vendredi 27 juillet 2007

Tantris: flawless, well balanced and good food in a legendary setting

(Photos when specified, by me otherwise)

La version française est ici.

First and foremost, Tantris is an out of this world, or at least out of this time, place. In the middle of a hardly charming residential neighbourhood of Munich, at the bottom of a concrete residential tower, another asymmetrical bloc of concrete is laid down. There are dragons and mythical creatures on the esplanade outside, a bit like in some Chinese restaurants, though they do not surround the entry. The entry is actually more of a hopper, a twenty foot high red cylinder with a revolving door inside. Very “beam me up, Scotty!”.

Inside, there is that delightful seventies architecture. Well, first, it is mostly about the inside (you’ve seen the outside). And there are many different levels, you are kind of always between two steps. There’s a big white counter that has light inside, and some art and plants on it – light coming from the table, very “scary monsters”. Hords of orange bulbs take care of the psychedelic lighting, reflecting on black laqued painting and orange carpets on the walls and ceilings. Disco design did not leave the silverware intact, with amusingly thin knives and bended spoons, or the China, with asymmetrical oval bread plates.

This is a testimony of that time when men believe in science and rationality, in entirely shaping their own world, getting rid of nature. Contemporary architecture has precious wood and fancy leather, an opening on nature, playing with garden, natural light, Feng Shui, etc. Not here. This is a space ship. This is the architecture from The Towering Inferno. I love it.

Did I mention it is also a restaurant? It even is, historically, the German restaurant, the first one to ever receive three Michelin stars, with the two former chefs still holding them after they left the place. Heinz Winkler is still active at the Austrian border. Today, chef Hans Haas offers a very well executed cuisine of the eighties. It is flawless, well balanced, sensitive, and good.

After the place itself, however, the salient memory of the dinner we had there on 24 july 2007 were two legendary wines: a Dom Perignon 1998, that has an almost animal smell, an infinitely refined taste, and barely sparkles, and a Chateau Latour Pauillac 1994, powerful and structured, that is like the expression of a whole civilisation.

I already said the main thing to say about the food: it was flawless and good. The amuse was very remarkable and impressive: a tuna and mango tartare in a tuna mousse, like a flan, a cold tomato sauce on top, a long crispy sesame allumette. The whole thing is served in a glass bowl on a glass plate. Their spiralling, hypnotising motives converge in the centre, like one of those animated backgrounds in disco TV shows. The tartare is perfectly delicious, quite fresh tuna (obviously not out-of-the-see fresh, but that is precisely why there can be that alliance with Mango). At first it seems that the sesame allumette, though it brings a welcome contrast of texture, is totally not in line with the fresh sweetness of the raw tuna and mango. But, like with great wine-dish pairing, the dish takes a new dimension when the grilled sesame kicks in.

Quite some time later, the other highlight of the meal was a lobster with marinated cauliflower and tomatoes. The tomatoes are green, yellow and red, some sliced, some diced, and their water is the main element of the emulsion sauce, with lemon and some discreet olive oil. But the forefront is occupied by an unexpected (to me at least) alliance of cauliflower and lobster, whose tastes meet. The sour sweetness of those summer tomatoes, solid and liquid and foamy plays as a go-between. Truly, one of those apparently simple discovery of nouvelle cuisine: a similarity between the cauliflower taste and the lobster flesh. And we are not talking of the sweetened cauliflower taste, overcooked and further tampered with buttered, say like in Loiseau’s soupe de choufleur caramelisée, but the real gig, that very identifiable cauliflower taste whose smell is sometimes an issue in the kitchen (old French recipes recommend to cook it with some old bread in the water to mitigate the olfactive effect). Reminded me of Troisgros paraphrasing Mozart: « la cuisine, c’est trouver deux goûts qui s’aiment » (finding two tastes that love one another).

That worked also nicely with the glass of Grüner Veltliner they served us, a wine that was thick and almost sweet, and yet totally did not interfere with that matching of lobster and cauliflower, with the Tomato family as marriage maker.
There was then a perfectly cooked and fresh trout, on a celery puree, tiny dices of apple and celery on top, a little triangle of crispy skin, in a elder tree sauce. I am kind of at loss for words to describe it better than balanced, flawless and good. Acidity and perfume in the sauce, melty tenderness of the trout, length in mouth and sweetness brought by celery, play of textures with the apple dices and the crispy skin.

An intense cold gaspacho, served in a tea cup, came as a “trou normand” to clean the palate before the savouries.

A sole was next. It was served with very green and pleasantly chewy Pak Choy (an Asian kind of spinach, I learnt), a ravioli of beans, and a less interesting slice of eggplant that did not bring much to the dish. They were nice filets from big soles, there again the Chef was not trying to pretend that Munich is by the sea (since he used either fish that must not be too fresh like tuna and sole, or fresh water fishes like Trout). The whole thing was served with a sauce they call mignonette, but that is a far cry from the traditional “sauce au poivre”, no meat extract, no mustard, a creamy sauce with hints of pepper, not hot the least. The very firm and taste-neutral sole and the very liquid and savoury sauce were a nice match, emphasising one another, with the middle ground being held in two different ways by the ravioli and the spinach. A dish that reminded me of Eric Fréchon in Le Bristol. Only less brilliant.

Said savoury was a piece of very tender and moist veal, probably from the rib, with girolle/pfifferlinge and Swiss chards (Mangoldgemüse in German, blettes in French) Its texture was actually not unlike that of the trout, and sure no knife was needed to eat it. The cooking and seasoning of the veal was perfect, but it had no “coloration” whatsoever, had not been grilled, or roasted, or laqued, or fried, or in sauce. Maybe it had only been cooked sous-vide? That was surprising.

It made me think about the issue of regularity in a restaurant. Sometimes, in order to be certain to deliver a perfect result, chefs will settle for a less exciting recipe whose success they can guarantee. Kind of the opposite of Gagnaire, Passard or Meneau, where you are never sure how well you are going to eat, because they always reach for the stars and do not always succeed (quite often, though). I am pretty sure that regularity at Tantris is not an issue – first because I had a flawless eight course dinner, and second cause those dishes are conceived so they can be executed rather easily – they require skills, not talent, and good products, not exceptional ones. Regularity, in the end, is a key to make your way into high restaurant ratings, especially when they are based on customers survey, but not only, since Michelin lists it as one of the five criteria for its stars.

Regularity is even an issue at MacDonald’s and Burger King, it is a main challenge for all restaurants. The fact that you can predict what you can eat is a reason for success of those chains. And, conversely, all burgers lovers know that there can be a huge difference in quality between two branches of the same chain – even they could not kill the importance of having a good manager in the kitchen.

Another factor that made me not worry about the quality of execution in Haas’ kitchen is the eternity they take to serve your dinner: the stress in the kitchen cannot be excessive. It may be a local thing: traffic lights in Munich are longer than anywhere in the World. But this really suggest that they only start making your next dish when you are done with the former. We sat a solid half hour before being brought anything to eat (though we did have our Dom Perignon rather quickly), and the whole meal took four and half hours, finishing after one am. That was excessive and uncalled for.

(To be honest, the slow timing at the end of the meal may have come from a misunderstanding: the bottle of Pauillac was there on the table, and I wanted to say that I really was ready to be poured a glass. With my -apparently poor- German, I translated literally: “Ich bin fertig”. But that actually means, in a restaurant, “I’m done, I’m finished, you can take my plate off”)

Anyway, regularity and quality were on the agenda again with a very good cheese tray. Italian and French mostly, the large selection was very well matured, actually better so than in most French restaurants, even the renowned ones, even if there was no exceptional cheese such as a vintage Comté.

Desserts were good, and there is a possibility that our satiety at that point did not allow us to enjoy them fully. There first was a banana soufflé, which was not a real soufflé, because it did not deflate and was un-moulded before us in our plate. A banana-cocoa sauce with it. I suspect this is actually mere whipped egg whites, with a banana puree and then simply micro-waved. Basically an ile flottante posing as a soufflé. Anyway, it was very banana-y, without excess sugar or cream.

Then some raspberry “bavarois”, I suppose, in a raspberry coulis that tasted like it had some schnapps in it, with a strain of translucid sugar on top. At that point, I was not paying much attention anymore and I bet you are not either.

The whole meal was 472€ for two persons, based on the 150€ tasting menu. We were proposed glasses of an Austrian Sauvignon of the Donau valley called “Don’t cry” to go with the sole, but sent them back because the wine was what I would call whore-y if I used that kind of language. Let me just say that it was overly woody and excessively flavoured, with a devastating liquorice taste.

Save the length of the service, it is hard to reproach anything to Tantris. Nevertheless, it is probably a better idea to go for an à la carte three course meal to fully enjoy the experience.

1 commentaire:

Anonyme a dit…

I was also very impressed with the cooking at Tantris. The decor is bizarre but the food is fortunately not stuck in the same time warp as the decoration. See:

for a review and some pictures.