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

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