Michelin Starred Christmas in the Park, Strasbourg
In my family Christmas means quality time and feasting, and like most families, holiday time together brings love, joy, laughs and traditional squabbles. For my sister Christmas dinner is synonymous with turkey. I, the sole vegetarian in the family and one with a pretty serious bird phobia, always dread the presence of the carcass on the table, but it is tradition and like most traditions the disdain of the few (me) is not enough to discourage the practice of the many (my family).
This year was different. It was a glorious one in my books as my wonderful father, the kindest and most generous man alive, offered up the perfect solution to please us all by moving the turkey from our family dinner table to a Michelin starred table in a cabin in the park known as the Buerehiesel.
The Buerehiesel Restaurant is nestled away between the ancient trees of the Parc de l’Orangerie in Strasbourg, where we usually spend the holidays. It is set inside a seventeenth century Alsatian farmhouse that was physically transported to the park piece by piece for the international industrial exhibition of 1895.
In 1970 the Buerehiesel was bought by Viviane and Antoine Westermann who transformed the place into a fabulous restaurant that has gained a reputation for being one of the top restaurants in Alsace, France.
The restaurant has four different rooms, each with its own ambiance. We were seated in The Conservatory, which I consider to be the most stunning of the four. In 1989 architect, Guy Walter, created it with a unique design combing grand glass walls and a traditional Alsatian wooden roof, allowing you to dine amongst the trees at lunchtime and beneath the stars in the evening.
During his reign, world-renowned chef, Antoine Westermann, earned 3 Michelin stars for the Buerehiesel. In 1994 Eric Westermann, Antoine’s son, took over as head chef and owner of the restaurant. At this time, as per the family’s request, the Michelin Association removed the restaurant’s 3 stars to allow Eric Westermann to earn them for himself. He has since earned one on his own merits, and is certainly well underway to earning the remaining two.
He created a festive three-course lunch menu to kick off the Christmas celebrations. My family was delighted by this menu which included the (in)famous turkey and other meat and fish dishes. For me, we requested a special vegetarian menu in advance, which usually results in being served tiny portions of garnish that could only leave a baby rabbit satisfied. French chefs, particularly Alsatian ones, are not exactly famous for adapting their delicately planned menus and culinary traditions to accommodate vegetarians, but Eric Westermann accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. He went above and beyond creating delectable vegetarian dishes that were imaginative and innovative, while still keeping true to his Alsatian traditions and heritage, demonstrating that he is a visionary culinary master.
The meal began with a splendid amuse-bouche of pickled cauliflower, beet and quinoa that was as flavourful as it was colourful
The first course was an exquisitely ingenious creation of cabbage filled ravioli, varnished with a delicate cream sauce and topped with regional wild mushrooms.
For the main course I was presented with a delightful arrangement of sautéed winter vegetables and waffle-cut potatoes crisped to perfection, accompanied by subtle droplets of sweet and savoury vinaigrette.
Anyone who knows me, knows that my drug of choice is a fine cheese, and the Buerehiesel’s ‘chariot à fromages’ is pure ecstasy. Eric Westermann’s refined cuisine is certainly award worthy but one would be a fool to dine at his restaurant and deny themselves the extravagance of the cheese chariot, for which each and every cheese is carefully selected and served at its ideal temperature and point of maturity.
It wouldn’t be an authentic French Christmas without a Bûche de Noël (Christmas Yule Log) for dessert. Westermann served a luscious dark chocolate and mandarin bûche, perfectly complemented with sweet mandarin sorbet and crunchy meringue drops.
Dessert was magnificent, every course was, but the paper thin cinnamon crackers that were served to accompany the coffee were definitely one of my favourite parts of the meal. Lucky for me, my family was stuffed like a christmas turkey after their meals, and I got to enjoy these delectable treats all to myself.
To experience Eric Westermann’s fabulous cuisine at the Buerehiesel visit buerehiesel.fr