The day: 8th April 2008, Dinner.
The place: Hotel Victoria, Poststraße 2-4, 97980 Bad Mergentheim tel +49(0)7931 593607
The venue: Victoria Vinothek
Closest airports: Munich
The food: Modern German
The drinks: Good and not too long list, strong on German offerings
Amid the gently sloping hills of Baden Wurttemberg, swept by the chilly winds and snow of early spring, where better to find refuge and solace than in the warm embrace of Victoria Restaurant Vinotheck in the pretty spa town of Bad Mergentheim? We had been tipped off by one of our knowledgeable readers, and on a first recognition mission we had been impressed by the warm and relaxed atmosphere.
This Vinotheck shares the large open view kitchen and part of the kitchen staff, but not the room, with a more formal, Michelin starred, restaurant (we’ll go there, we’ll go there…stay tuned and you’ll read our impressions next week).
The pricing structure is very easy: starters (Vorspeisen) go for €12, soups (Suppen) for €6, mains (Hauptgerichte) for €18 and desserts (Nachspeisen) for €8. One can also go for a 3 course set menu (either soup, main and dessert for €29, or starter, main and dessert for €34) or for a 4 course set menu at €39.
The menu is in German only, and as our knowledge of the beautiful language does not go much further than ‘Zimmer frei’, you’ll have to do with our poetically vague descriptions.
We go for the more expensive three course set menu. Here starters, unlike soups, come with ‘wedding bread’ and quark with crauts (Hockzeitsbrot und Kräuterquark), so here they come:
Nice rye bread, with an equally nice spread to go with it.
But now for the real thing. For starters, out of the three available ones, we skipped the smoked trout (Geräucherter Saibling mit Seinem Kaviar und Merrettisch-Crème) and go instead for:
–Pork and vegetable terrine with remoulade and salad (Eisbeinsülze mit Essiggemüse, Remoulade un buntem Salat );
–Best of “smoked pork” in strudel with salad (Das Beste von Mohrenköpfle-Landschewein im Strudelteig mit Senfsaat Sauce und Feldsalat)
The Terrine first: the gelatine was really impressive, flavoursome but not too obtrusive, balancing out the sharp acidity of the pickled peppers, and the sweeter baby corn and gerkins. The pork meat itself was tender and tasty, the whole rounded off very well by the fat remoulade. Overall, then, the dish came out as varied, delicate and fresh.
As for the strudel: the puff pastry embraced a filling of congealed eggs: this probably sounds disgusting, but believe us it was not, just think of a quiche filling. In it sat some finely diced carrots, peas, and above all strips of the smoked ham. The latter we found too salty for our comfort, but (though we do not know this for a fact) we trust this is how this type of cured pork is supposed to taste. It offered a nice combination of textures (the crisp pastry, the soft filling) and tastes (the mildness of the filling playing with the strongly flavoured pork). We can reveal these are themes we’ll encounter in the restaurant too.
We are in the right mood to face our main course:
–Blanquette of veal with potato mash (Blanquette von MilchKalb mit Kartoffel-Bärlauch-Püree);
–“Bouillabasse German style” in the words of the hilarious manager (Eintopfs von Süßwasserfischenmit geröstetem Weißbrot)
The veal was ok, but not exceptional: mind you, the meat was good, but the mash was a bit gluey (though, just to put it in perspective, we are light years away from Civezzano). The reduction was fine, but the whole dish was unmemorable, and a bit on the heavy side.
On a different level, the “bouillabaisse”.A soup of freshwater fish, it was remarkable. First of all, one thing we would not have tried at home, the fish was sprinkled all over with a mix of what we suspect must have been parsley (and so far, fine) and with… hard cheese, tasting a lot like parmesan. The same concoction was spread generously over the crostini accompanying the soup:
A rather crazy combination, but working surprisingly well by adding richness. The broth in the soup was also delectably rich in flavour, though we could detect only two varieties of fish. Herbs played their part here, too, and above all there was a pleasant curry undertone. It probably sounds bizarre, but we can assure you the taste was something to write home about – the audacious German style suits these particular Mediterraneans. Somebody who is ridiculously overrated could take a hint from this soup…
Last but not least, desserts: here, again, the list is short. Just three, unless you want to go for a selection of cheeses. The three were all rhubarb based: a kind of rhubarb muffin with vanilla sauce (Ofenschlupfer mit Vanillesauce), a rhubarb mousse with icecream (Rhabarber-Törtchen mit Weinschaum-Eis), and a semolina cake with rhubarb (Grießschnittemit Rhabarber-Kompott).
Ok, we think we’ll have some rhubarb 😉
But we could not decide, so the charming waiter proposes to bring us the ‘muffin’ with a bit of mousse, too. Now this is that same guy who brought the most expensive brand of bottled water, unrequested, to our table (more on this story later…), maybe he is trying to make up for it. We accept the offer, and here is our complete selection of desserts:
We must have obviously misunderstood, as the “muffin” looks like hosting some apple pieces, though it does come accompanied by rhubarb chunks. Well, this really cut the mustard (so to say): very light, and if you allow us to go overboard, it was at the same time ethereal and bodily. Great.
The mousse (tasting of strawberries, actually) was sitting on a rhubarb compote. It was also sitting on a very thin layer of sponge, with another wafer thin layer in the middle, giving it some extra consistency. But it was just the perfect mousse. And what about the semolina (bottom picture)? Simple, and good, this time the rhubarb, strawberries and above all a delicious icecream playing main character. A very good way to end this dinner, a surrisingly high level of patisserie for a bistro.
With a bottle of Tauberschwarz Hofmann 2006 at €28 and a 0.75 bottle of water at €7 (there is a cheaper one at €6, but if you do as every other diner except naive us did, you’ll have the tap water carafe), our total bill (including 19% service charge: that’s steep) came at €103 (before service, the bill was €86.55). In spite of everything, well within out target.
This is what Zetter could be, and is not (oh my god, it definitely is not). The dining room is sleek, with its full view kitchen, but also warm and welcoming. The service is really good: two waiters plus the manager manned a full room, with two of them also doubling in the more formal Michelin starred restaurant next door, and yet whenever they attended your table it felt like they had all the time in the world – which, believe us, they had not, judging by the breakneck speed at which they swept the dining room. Admirable. Of course, the 19% service charge must come in somewhere! Oh, ouch, in fact from later receipts we are starting to suspect that was VAT, not service charge….
Above all, the food was great, prepared with originality and good ingredients by people who clearly know very well how to treat them. Sure, you see where the commercial side of the operation is: the list is short, the ingredients sometimes repetitive (did we say rhubarb?) and ‘humble’, the preparations relatively simple. But they are exactly what they advertise themselves to be (and in fact deliver almost more than they promise), a German version of a bistro, serving top bistro food. And reasonably priced by German standards, even more by London ones. So the next time you drive along the Romantischestraße, you know where you can stop for comfort. Unless you want to truly impress and take your partner to the twice expensive adjacent restaurant room, about which, we confess, we now have great expectations!