MUNICH, Germany – I was quite eager to visit Tian, the vegetarian restaurant in Munich. The restaurant – which is more of a chain at this point, with various restaurants in both Vienna and the Bavarian Capital – is known for offering an all-vegetarian fine-dining experience. This is no small feat: many chefs want to offer meats on their menu, and many famous ones even refuse to cater to vegans altogether.
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I was graciously invited by the group responsible for the restaurant to come and sample their tasting menu. I show up and am welcomed, then sit down, ready to enjoy my meal.
Tian, Vegetarian Restaurant in Munich – The Meal
As soon as I sit down, I’m offered a glass of sparkling rosé: Brut Rosé Niederösterreich by Loimer.
The waiter brings a small presentation apparatus which contains salt, pepper, olive oil; he then brings bread; he explains quickly what I’m about to eat, then disappears. Another waiter comes right back while I’m still having my apéro to present the first dish. “Ah, so the bubbles go with the first dish”, I explain to myself, in a fun-loving schizophrenic way.
It’s described by my waiter as “spinach, leek, garlic”. I deduct that the spinach is jellied in some way – agar-agar, I guess –, that the leek is confit – probably sous-vide – and that the garlic is hidden somewhere. And what’s on top of the leek is, inevitably, pop-corn. And so I suspect this will be a texture thing, probably soft-crunchy. Intrigued, I take a spoon and pop the whole thing in my mouth at once.
The mouth feel is a bit off. It’s slippery and cold. And I have to extract a piece of something unidentifiable out of my mouth. There’s no seasoning at all.
“Ok, I tell myself, one bad dish, but plenty to go. We’ll be fine.” Instead, the mistakes keep coming.
I see an aloof waiter walk the length of the half-empty dining room with his hands in his pockets going towards the back. He stops, maybe 10 steps away from me and behind a room divider, pulls out his phone, and takes a personal call.
I grab some bread and try to put a bit of butter on it, only to find that the butter is rock-hard and straight out of the fridge. After destroying my loaf of bread with the butter, I try to put a pinch of salt on it. The presentation tray, which snakes from the table to about 5 centimeters off of it and back, immediately wobbles dangerously and threatens to spill everything on the table. I catch it right on time, saving the white tablecloth from a sudden and certain death.
Then, while I still haven’t finished my glass of brut, which is now definitely not an apéro, I’m brought the second dish.
“Cucumber tapioca, olive oil foam, radish. Enjoy!”
The presentation of this one is very nice. The cucumber “tapioca” is made into cute balls that resemble caviar, and so the dish is served out of a caviar tin. But the resemblance with caviar ends there, because once in the mouth, the cucumber doesn’t pop like caviar does. All three ingredients are clearly on the plate, and once in the mouth, they taste exactly of what they are. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now let me explain something: I hate talking about value on The Fine Dining Blog. Fine dining shouldn’t be about money. But here, if I were to pay for this meal, I have to admit that I’d have a tough time swallowing this one. A few drops of olive oil, the equivalent of one twenty-fifth of a cucumber and four mandolin-slices of radish… Ouch.
After a pause, the waiter comes back with a bottle of white.
Impérial, Schloss Halbturn, 2009. It’s a combination of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
Next dish: chicory, buttermilk mousse, dill. There’s a large piece of overcooked, stringy celery (or is it onion? I can’t identify it) at the bottom. The baby greens en vinaigrette are all bruised.
Another one: black rice, green pepper foam, beetroot and broccoli. This time around, it’s very well executed: everything’s perfectly cooked, there’s a bit of seasoning in the foam, and it’s harmonious. Ok!
Let’s keep going: carrots, Brussel sprouts. Again, the (iceberg) lettuce is wilted and bruised! It’s a vegetarian restaurant, shouldn’t they know how to handle lettuce?
Rutabaga, cabbage, celery puree. What I expected to be a rösti is actually very soft and cakey. This one’s not bad, but I can’t overlook the lack of seasoning.
Their desserts are clearly their best dishes. The first one is a chocolate and pear pairing. The little pomegranate seeds pop and add a necessary acidic element to this sweet dish. Of course, soft cake, cold ice cream – sorry, I meant “sorbet” – and espumas play nicely.
The last one is a bit more inventive: a single praliné of mango and coconut is presented on a bed of raw cacao nibs. I push down on the praliné and get some of the cacao to stick on the ball and pop it into my mouth. Pretty cool!
All in all, this was a very underwhelming experience. So many of the mistakes that were made were easily avoidable. Was it an off night? Quite possible. But when it comes to fine dining, one off night is, effectively, a death sentence for this particular diner.
And, once again, I have to ask: can anyone suggest a vegetarian restaurant that can cook vegetables properly? It’s a bit harsh, I know, but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit one.
Tian Munich – Frauenstraße 4, 80469 Munich, Germany