus hospitality. Our group of four only had set ourselves a minimum of to-do's during our extended city-break. This visit was a unanimous decision. And we were not disappointed.

According to our research the beer-hall opened its doors at six of an evening. Our taxi dropped us outside the building a full twenty minutes early. We quickly realised the info we had read was wrong. The place was jammed to the rafters, inside the hall itself and outside in the beer-garden.

[Image description: inside one of the many rooms of the Hofbräuhaus]

On a very hot and humid day in Munich, remaining indoors for we lily-livered Brits was just not an option. So, we headed for the, accessible, courtyard. With my well-trained eyes I quickly espied a couple of "empty" tables: that is, several vacant places and only a few folk already sitting at table. We opted for the one with a young couple on an apparently unsuccessful date.

The amiable Viennese waiter was very quick to dash over with menus and immediately realised my companions required the English-language versions (available at most touristy eateries in the city and its environs).

[Image description: a chum & the author with menu]

When our various beverages arrived, we discovered how difficult it is to raise one litre (liter) of ale in a sturdy glass Stein. How the heck the waiters and waitresses held multiple glasses in their hands, dishing them to customers without spilling one drop of beer let alone dropping the whole lot, we have absolutely no idea. Although, I suggested they might not be humans, but rather German-engineered automatons!

[Image description: another chum attempting to imbibe from her massive glass]

Our food was definitely not haute cuisine or anything resembling gastro-pub offerings. It was plain and simple, filling and tasty. Whilst sausage can be fattening, Sauerkraut is apparently extremely good for one. And young maidens and a solitary young lad, all in traditional Tracht (refer to previous posts on Munich), constantly patrol the gaps between folk vending the traditional Breze or Pretzeln, a delicious and light salted bread formed in the widely recognised pretzel shape.

[Image description: Bratwurst on bed of Sauerkraut with traditional Breze aka Pretzel]

Whilst dining we had the privilege of listening to spontaneous group singing (just as we had imagined and hoped for) as well as a traditional oom-pah-pah band performing traditional Blasmusik.

A visit to the Hofbräuhaus (or similar) is heartily recommended: for filling the stomach; slaking one's thirst; and, for a ripping evening's entertainment.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Trachtknöpfe Search in Munich

In 1984 in the village of Bad-Vöslau just up the road from Baden-bei-Wien in Lower Austria, I purchased a Trachtjacke produced by Giesswein. Unfortunately a couple of years ago, whilst attempting to circumnavigate the construction-works at Málaga airport, I lost my top button.

Noting that BurgStraße in Munich and its environs contained several Tracht vendors, I set off in search of replacement Knöpfe. I was heartened to discover  Ludwig Beck, a haberdasher’s - Kurstwaren in German - a rarity now in England, but still widespread in Spain.

Yet again I was at the receiving-end of delightful service. The serving-lady gave me all the time in the world to make my selections of the individually hand-crafted horn-buttons (image below), each unique in texture and colouring. I chose three to bring home. After paying, we passed the time of day and then shook hands, despite a constant stream of folk entering and leaving the store. Service with a smile and that gave me a smile. %)

Shoe-Shopping in Munich

On NeuhauserStraße in central Munich one will come across the shoe-shop chain Tretter’s main store at number 39: three expansive floors of footwear. It transpires it is the largest such establishment in the whole of Bavaria. The business’ tag-line is “Schuhe für München”, Shoes for Munich. I suspect most folk looking for more traditional or conservative items would depart after finding something to purchase.

I was actually searching for a pair of dress shoes to go with my DJ (tuxedo) as I appreciate the quality of German-manufactured footwear and thought a pair would probably last much of the rest of my life. However, whilst not chancing on a pair of patent leathers or similar, I did discover Bavarian-style shoes.

The first pair I selected was cut too low around my ankle so that my foot slipped with the shoes. The second pair seen in the image below are by Josef Seibel (a brand with which I am well and happily acquainted) fitted as if bespoke. The Haferlschuhe, sometimes also known in Bavarian as Bundschuhe, are labelled Schützenschuhe in Austria. They are often worn with traditional costume, Trachten, in both Germany and Austria; but folk also wear them as quotidian footwear.

The shoes were that comfortable, that I switched from wearing my Danish Ecco slip-ons and the assistant wrapped the latter in tissue-paper and popped them in my paper carrier-bag.

Before donning my Haferlschuhe, my attentive shop-assistant water-proofed them for no extra charge. She then made out a hand-written bill which I proffered to the cashier. Old-fashioned quality service.

I strolled out of the store with a bounce in my step - well would have done if I physically could have.