Uwe Boll’s critics laughed. They sniggered and scowled. They said the notorious B-movie director could never create a great fine-dining restaurant.
They were wrong.
Bauhaus is a masterpiece in the making.
Mr. Boll set himself the lofty goal of opening a restaurant (his first) that would be one of Vancouver’s best and unlike anything else. It would be a modern German fine-dining experience, sophisticated yet not too stuffy, and worthy of a Michelin star.
He poured $10-million into gutting and renovating an old Gastown bank building. He hired Stefan Hartmann, former owner of the one-Michelin-starrred Hartmanns Restaurant in Berlin as executive chef, and Tim Adams from Buckingham Palace as general manager. The former was a brilliant decision, the latter a disaster. The Brit was gone within a matter of weeks. His replacement was let go late last month, which does give pause for concern.
In the meantime, Mr. Boll made his smartest move to date. After things were up and running relatively smoothly, he went to Germany for the summer, took all the controversial baggage his larger-than-life reputation brings to the table (leaving his wife, Natalie, to manage behind the scenes) and got out of the way.
Bauhaus started off bumpy, to say the least. A few weeks after opening, it seemed far from certain that the restaurant would succeed.
The open brick, concrete and dark wooden space had mid-century modern polish, but many uncomfortable elements. The Breuer-style cantilever chairs bounced and wobbled. It was impossible to sit in the bar’s leather high-backed T chairs without sliding onto the floor. And the tiny bathrooms, splattered with bright graffiti art, appeared to be a joke. Yes, the ghetto vibe was obviously a wink to Berlin. But was there really no money leftover to upgrade the rickety cubicles with ancient bolt-latch slide locks or invest in matching floor tiles?
The service was disconcertingly amateur. While we perused the wine list, one pretty young thing suggested a bottle of Château Lafite. “I tried it for the first time and it’s the best wine I’ve ever had in my life,” she enthused. Thank you, darling. No doubt it was excellent. But your doe-eyed Wine 101 epiphanies are not very helpful.
The seven-course tasting menu included two inexcusable mistakes – morels filled with grainy grit and knodel potato dumplings so salty they were inedible. But the rest of the meal sparkled with classic elegance. A delicately slow-cooked onsen egg oozed silky yolk over a shattered crumble of crisp Parma ham. Succulent pink-poached veal tenderloin was laid over a glossy pool of demi-glace so meaty and rich it evoked the image of a voluptuous Boll-inspired warrior goddess easing into a mud bath.
This was a serious chef who deserved more time. And while it’s generally not fair to visit so soon after a launch, these initial impressions are worth noting in order to show just how far the restaurant has come.
A few months later, those crazy tall ship sail-backed chairs have been tucked into an empty corner by the wine cellars. The servers no longer ask annoyingly after every course: “Has Chef Hartmann won you over?” The hostess still stands back and watches with a placid smile as you struggle with the heavy front glass doors. But, over all, the new staff members are significantly more suave and knowledgeable.
The kitchen brigade has also been wrestled into shape. The tasting menu is a succession of classic flavours, refined technique and subtle playfulness.
The current menu (it changes every five weeks) starts off light and summery with plump poached lobster warmed in a silky sheen of butter on a fancy Hering plate strewn with vibrant orange lobster foam, textures of celery (leaves and creamed) and a fried cube of smoky, tender ham hock.
The dish is an elevated version of a traditional German crayfish and ham hock staple. But, much like the rest of the menu, it’s not entirely German. And it’s certainly not local or familiar. Mr. Hartmann’s cuisine belongs to a rarefied, continental European, Michelin-star-seeking style of cooking.
It’s rich and surprisingly wintry for a summer menu, with two beef courses (tenderloin and braised, the latter draped in that same lovely dark, glossy demi-glace and accompanied by candied smoked carrots).
It’s liberally seasoned with salt, to pop all the fresh flavours; yet, also strongly spiced with tingly black pepper and brightly acidic lemon. The pepper, part of the chef’s signature repertoire, can be a bit overwhelming for sensitive palates.
There are small nods to Vancouver. Tender poached sturgeon is served with cumin-roasted cauliflower for a slight taste of Turkey inspired by the chef’s old neighbourhood in Berlin. Here, he has incorporated soy sauce and lemon into a reduced ponzu-style stock to give it an Asian twist.
Guests looking for German influences will find them scattered across the courses: a little sour quark mixed in with potato-filled ravioli sprinkled with black truffles and ham; pickled cucumbers with cured herring as an amuse; a small schnitzel-like semolina dumpling with the tenderloin, a hazelnut strudel roll resting on the edge of a bowl filled with brown butter ice cream and caramelized apple.
For guests seeking a more traditional German experience, the à la carte menu offers a wonderfully crispy, bubbly veal schnitzel. There is also an imbiss (bar snack) menu with fatty-pork sausages on red-wine-soaked lentils or melt-in-mouth meatballs studded with capers.
Is Bauhaus expensive? Yes and no. For this calibre of cooking, the seven-course tasting menu is a steal at $110. (They have just launched tasting menus at lunch, for $28 and $38.) But when you add the $85 wine pairings, the check does add up quickly. Although the pairings include some fabulous wines, including a flinty, Sancerre-like Furmint and a leathery Barolo, none of the matches are transcendent. The restaurant could use an experienced sommelier or consultant to collaborate with the chef. Guests might go home feeling less skint – and tipsy – by splitting the generous pours between two people.
Bauhaus isn’t going to please everyone, especially not the tight-fisted, firmly devout locavore diner. The classic cooking doesn’t wow with fireworks, but it is deeply pleasing and exquisitely executed.
Bauhaus is quickly becoming exactly what it was intended to be – one of Vancouver’s best, a modern German fine-dining classic unlike anything else.Report Typo/Error