As a life long Manchester United supporter, I arrived in Munich shortly before the 50th anniversary of the fatal air crash in early February 1958 with perhaps more football memories on my mind than when I normally review restaurants. But I assure you that I wasnt determinedly looking for them and that the two meals each with a disappointing half were the chefs doing not mine.
A poor first half certainly got our meal at Tantris, one of the citys most respected and long established restaurants, off to a disappointing start even if the hour we had to wait for our first course allowed plenty of time to look round its exceptional interior.
Purpose-built over 35 years ago to provide a restaurant with adjacent car parking, then a rarity in the city, Tantris is extraordinary in that it is located directly opposite a police station, albeit in the charming Schwabing district (described to me by one proud taxi driver as our Greenwich Village because of its shops and the artists who live there) and its interior is almost entirely orange. The large plastic lampshades are orange: the tall totems dotted around are orange; the walls are orange and the carpet material that covers the ceiling (yes, really) is orange. This design is odd, determinedly 1970s, but memorable and extremely effective in that without any piped music the acoustics are excellent. One other consequence of the fact that it was specifically built as a restaurant is that every table has its own small, service table next to it for the wine, water bottles and any decanters, an attribute my restaurateur friend described as something that would be on every waiters wish list.
That we had time to study all this in detail arose because although the restaurant had happily taken our reservation at 5.30 that afternoon they had already two large tables booked, one for about 25 and the other for about 15. Our order obviously got stuck behind theirs. It was somewhat galling as we were finally finishing after 11 to see the chef, Hans Haas, walking in to receive a large round of applause from one of these parties.
Several of Haass dishes were, however, very good. Our meal got off to at terrific start with an amuse-bouche of a small fillet of warm trout with char caviar and a horseradish mousse. The smoked pigeon broth with goose liver dumplings that eventually followed was good too although the breast of quail with juniper cream had been cooked too hastily after my complaint about the delay and was still raw in part. Best of all were two dishes of very different styles. The first was pieces of lobster served with segments of blood orange, endive and pine nuts that showed innovation while a dessert of white cheese and sour cream dumplings with sour cream ice cream was an excellent rendition of this classic Bavarian dish.
In a city where food prices seem relatively low Tantriss menu prices are high, certainly approaching London prices, and rather random the breast of quail at 28 euros, for example, is only eight euros cheaper than the lobster. But perhaps I was simply not factoring in the time travel back to the bygone era when it was built.
The contrast between Tantris and the other restaurant where the second half of the meal was disappointing could not have been greater.
Ederer, named after chef/proprietor Karl Ederer, is located in the centre of town and occupies an imposing room that was once part of a banking hall. Its proportions are large and gracious and the four tall windows offer lots of natural light into a room which Ederer has furnished with some fascinating art he has acquired over his years as a chef. Most impressive is a large still life of an empty dining table and chairs set in a private house under which a lone diner sat seemingly very content. The centre of the room is taken up with an antique drinks trolley, a venerable carving trolley, a well stocked cheese trolley and a table for wine glasses and service.
Ederers cooking style is quintessentially Bavarian and was, initially, impressive. We began with a bread soup with chives interlaced with blood sausage that with a glass of beer that certainly convinced me that I was in Munich. Then I was directed by my friends to a dish that incorporated Grunkohl a type of cabbage that comes from the north of Germany and is only picked when the ground is frozen. Cooked here in goose fat and served alongside some venison with cranberries it was delicious. But the rest of the main course, our dessert and the rather cool manner in which we were seen out of the restaurant were definitely disappointing.
It was then that my friend Gert, a proud Munchen and formerly a strategist with Siemens, came to the rescue. Walking through the streets he explained how from November to March was his favourite time to be in this city before it is invaded by tourists. And it was quite hard to imagine just how busy it must be during Oktoberfest with 7 million visitors over 16 days or as he put it the equivalent of a Woodstock on our streets every day.
To show me what it was now possible to enjoy without any crowds he took me to several of the citys long established haunts. Schumanns, one of he few remaining coffee houses since the arrival of Starbucks and the local San Francisco Coffee House; Dallmayr next to the more modern Manufactum; Haxnbauer with its rotisserie loaded that afternoon with 14 of its speciality, whole pork knuckles; and finally the Hofbrauhaus, Weisses Brauhaus and Ratskeller under the Town Hall dating back to the 16th century, all beer halls serving copious amounts of food.
Cheek by jowl in this compact city were the more modern Cosmo Grill; an extraordinary chocolate shop called Stancsis at the back of the Bayerischer Hof; and the string of restaurants built up by Alfons Schuhbeck which now includes a really exciting spice shop. Gerts only disappointment as a keen chef came when he discovered that Helmut Lehner, renowned for his hand made knives, had finally given up his physical shop for an internet presence.
Gert had one more place he wanted me to see which involved a fifteen minute taxi ride to a site opposite the 1972 Olympic Stadium. Over the past decade BMW World has risen to fill the skyline and provide buyers with an appropriate place to take delivery of their car as soon as it rolls off the production line.
With commendable foresight five years ago BMW began to design and build two restaurants, a café and a coffee shop with their eventual partner, the Austrian company DO&CO in one corner of the building. The level of comfort and finish is exemplary and although time only allowed for an aperitif it is here I would like to return to first on my next visit to a city whose citizens do seem to live to eat.
Helmet Lehners knives: www.feinste-stahlwaren.de
BMW World, www.bmw-welt.de