Le Ciel, Berchtesgaden, Germany
A twisty drive on the Alpenstraße brings the visitor to Le Ciel, a 12-table restaurant that offers dining at an altitude of 1000 meters at the InterContinental Resort Berchtesgaden. The hotel itself is set on a small plateau overlooking the Nationalpark Berchtesgaden in Berchtesgadener Land, Bayern (Bavaria) adjacent to Salzburg, Austria.
On Christmas Day it had started to snow in the late afternoon and the restaurant’s softly lighted interior seemed all the more inviting, the quiet elegance of the place adding a festive note to the visit.
The atmosphere reflects the passion of Chef Ulrich Heimann, the modest chef of Le Ciel. Heimann is a perfectionist and a believer in herbs, vegetables, and fruit straight from the garden and the use of seasonal ingredients. He has assembled a mélange of local suppliers, a farm in the Salzkammergut for beef, a nearby butcher for veal, hunters and fisherman for their bounty. Heimann often takes hotel guests and diners on hikes, showing where the herbs are grown or the trout are farmed.
Upon being seated at a corner table with a view of the entire room and the floor-to-ceiling windows, I was immediately offered a glass of Champagne and an amuse-bouche, three actually, a croissant of chorizo and tomato, two kinds of Gänsestopfleber (foie gras), and a skewered piece of Ente (duck) in a Pankomantel (panko breading).
But there was another amuse-bouche, Konfierter Kalbeljau with Kräutersalat (confit of codfish with herbal salad) before the meal would actually start. A bit salty for my taste but very flavorful.
And then there was the bread, three types, all perfectly warmed, served with two types of butter (salted and unsalted), oil, two salts, and a carrot purée (my personal favorite).
“Now we start” (“Jetzt starten wir”) the waiter said before bringing the first course, Lauwarmer (lukewarm) Eismeerforelle (Arctic Trout) carpaccio with chive oil.
I started with a crisp and elegant 2008 Steirische Klassik Sauvignon Blanc from the Weingut Neumeister in Steiermark with a wonderful, fruity aroma that was perfect for the multiple amuse-bouche mini-courses as well as the trout.
Next came the Artischockenschaumsuppe (cream of artichoke soup) with black truffles, one of the highlights of the evening. Each spoonful was a cloud of delicious, contrasting flavors and aromas.
The Tranche (slice) of Schwertfisch (swordfish) – served 90 minutes after having been seated, just to provide an idea of the gentle pace the meal was taking – was tasty although a bit chewy. I would have preferred it without the bok choy but the tasty yellow radishes that accompanied it made up for it.
To accompany it, I switched to a 2007 Mantlerhof Weitgasse Grüner Veltliner. The fresh and delicate flavor of the wine nicely paired to the swordfish as well as the dishes that were to follow.
Before continuing with the next course, a pleasant and not-too-sweet cassis sorbet was offered.
Next came the Vierländer-Ente, a duck raised in the Vierlande region on the Elbe River in southeast Hamburg. The first piece of duck was superb although a bit dry in the center. The Knuspercannelloni (crispy cannellonis) were a surprising but perfect accompaniment. The second piece of duck, however, was inedible due to the presence of gristle. The server noticed a problem, swept the dish away, and returned (despite my protestations that I didn’t need or have room for a replacement course) with a superbly cooked piece of steak with herb sauce. Needless to say, while I took a few bites, I did not manage to finish this extra course.
At two hours and 30 minutes, I declined the fruit and cheese course and was served the final official course, a magnificent piña colada-cream and pineapple granitée.
This wasn’t quite the end, however. Shortly after I managed to finish my dessert, the waiter pulled up with a trolley that was covered with pralines, truffles, cookies, cakes, and pastries, all of which I had to decline.
Three hours after the meal had started, it was time to leave Le Ciel.
As I left, the chef bade departing diners farewell at the door, giving each a small gift of pâté in a jar, just in case we were to become hungry in the elevator ride back to our rooms.
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.