Sitting foursquare in a beautiful baroque-era house on the edge of the village of Schmidhofen, close to Freiburg-im-Breisgau in southwest Germany, is one of my favourite restaurants. Owned and run by two generations of the Helfesrieder family, the Storchen ticks all my boxes for understated elegance, friendly service, fine food and a wine list featuring Baden’s best. It’s the place we go to when we can find the slightest pretext to celebrate, or when we have visitors who haven’t (yet) learnt that Germany’s Black Forest region offers some of the most excellent eating around.
The restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2001 and it’s the kind of place the French (who, Alsace being just across the Rhine, feature prominently among the guests) refer to as une valeur sûre – a sure thing. Don’t expect wild flights of culinary fantasy and foam-with-everything from the father-and-son team in the kitchen, but seasonal, locally sourced dishes with a certain French flair.
The menu is concise – I love the precision promised by just five starters, four main courses and six desserts. Soups come with rewarding flourishes that lift them out of the potage du jour hinterlands into more exciting territory (white beans with pan-fried scallops, €14, on the winter menu), sweet-sour sardines (€24) are paired with crispy pig’s cheek, and there’s always homemade foie gras (€26) to fall back on. Venison comes from local shoots in the famous Forest that’s visible from the restaurant, there’s lamb from the Limousin, fresh fish from Brittany and white truffles from Alba.
We love sneaking off midweek for one of the overnight schnupper-arrangements (€280), which buys a four-course dinner, a comfy bed in one of the brand-new rooms upstairs and a classic Black Forest breakfast in the morning. And since the Storchen sits in prime Christmas market territory – Freiburg, Bad Krozingen and beautiful Staufen are all nearby – right now it’s offering a Sunday, post-shopping lunch Adventsmenü (€80) of Jerusalem artichoke süpple, a mini-burger of ibéricopork, duck or Arctic char, rounded off with chestnut vermicelles with festive cranberries and yoghurt ice cream.
The small, sunny dining room, complete with polished wooden floors and a cosy, tiled stove, is the fiefdom of Frau Helfesrieder and her daughter-in-law Liza, both of them multilingual, well-briefed on the chefs’ latest creations and ready to offer sound advice on wine pairings. Baden is not so much Riesling-land as a centre of excellence for the whole Pinot family (Blanc, Gris and Noir). Stick to wine growers such as Huber, Johner, Dr Heger, Fritz Wassmer and Hanspeter Ziereisen, and you won’t go far wrong.