An der Villa, Steinfort, Luxembourg

If you have lived in Luxembourg for more than couple of days, you must have heard the name of Thomas Murer, who became a local celebrity in 2016 when he got to the semifinals of the cooking-show Top Chef. After this experience, Thomas worked for Aal Schoul, in Hobscheid, that was on my “to try” list for long time, until finally he left to open its own restaurant, An der Villa, in Steinfort. This time I did not want to miss my chance and through a bit of help (thanks Sandra!) got my table booked couple of weeks after the opening.

As said, the restaurant is located in Steinfort, 30 minutes drive from the city off peak hour, in this magnificent white villa – that yesterday night, with a light rain and a soft fog, had the fashion of an Agatha Christie novel.

Angela and I made our way through the candles at the entrance around 8 pm. There was not a formal welcome or a clear way in and the door accessed in the middle of the dining room. One polite lady took us through the tables to check our reservation and finally accommodated us to our place. The dining room is wide and bright, with smaller areas only slightly separated. The white is predominant and almost the unique decoration, together with minimal balloon lamps, sepia pictures without frames and light brown wooden tables – no cloth and a basic ampoule with simple white flowers.

We ordered a cremant as aperitif and were given our menu: the food proposal, as expected, is centered on the territory, with several fish, meat and veggie choices, plus two suggestions of the chef out of the menu (one meat and one fish). Should you wish, you can order a tasting menu (65 Eur, to be ordered by the entire table) that is composed by 5 courses and it is presented as the suggestions out of the menu. The menu is fixed (yesterday it included trout, foie gras, veal, beetroot among the others) and as we were not completely agreed on the items included, we decided to order a la carte, ending up to take the same dishes 🙂

We were introduced to the dinner by a delightful amuse-bouche (it was foam with a kind of arancino), remind me of the cordon bleu my mom was preparing when I was a child. As starter, we both had the fried egg in breadcrumbs while for main we had the scallops – that were among the Chef suggestions.

We drank a bottle of Alice Hartmann Riesling and concluded our dinner with a plat of cheese (should I specify it was for me?) and a dame blanche with speculoos and salted caramel for Angela.

Total bill read 201 Eur (out of which 60 Eur were for the wine).

Pictures and then my impressions of An der Villa.

Please sit down, as this is going to be a long, controversial one. And I am going to structure it a bit differently compared to the previous ones as it would be too complicated to distinguish between “like” and “don’t like”

Food. Food was in average good. I said in average as it was a bit of a rollercoaster.
The amuse-bouche was spectacular.
The fried egg was fairly good but the accent on the sweet note was too bold for me – it was prepared with langoustine, honey and a mousse with carrots and pumpkins. The salted element – herrings caviar – was too limited and it missed a balance in the consistency with a crunchy element (should have been given by the fried langoustine, but again, it was not enough).
The scallops were heaven. In this case, to me, the dish was perfectly balanced in consistency and taste, the sweet element of the Jerusalem artichoke cream, the crunchiness of the fried mushrooms, the herbs, the truffle scent (but why not the shaved slices?). I loved the dish and would have been ready to have a second portion straight away.
Finally, the cheese plat. Now – you would say, cheese is cheese, what can go wrong? Right, but only partially. To me the dish lacked totally in presentation – and slightly in content. There was no effort whatsoever and it was a pity, as the chutney that accompanied it were delicious. The effort was not even in explaining which cheese the dish was composed of – you can guess, but why you should?
The thing I appreciated most about the food I had, was to remind me of tastes of my childhood, with very local and seasonal ingredients.

Service. Our waiter was smiling, polite, lovely. He was doing his job with extreme passion – you can see it – and even if under pressure, was able to give us further information on dishes and ingredients. I really appreciated, above all in consideration of the fact that, to me, it looked the place was quite understaffed. Waiting time was a bit too long and we felt forgotten couple of times – my point is: if you decided to have the wine kept far from the table, you should monitor it very closely. If you are not in the service condition to do it, you keep the wine at the table so customers can help themselves. Our glasses were empty for most of the second part of the meal, to be filled up only when we were almost over with the dessert and we are about to order coffee. It was not a matter of carelessness by our waiter, he did not just have physical time to do so, poor thing.
The other significant item to me was the missing of a “welcome area” and a formal welcome in the restaurant: you get in the middle of the dining room, I don’t say you have to have someone to open you the door but at least a corridor / alley to wait, instead of doing it among other people eating. Similarly, the reservation sheet was on a shelf in-between tables.

The Place. Minimal atmosphere, you love it or you hate it. While I generally prefer more baroque settings, to me the ambience was really in line with the kitchen and therefore I loved it  – you had this impression to eat at newly renovated countryside house of your youngest aunt and I liked the effort of matching the spirit of the territory in the food with the shell of it. On the negative side, the acoustic of the place is horrible: while the restaurant was full but not packed, above all on our side, it was to me almost impossible to hear the waiter describing the dishes and very difficult to speak with Angela.

Finally, what Angela called the “human” element. At the end of the dinner, she told me she was fine but not impressed. And that she would have expected the Chef to come out of the kitchen to greet his guests. She told me: at that point, maybe if I shared a quick chat with him, I would have forgotten the things I did not enjoy about our dinner. I share this view. I think that, above all at the beginning of an experience, the personal element of the Chef might be able to cover those lacks or gaps that are normal when you open a new place. Well, this was not the case yesterday.

To conclude and sum up, as it was a pretty lengthy review this time. I had a pleasant dinner at An der Villa with Angela. I appreciated the strong presence of local elements in the menu of this very minimal – but noisy – restaurant out of town. I loved my scallops dish. Basically, there was nothing extremely wrong in our dinner, only couple of misaligned elements. Still, as probabily my bar of expectations was set pretty high, I was still not 100% satisfied and missed my WOW factor: food was fairly good – with some peaks up and down – but everything else was not. So at this point, my question would be: is this place worth the ride? I would say no at this stage, but I would probably give it another try in the warmer season to check if it was only a matter of time.

In the meanwhile, if you want to try it, it is perfect if you are looking for a local cuisine with an innovative accent. Great for dinner with friends or girls night out.

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