When it was crowned “Hotel of the Year 2018” by Guide Gault Millau in Austria, five-star superior boutique Hotel Tannenhof*****Spuperior in St. Anton am Arlberg became the focus of everybody’s attention overnight. Receiving a rating of 18 points and three toques, the restaurant is clearly meeting the expectations of its owner Axel Bach to offer Alpine lifestyle raised to perfection.
After almost 4 years at three-star Schloss Schauenstein, which included 1 ½ years as sous-chef under Andreas Caminada, Chef James Baron came to the Tannenhof in November 2015. The Englishman, whose career path included two-star restaurant “Terminus” of Didier de Courtan in Sierre (Western Switzerland) as well as stops in Canada, Patagonia and New Zealand, plus internships at cheese maker Willi Schmid, vintner Daniel Gantenbein and at a bakery in Basel, brought an abundance of inspiration with him to the Arlberg, unpacking his entire bag of tricks at the Tannenhof with the goal of putting his version of Alpine cuisine on the big stage.
From the perspective of a world traveler, Alpine cuisine represents a trans-regional approach, since the Alpine arc extends from Nice to the very gates of Vienna. His menu supports this philosophy with a separate selection dedicated to the Alpine countries. Here, the products which James uses in his menu are clearly distinguished according to place of origin on a map. “I see this as the great strength of Alpine cuisine. It is not uniform, as was formerly the case with Scandinavian cuisine. Rather, each of the many regions is distinctive unto itself. Food in Styria tastes quite different than it does here in Arlberg, than it does in Valle d’Aosta in Italy or in Graubünden in Switzerland.” Though let it be said, James’ cuisine at the Tannenhof is clearly most influenced by products from Tyrol and Vorarlberg.
Best of the Alps
His menu begins with a brilliant succession of amuses, such as an ingenious pretzel wafer filled with a weisswurst cream and sweet mustard. This is followed by a head of veal and fermented Napa cabbage in a crispy crust of potato dough, a tartare of Ötztal Wagyu beef with pumpkin seed oil, pumpkinseed mayonnaise and roasted pumpkin seeds, as well as a chestnut crème brûlée with Perigord truffles. All of these morsels share a perfect balance of components, acidity, spiciness and sweetness, which runs like a common thread through James Baron’s entire menu.
A perfectly staged culinary highlight is the trout, which comes from renowned Gut Dornau in the Alpine foothills of Lower Austria; smoked right there at the table in a clay pot atop a smoldering bed of hay from the high pastures. After five minutes, the lid is removed and glorious hay aromas envelope the plate. The trout filets are placed, together with sticks of Boskoop apple, Boskoop chutney, horseradish sauce, juniper powder and yoke of quail egg on a crispy chicory leaf. On top of this comes a buerre blanc sauce (a light butter sauce) with trout caviar. A splendidly balanced signature dish of a new alpine cuisine.
The duck salad is likewise outstanding. The pulled wing meat is fried and paired with a creamy, delicate terrine of duck liver. Quartered Brussels sprouts, lingonberries and a salad of Alpine herbs from the garden of aptly named “Alpin Herbs” in South Tyrol accompany the duck. The sturgeon takes the delicacy to an even higher level. A perfectly prepared filet, it’s skin fried until crisp, in a cream of red cabbage, with Mascarpone foam and sturgeon caviar from Walter Grüll in Salzburg.
The knuckle of veal is cooked to perfection and accompanied by potato, purslane, and sauerkraut which had been pickled in-house, as it was done for centuries in the alps. For the goat-cheese pancake, the best choice possible was, of course, the goat cheese of Willi Schmid from Lichtensteig, Switzerland, fairly reckoned to be the best cheese maker in the world. With mountain honey and gently roasted walnuts, James finds the perfect complements in terms of texture and aroma.
The dessert makes an impact as well: a buttermilk cream pastry is accompanied by quince in the form of a soufflé, a jelly and a chutney. A pine jelly and pine chips add to the “foresty” aroma. The dessert is served with an “alpina colada” – a drink made of buttermilk, pine schnapps and quince juice. In summary, an absolutely glorious alpine dessert!
The kitchen concept would clearly be aptly described as “Best of the Alps”. Which makes James Baron unique on the Arlberg – and not only there. Tannenhof-Owner Axel Bach is obviously the right person to boost the talent of James Baron. The interpretation of the alpine arc as a transregional culinary homeland is cogently and attractively conceived and executed, also from the perspective of the international clientele on the Arlberg.
At “Terminus” and Schloss Schauenstein” James worked on a 2- and 3-Michelin-star standard. No doubt a standard he aims to achieve for himself someday. And wouldn’t it be twice as wonderful if he and Axel Bach were to achieve that goal at the Tannenhof in St. Anton, as soon as the Guide Michelin will return to Austria.
A-6580 St. Anton am Arlberg
Tel.: +43/(0)5446/303 11