“The house on the border of memories,
Always the same, as you know it
and you search your roots there
if you want to understand the soul that you have,
if you want to understand the soul that you have … “
F. Guccini – Roots
I have fifteen chocolates in front of my eyes. I watch them. I scrutinize them. I’m not going to make a mistake: I’ve decided I’ll eat only one. After all, I always prefer quality over quantity. And my road trip is clear proof of this. I want to choose carefully what will allow me to finish the meal in the best way. And what, above all, can push me to ask the question that has been on my mind since I took the road to Wolfsburg. Oh God: I actually have too many questions. My nature is to finish every sentence with a question mark. To Ask, to get informed, to be intrigued. Even in this case we must choose: better a question less, than one more. Better an intelligent silence than a stupid request. Better a single interesting question than a barrage of meaningless sentences. Do you remember the speech about quality and quantity?
Anyway, I decided: I’ll take the limoncello chocolate. As a good Italian, I cannot do anything else and I think the roots are important. In this place as well: then, you will understand why. I grab the sweet with the thumb and forefinger of my right hand, without looking away from my interlocutor. Warning: it is not a matter of challenge, indeed. It is a respectful behaviour. They taught me that if someone is talking, it’s a good idea not to lose sight of their eyes. It is a sign of interest and, in fact, of respect. The chocolate comes between the teeth almost naturally and once the taste of limoncello penetrates my taste buds, I understand that there is only one question I want to ask since I entered:
Chef, why did you choose the name Aqua? –
The gentleman in front of me smiles me back. He hasn’t been very serious until now, indeed. He’s an intelligent, cultured, shrewd man. He has travelled around the world, and he knows exactly what he wants and how he wants it. His curls seem to shine with a different light. Maybe the same that enveloped him when he decided to want to do this job. He settles better on the chair. At that point, he starts talking.
You see, Man of the Stars – he introduces me – you know that I have been working in Dubai for a long time. I was close to the seaside, let me tell you, and I wanted to bring back here, a little bit of what I saw and lived in that place. Moreover, the water is everything, isn’t it? It is a word that contains a myriad of meanings: power, pristine, change, nature…
Yeah, nature. The city where I am now pays great attention to it.
No more suspense: I’m in Germany, in Wolfsburg. My interlocutor is Sven Elverfeld, one of the ten most important chefs in German history. His restaurant, the Aqua, is inside the extra-luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel, in the east of the city, the area dedicated to factories, specifically the Volkswagen one. The stadium of Wolfsburg is very close (always football …): here the teams will face, in the league or in other tournaments, the home team, the white-and-greens. Green, like nature. They are very busy here: in the road that brought me here from Hamburg I admired pristine forests, rivers left in the wild and lots of green. This happens because work is important, but saving the Earth perhaps is more.
That’s why Chef Elverfeld is famous: his fusion cuisine (the result of his experiences around the world), in fact, relies on seasonality. For example, one of his most famous dishes: the oysters with beef tartare were not in the menu I chose. The chef does not intend to go against his principles or against his respect for the Earth.
The Aqua hall is beautiful: rectangular and large. It hosts up to twenty guests, served by a brigade of 12 people, two of them exclusively prepare desserts. I fall in love with the windows: you can see a municipal park with a pond full of small boats that can be rented. It reminds me of the Eur district of Rome. Even the table is wonderful. Nothing is left to chance: the dishes, in fact, are designed by Elverfeld.
You can choose among different menus: ranging from four to ten courses. I choose the middle one, made of six courses: because happiness is always in the middle. In the balance.
For the first time during my road trip I make an exception to my rules: I take wine on my own. The wine list seems really important, but I want to drink a chardonnay. I’m opting for a 2015 Milch 809 and I’m enthusiastic about it. It is strange to find a similar wine in Germany: the Germans prefer a Riesling or the various types of Pinot. Yet I must say that my choice leaves me quite satisfied.
At that point, my journey in the world of Aqua begins.
The amuse bouche opens with Caramelized Kalamata Olive: a caramelized olive, with a champignon and a puffed rice wafer. Then Char, lettuce & sesame: a lettuce and sesame salad and a hamburger, lying on a bone, to recall the German tradition. Finally Eel “smoked & marinated”: a smoked Tom Kha Gai (whose main ingredient is chicken) with peanuts, cucumbers and a small mousse.
The second dish is Brittany Mackerel marinated with sea salt: a mackerel (a blue fish) marinated with sea salt and prepared as a kind of sushi. We find rice treated with yuzu (Japanese seaweed), miso and sesame. I think this is a wonderful dish: combined well and smart. Excellent the choice of sesame that extinguishes the flavour of mackerel.
We move on to the Trout from Luneburg Heath, an asparagus from the moorland of Lunenburg, and then to the top dish: the John Dory & marinated soya-egg. The main ingredient is the John Dory marinated with soy, black garlic, rhubarb, coriander, carrot and an egg, marinated as well. Great dish.
Another dish that convinces me is the Pigeon breast with oriental flavours, impeccably cooked. King of the dish is the pigeon, but what surprises me are the emulsions of tomatoes and olive cream. They perfectly mix, staying clean and aligned, forming a kind of surf in the middle of the plate. It’s very good, one of the five best second courses I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Before the dessert, there is still time for a champagne sorbet Ruinart Rosè: the chef tells me that the idea for this dish came to him looking at the back of the champagne bottle: “It would be perfect to host a sorbet”. Said and done: the Ruinart (sponsor of the restaurant) authorizes him to use his bottles, placed on a wooden board, with the cap placed separately.
We close with Vineyard peach & lavender: peach and lavender, with diced, coconut and cucumber, cut and chopped, placed in the middle of a crumble. Although the course intent is to clean the palate, and is substantially good, the creation seems too simple.
Then comes the moment of sweets: a taco with strawberry ice cream, with quinoa and Greek yogurt and a vanilla cream of Tahiti, with a cherry jelly. Finally the small pastry: the famous 15 chocolates that I was talking about.
After answering my question about the meaning of the name “Aqua”, the chef takes me to the kitchen. I see a column with the signatures of many other important chefs (including Quique Dacosta with whom he cooked four hands only a few months ago) and I know the whole brigade, to which I point out my grievances. Two excessive waits: the sommelier after the request of the wine and 35 minutes before the arrival of the main course.
All of this contributes to slightly lowering the vote of Aqua.
Four beards. I cannot give more, despite the fact that Sven Elverfeld really surprised me.