For our 21st wedding anniversary we returned to Aqua, the three Michelin star restaurant by chef Sven Elverfeld in the Ritz Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany. We’ve been here before in 2015 and 2019. We opted for the all-inclusive “Grand Culinary Journey” package, which includes a 9 course dinner with champagne and wine pairing, as well as a suite in the hotel (1390 euros for two).
A week before the reservation I received an e-mail from the restaurant, asking whether there would be any new food preferences, other than that my husband doesn’t enjoy pigeon. They had remembered this from our previous visits, very thoughtful! There has been a change in the team, as Marcel Runge is no longer maitre and sommelier. Instead there are two women at the helm: maitre Stefanie Weidner and sommelier Anna-Helene Herpers.
We started with a nice rosé champagne by Serge Mathieu of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay.
The snacks started with a stuffed caramelized Kalamata olive, covered with crispy sugar.
Next was a squid crisp with squid tartare, pimento, and charcoal mayonnaise. Unfortunately the crisp was limp rather than crispy, and so the whole thing fell apart when we picked it up. I suspect this may have been sitting in the kitchen for too long before it was served. The staff apologized profusely about this, but did not bring a new crispy one.
The next snack was delicious, marinated mackerel with buckwheat noodles, physalis, and a dashi sauce.
The final snack was beef tartare with cucumber and whisky, served more than half an hour after the olive. The time between the snacks was too long. Later on, the pacing of the menu was fine.
The first wine was an unusual one, as it was a 2021 Mosel Riesling that had been aged in oak barrels (second passage). This made this Riesling very creamy without being very sweet (although it certainly had some residual sugar).
It was a good pairing for the marinated foie gras with green apple, matcha sorbet, Alpaco chocolate, and lemon verbena. The pairing of foie gras with green apple and chocolate worked very well. The wine could just hold up to the dish and kept it light. A regular unoaked Mosel Riesling would have needed more residual sugar but then also more acidity to work with the dish, so this was a more elegant combination.
The sommelier had asked us for any wine preferences, and we had responded that we do not like most natural wines. She said that she did have two natural wines planned, but that she would offer an alternative with each. And so we had two wines side by side with the second course.
The regular wine was a 2021 Grand Caus blanc, a blend of Xarel·lo from old vines with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay from Penedès in Spain. It was mineral but also fruity. The natural wine was a Grenache rosé from Priorat in Spain, a 2018 Partida Pedrer Rosat. No fruitiness but very mineral and not as austere as some natural wines can be, perhaps due to the high alcohol by volume of 14.5%.
Both wines paired well with the barely cooked char with its own caviar, kohlrabi ribbons, hazelnut, and sorrel. The caviar was essential for the pairing, as both wines became astringent without it.
The next wine was a 2018 Grosses Gew?chs May Rothlauf Silvaner, a vibrant full bodied white wine from old vines, aged part in barrels and part in concrete.
It was a nice wine, but a bit too powerful for the pikeperch (zander) with smoked almonds, broccoli, black mustard, and garlic. The dish had a very elegant flavor with a low amount of salt, and would have worked better with a bit more salt.
Next was the second natural wine with alternative, both Sauvignon Blanc. The regular one was a 2009 Neumeister Alte Reben Sauvignon Blanc, from very old vines (planted in 1937 and 1967) in Steiermark, Austria, aged in used barriques and large barrels. Very nice and not at all tired despite the vintage. The natural wine was a 2015 Tr?pftalhof Garnellen, a Sauvignon Blanc from Lago di Caldaro in Alto Adige, Italy made as an orange wine (left with the skins for 7 months after the fermentation), followed by 14 months in amphora with the lees. Again very drinkable for a natural wine.
Both wines worked well with their own ‘side’ of the dish, because it came with two different sauces. The dish was a raw carabinero shrimp with carrots, a bisque and a foamy beurre noisette. The bisque worked best with the natural wine and the beurre with the regular one. The carabinero had great flavor and texture and the bisque was perfect: very complex and balanced without any of the unpleasant edges that bisque can have.
Next was a 2017 Saint-Véran La Combe Desroches by La Soufrandière, a smooth oaked Chardonnay from the south of Burgundy.
It was a good pairing for a play on Caesar Salad: egg yolk cooked sous vide at 65C/149F, crispu bacon, romaine lettuce, and pulled chicken.
The next wine was a rare one, a Ramisco by Quinta de Sant’Ana from Lisbon, Portugal. The vines for this wine grow on the sandy dunes and are becoming more rare because the land is taken over for construction. The wine was a blend of three vintages: 2015, 2016, and a small percentage of 2017. The wine had the typical aroma of Ramisco that reminds me of orange wine but with salinity and pronounced tannins. A very special and rare wine.
Unfortunately this wine did not work at all with the dish and became completely undrinkable. The dish was lamb fillet with olive tapenade, beans, and pinenuts.
We pointed this out to the sommelier, who quickly provided us with an excellent replacememt: a 2004 Caus Lubis Merlot from Penedès, Spain. This was like a very good Bordeaux, perfectly aged, and worked well with the dish.
Next was cheese. In 2015 the former sommelier surprised us with a wine that worked with a remarkable range of cheeses, but now I had some Merlot still in my glass and the sommelier provided two wines.
A 40 year old white port that was great with blue cheese…
…and a 2017 Lulu C?tes du Jura from France, a blend of Chardonnay and Savignin that was a bit like a Vin Jaune but more fruity.
The cheeses included a rare 5-year old Gouda, which I’ve never encountered in the Netherlands (which is where Gouda is made).
Then it was time for the signature dish of the chef, a champagne cream sorbet of Ruinart rosé, served in the bottom of a champagne bottle…
…and naturally paired with a glass of that same rosé. The sorbet had a very nice flavor and was very creamy.
The wine for the dessert was a 2018 Alsace Saering Grand Cru Gewurztraminer by Dirler-Cadé, perfumed and only slightly sweet with 18 grams of residual sugar per litre.
This was a good pairing for what was perhaps the best and certainly the most original dish of the evening: a spicy and only slightly sweet dessert with rose, harissa, and Pimiento de Piquillo, with rice pudding, crispy rice crackers, and raspberry. The dessert had a great complex and balanced flavor of fresh red chillies without being too spicy. Wonderful.
The ‘sweet finale’ was pistachio parfait with goat ricotta and rhubarb…
…followed by coffee or tea with a selection of delicious pralines from the trolley.
This was another great dinner at Aqua and certainly worthy of three Michelin stars. Great food, with all dishes very good and some outstanding. The spicy dessert was amazing. Good wine pairings (except for the one where I believe the sommelier was so enthusiastic to have found a rare wine that she served it even though it was a terrible pairing, which was replaced at once by a great alternative) and great wines. It is wondeful that the ‘standard’ wine pairing here is at such a high level that there is no need at all for a premium pairing. With really nice wines, not just famous names, and many original choices. The service was great too (except for the slow start). It is a shame Wolfsburg is out of the way, or we would come here more often. But we’ll definitely be back!