QLI - Restaurant la vie

A few years ago, Osnabrück didn’t have a lot going for it in culinary terms. The city, which saw the signing of the Peace treaty of Westphalia in 1648, was pretty much dead as far as food goes. However, when Thomas Bühner moved into the restaurant La Vie, things started looking up quite dramatically.

Over the years that he has been in charge of La Vie, Bühner has become a bit of a tragic figure in the German food world. For years he has been tipped for a third star, which he finally got in late 2011. Until then, countless bloggers and critics sang his praise, without making things move. What is interesting to note too is that despite the incredible support Bühner got from within Germany, he remained virtually unknown to the rest of the world. This in a way is perhaps due to the fact that Osnabrück is far, far away from any place of culinary interest.

Apart from making it difficult to attract customers for Bühner, this ‚isolation‘ might have had a beneficial effect on his development. The food that is currently served at La Vie has precious little to do with the Nordic food that is virtually omnipresent in Europe. Bühner developed a style of his own during the past years, and managed to start cooking food that is hardly classifiable. What one can do however, is trying to pick out a few characteristic elements that really make it unique.

One of the underlying points at La Vie is the product. Without selling pretentious stories of their provenance, Bühner serves top-notch produce, and even farms his own vegetables. He also pushes for an increasingly local supply in terms of meat, dairy products and salt, which is more of a logical evolution rather than a marketing gag for him. That Bühner takes a pragmatic look at the produce he uses and their provenance is best shown by a dish of roasted langoustine. Obviously not from Osnabrück, the crustacean is of fine quality, with crunchy, juicy and sweet meat. Cooked beautifully, Bühner compliments it with a colourful array of vegetables from his garden. The addition of bulgur, ricotta and Iberico bacon add a summery feeling to the dish. What is remarkable here is that the vegetables themselves are clearly of beautiful quality and carefully prepared. They nearly play the main role in this dish, and ‚use‘ the langoustine purely as a seasoning agent. However, if you have more langoustine and less vegetables on your fork, the story is a different one, and the sweet meat becomes even more complex thanks to the earthy, smoky vegetables and their garnishes. This is food that is both restrained and bursting with flavours; subtle and hugely rewarding; food that makes you want to have more.

Another characteristic of Bühner’s food is its conceptual nature. Whilst that might sound a little off-putting to us gluttons, don’t shy away just now. Here, this means all the more intriguing plates. Apart from the truly stunning venison dish, we described elsewhere , a North sea prawn dish is highly interesting. Here Bühner demonstrates how much one can take out of such a common product. His goal in this dish, as with most others, is to preserve and purify the product’s flavour, which he clearly achieves. Using ’sand‘ made from Tapioca, not unlike that Heston uses in his „Sound of the Sea“, Bühner brings up memories of the sea side and creates a base that binds the dish together. The fact that the humble prawns are treated with respect, to show the purity of their flavour in this dish is really what makes it so special. Bühner cleverly presents them in several shapes and textures. Some lie on the ’sand‘, paired with asparagus and leeks, whilst a cup of very clear and pure broth is served on the side. In a frozen shell, another preparation sits, revealing yet another aspect of this underrated product. It is again a dish that combines freshness, balance of flavours and power. It is a dish that is not only visually arresting, but incredibly precise and tasty.

This is another point we want to highlight here: Bühner, in the line of Sergio Herman, creates dishes that are complex without giving you the impression of being complicated. Dishes such as the ones above offer a multitude of layers of flavours, textures and temperatures, yet manage to retain a feeling of unity and harmony that very few chefs can bring to the plate. That in a way is what is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of a meal here. If you take the example of a mackerel with sesame ice cream and passion fruit, you have something that sounds about as horrible as you could possibly imagine. Yet, what eventually ends up on the plate is a dish that pulls off such a daring combination without making it look forced in any way. On the contrary, the cold ice cream, the rich mackerel and the acidic/sweet character of the mackerel create a flavour profile that truly is unique.

Osnabrück might well get a bit more attention in the future. For in this provincial town in Germany, you have one of the most interesting chefs in Europe at work. Someone who combines a real passion for food with a deep understanding of what he does in creating dishes that are more than just memorable.


Taken from: www.qliweb.com