There are some delicious dining options on the island of Sylt in northern Germany, from grilled fish at the Alte Bootshalle (Old Boat Hall) von Gosch to a Breton lobster confit in vanilla with couscous in a pineapple membrane, lapped by a saffron stock in La Mer in the A-Rosa hotel.
Meals such as the latter score 17 out of 20 points in the Gault Millau restaurant guide and two stars in the Michelin Guide. Yet, despite the praise heaped on chef Sebastian Ziers’ creations, La Mer will close January 4, due to a lack of customers.
For Horst Rahe, the managing director of the German shipping company that owns a German property company, the Louis C. Jacob hotel in Hamburg and four A-Rosa group hotels, keeping La Mer open no longer made financial sense.
“Only 5 percent of the hotel guests visited La Mer, and it needed to be 10 to 15 percent,” said Mr. Rahe, who is closing down all haute cuisine restaurants in the A-Rosa group’s vacation hotels.
La Mer lost about €200,000 ($248,195) yearly.
“Guests do not want to eat out in a stiff, elegant setting anymore while on vacation,” said Mr. Rahe.
Spices, the casual dining restaurant in the hotel, also has one Michelin star, but this is not something that is shouted about. “Today, we have a surfeit of starred restaurants and it’s becoming harder to get people to appreciate that a dinner can cost €200 per person,” Mr. Rahe said.
Germany’s top chefs are continually surpassing themselves – and German restaurant guide reviewers from Aral, Feinschmecker and Varta agree on that.
Gault Millau gives more upgrades than the downgrades. The Michelin Guide awarded a star to 31 German restaurants in the 2015 edition – three of those received a second star – and 24 restaurants lost a star.
Increasinly, successful high-end restaurants, such as Ammolite in the Rust Europa-park and Opus Vin in the Engelhorn boutique in Mannheim, have sponsors. Richard Engelhorn, the chief executive of the fashion boutique, “absolutely wanted” a restaurant with a star, according to a colleague.
Restaurateurs still expect the high ratings to put more bums on seats, but diners these days are not content to blindly follow the guides’ advice.
“So many chefs click through blogs and forums and drive themselves nuts.”
“The media hype created by the chefs has meant that suddenly every cook needs to be creative. That is expecting too much,” said Patricia Bröhm, the editor-in-chief of the German edition of the Gault Millau.
Too often, the chefs have simply copied their colleagues, and a trend picks up speed on the Internet. But following big trends without fresh ideas can damage a chef’s reputation. “Suddenly corn is everywhere in various textures,” said Ms. Bröhm. “So many cooks click through blogs and forums and drive themselves nuts.”
Markus Oberhäusser, the chief executive of the gourmet guide Gusto believes culinary achievements can be assessed with objective criteria beyond just taste. “The contrasts of aromas are more intense in the best kitchens,” he said, but doubts whether the Gusto criteria matches with that of his readers.
The diners themselves decided the fate of the A-Rosa group restaurants. Too much formality at the table is not appealing to them on vacation. The conversation flowing aound the table should be the focus, instead of the fine food or the stiff table décor. For example, at Buddenbrooks, a restaurant that is part of the A-Rosa group in Travemünde on the Baltic, guests can order a three-course menu at a long communal table. That the restaurant received one Michelin star rather than two in the 2015 Michelin guide after chef Christian Scharrer left does not bother Mr. Rahe.
“There are concepts and locations where gourmet cuisine simply doesn’t work,” said Ralf Flinkenflügel, the editor-in-chief of the Michelin guide. But he denies that failing restaurants may have anything to do with the extreme pressure to innovate.
“If cooks would not try out new things, where would cuisine be today?” he said. “Although, I don’t think it’s right to chase every trend.”
In the eyes of his colleague Patricia Bröhm, the currently trendy products include carrots, popcorn or razor clams. The focus on regional products is now a worldwide trend, spearheaded by René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, often named as “best restaurant in the world”
“Today, at home and abroad, there are little Redzepis at work, who vie to coax the most unusual products from the field, forests and meadows onto the plate,” wrote Ms. Bröhm in the foreword of the Gault Millau.
Sadly, for Sebastian Zier of La Mer, innovation did nothing to shore up his flagging seaside restaurant.
This article first appeared in WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author: email@example.com.