Sonnora

Germany's L'Ambroisie

Helmut Thieltges has managed to turn his remote restaurant into one of Germany's culinary institutions. Located in the hamlet of Dreis, not far from Wittlich, this little ‘Waldhotel' and restaurant are truly in the middle of nowhere

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Matching the remoteness of his restaurant, Helmut Thieltges is one of the most reclusive chefs in Germany. He doesn’t appear on TV, doesn’t publish one book after the other and doesn’t give interviews all that often. All he does is serve fine classical food, which has earned him the highest grades in all of the guides.

All this might indeed give the impression that Thieltges is trying to be the Bernard Pacaud of Germany, also because his decor is modelled on the French classical restaurant design. The only problem is that the grand décor looks a little strange, plumb in the middle of the German Eifel mountain range. But design is a matter of taste, and it should have no bearing on what appears on the plates – or how it gets to your table. At least the service is exemplary, formal but friendly, making dining here a flawless experience.

The wine list is also very friendly and has a few remarkably well priced rarities on it. In common with several other three-star restaurants in Germany, the prices are fair overall, so you can fully enjoy the glorious food without breaking the bank.

The food is deeply rooted in French tradition, but from time to time it features the odd, slightly more modern creation. Thieltges buys fine produce, cooks it with great care and practically never does anything bizarre. All of his dishes are delicious, tasty and clever – he is a real master of classical French food.

Whilst the amuse bouches seem charmingly out-dated, all have strong, pleasant flavours. But, it is not until the real food arrives that you realize why this restaurant is so special. A starter of veal, tuna and caviar with potato rösti provides a perfect example of Thieltges’ style. The tuna tartar is served inside a thin roll of veal, topped with cream and Avruga caviar and placed on a strip of crisp rösti. Everything is in balance. The textures, flavours and visual aspect, all in harmony: crunchy potatoes, creamy tuna, popping caviar; the veal and tuna taste fresh, the caviar briny and the potatoes earthy. This dish has it all.

On a similar level is a timbale of pasta with girolles and sweetbreads. Carefully presented, this fine starter is again close to perfection. But it is a main course that really stands out. You will certainly not be disappointed if you order the ballotine of veal fillet and sweetbreads, pan-fried foie gras, cabbage and celery puree. It’s old-fashioned, hearty and incomparably delicious. The meat is astonishingly tender and juicy, the foie gras is firm, perfectly cooked to display its outstanding quality. The vegetables are buttery and full of flavour, and the jus finishes the dish off. It is a truly perfect creation, which you are bound to remember a very long time.

Thieltges cooks extraordinary food. There’s no question about that. Perhaps his only weakness may be the amuse bouches, which don’t seem to be on a par with the rest of his food. But apart from this tiny niggle, Sonora is without doubt one of the better restaurants of Europe.

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