Waiter – there’s a fire on my table! | Review: Restaurant Überfahrt, Bavaria


The latest three star addition to Germany’s Michelin firmament puts the country second only to France in the top echelon of Europe’s gastronomic superleague. Derek Guthrie explores the hot destination for top Bavarian cuisine: Überfahrt. And promptly has his table set on fire

Waiter – there’s a fire on my table! | Review: Restaurant Überfahrt, Bavaria

In sunshine, Lake Tegernsee is Germany’s destination jewel, an indecently attractive body of fresh clear water sourced from mountain springs. Along its grassy shoreline are five pretty little villages founded by Bavarian kings, where TV stars and Bayern Munich players now vie for prime spots to build country retreats. At weekends, “half of Munich” travels the 50km to Tegernsee to eat, drink and breathe the fresh air. It’s a proper picture postcard.

It couldn’t be more typically Bavarian if it was dressed in Lederhosen

On my arrival, however, I had to join 750 people sheltering from a lunchtime downpour at the Bräustüberl Tavern. Maximum capacity is 1400 at 160 tables so it wasn’t a busy day. It just looked it as everyone cowered under the parasols-turned-umbrellas, occasionally peeping up at the cloudbursts. A converted Benedictine monastery, it brews its own sharp refreshing beer, “Tegernseer Hell”, a name that to the Brit suggests past weather disappointments, assuaged I think by the hearty food – pork knuckle with sensational crackling, roast bull with sinus-clearing horseradish, various wursts and leberkas. Unlike its British equivalent, there’s no lorry round the back offloading vacuum packed or frozen ready meals for microwaving – it’s all fresh, local, and of the highest quality, delivered to long tables by happy smiling Fräu. It couldn’t be more typically Bavarian if it was dressed in Lederhosen.

Ah, the joys of the hotel press photo library, with immaculately placed boiled eggs, pastries and floral arrangements

Ah, the joys of the hotel press photo library, with immaculately placed boiled eggs, pastries and floral arrangements

On a clearer day, squinting across the lake, I could have made out the Seehotel Überfarht, which houses Christian Jurgens’s very different expression of Bavarian cuisine. Not today, alas, but I took the little ferry into the drizzling mist anyway, brave adventurer that I am.

This is a healthy, hillwalking landscape – so when you enter a natural-hued restaurant, you’d be forgiven for expecting an emphasis on robust fare. The plain décor does nothing to distract, emphasising the main wall, a floor to ceiling glass alpine vista in real 3D. I’m quite sure the food is good for you, but that would be missing the point. The Weltanschauung here is far greater, reflected in a recent Michelin upgrade from two to three stars.

What is distracting, however, are the customers reading books

What is distracting, however, are the customers reading books. Not lone diners, but bookworms ignoring their companions. For this, you can blame the bright young sommelier, Stephanie Hehn, who has had her wine list, so often accused of being as heavy as a tome, printed as a little book: a proper clothboard hardback, complete with etchings, tales from vineyards, cute little page spacers of cork and whimsy, and handwritten deletions in the margins. It’s “published” just once a year and, like the most popular book in the library, is well-thumbed, aged and subject to thieving. On my visit there were only a few copies left, the others already nicked by lightfingered oenophiles. Stephanie stared meaningfully as she told me that last part of the story.

While I was reading Stephanie’s little thriller, part of the forest was brought in. A gnarled wooden branch had carved slits for crispbread, and a sizeable smooth river pebble was smeared with fresh cheese and planted with a bonsai garden of herbs and edible flowers. It looked like a forager’s dream. I’d had “fresh cheese” earlier in the day at the local farmers’ co-op; names like Quark or cottage or cream cheese are abused terms nowadays for packet food, which do little justice to the lightness of these delicate, silken curds.

Woman with Michelin starred chef and friend, laughing with salad

Woman with Michelin starred chef and friend, laughing with salad

Michael, a young waiter who trained at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner in Knightsbridge recommended I start with a 2005 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, a tiny bubbled toasty fizz with a heady, flowery bouquet. An ivory spoon held “Green Caviar” – it was no such thing, it was actually flying fish roe – and was followed by a Tomato Snowball, a magical sphere of white peaks and dimples, in reality an intensely flavoured “tomato foam” concealing an inner sac of bright red, pure tomato essence. It had been crowned with another carefully planted miniature herbal garden. Jokey, clever and fruitily herbalicious.

Stephanie recommended a floral muskateller for the first course proper, “Heaven and Earth”, layers of duck liver and Joselito jamon with which the sweetish notes seemed happy enough.

But I was distracted. Michael had put a sixties retro Cona Coffee maker on my table and lit the flame under the lower of the two large glass spheres. This was for Hong Kong Crayfish Tea, where soup stock has to percolate with fish bits, vegetables and herbs in the top sphere. It did its job, but during the secondary infusion process the soup began to bubble as staff attended other tables. Diner panic set in: I was in charge of cooking my own next course and was about to ruin it by boiling the soup! Should I call someone over? Blow out the flame? Michael reappeared and decanted the herbal fish broth over pucks of raw crayfish. The tea retained, to my relief, fragrant notes of Asia – due, no doubt, to my expertise at three-starred table top cheffery.

The dining room at Überfahrt does, however, look pretty swish

The dining room at Überfahrt does, however, look pretty swish

Next, “Potato Cube” proved a curate’s egg of skilful dexterity. The potato is carved into a perfect cube and perched atop a thick truffle sauce of mega truffliness. A hidden egg yolk leaches out from inside the cube, transforming it to one of those dishes that makes you wonder, “How the f­––…?” – a question never to be answered, as you’re too busy eating and nodding, breathing in the pungent fumes. Only the wine recommendation jarred. Savignin Jura is too close to sherry for me; the fermentation process, known as “ouille”, gives it oxidative characteristics (i.e. good oxidation) but it’s not my cup of, I’m sorry to say.

Then bang! Michael’s colleague came and dumped a load of charcoal on the table. “That looks like charcoal,” I thought to myself as he lit it and walked away. He’d set my table ablaze! I checked the menu, which simply said “Fire”. Damn this minimalism! Was there going to be anything to eat with it? Never mind the soup, I was about to throw my water over it (Stephanie had given me a quite luscious Pinot Noir as recompense for the Jura and that was not being thrown anywhere).

The salt and pepper cruets had warmed up nicely when he returned, not with an extinguisher, but a knife and fork. Lifting the flaming coals onto a little side table he used the cutlery to dig in until he found a cabbage-wrapped hunk of venison. As the flames died down, he slit the parcel in two, then left me to it, slightly more tanned than when I came in. The venison, from a young beast, was soothingly tender. “Sous vide?” I asked Michael. He looked horrified. “No!”

He looked horrified. “No!”

Two years ago, back when it was but a humble two star gaff, I had refused dessert here, but they brought it out anyway – a piece of bark at least a metre in length, populated by all manner of edible forest folk and magic mushrooms (pretend ones). I think I may have eaten half of it. This time, dessert was “A Garden of Strawberries” and, sure enough, the plate had a kind of strawberry kebab with herbs and greenery. It was a delicious melange of summery essence, complete with its own rockery, river pebbles in a wooden bowl, which just sat there. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d suddenly burst into flames. When Michael appeared and cut one of the rocks in half, it proved to be lemon ice cream. Of course. How could it not have been?

The Bavarian high table has never been so, ahem, aflame with creativity. Fantastisch! C


Althoff Seehotel Überfahrt, Überfahrtstraße 10, 83700 Rottach-Egern, Germany
+49 8022 6690; seehotel-ueberfahrt.com