This article was originally published in Business Life.
As I walked out of the restaurant in the extraordinary BMW World on the outskirts of Munich, the sight that confronted me of a couple driving off in a car was initially not that unusual. It is commonplace, at least for those who have not had anything alcoholic to drink.
What was unusual, however, was what I can tell you about the car and the couple driving off in it. It was a brand new, silver, BMW X5, that had just rolled off the production line next door. The couple were from the town of Ulm, as that is where the car was now registered, and they were obviously very excited about their new possession as they sat in the car poring over the controls before driving off past the entire range of this company's fleet parked for maximum exposure on the ground floor.
BMW World impressed me, I have to say, and I cannot usually get terribly excited about cars or car production. But for those who can, and half a million visitors have flocked here from all over the world since this final part of the complex opened at a cost of 500 million euros last October, this place obviously has immense attraction. I do, however, have to say that I was incredibly impressed by the way in which the bistro, coffee bar and two restaurants have been integrated to maximise everyone's pleasure.
Transport and restaurants have always been closely interlinked. The terrible conditions of the French highways in the 19th century allowed restaurants to emerge as they restored the travellers after an uncomfortable journey. The emergence of touring across Europe by car in the 1920s saw the beginnings of the Michelin guide to where to eat, stay and have your car looked after (an important element in motor travel in those days). And the emergence of inexpensive air travel over the past decade now makes eating in good restaurants around Europe at the weekend a far more affordable proposition for far more people than ever before..
But nowhere have I seen transport and good food so closely integrated as at BMW World and it is the result, not surprisingly, of long-term planning.
Five years ago BMW chose DO&CO, the Austrian hospitality company, to be their business partner and, most crucially, to design and integrate the restaurants and the kitchens as the building was being constructed. What has emerged therefore is not only a series of different places in which to eat and drink but also an extraordinarily high level of comfort. After all, for BMW anyone stopping here for even a sandwich or a cappuccino is, potentially, a future customer – and to make sure they grab them young there is also a Junior Campus, which has quickly become a popular venue for children's birthday parties.
For those adults who can get past the cars, the fun starts on the first floor. Here on one wing of the building is the International Restaurant with views across to the stadium built for the 1972 Olympics. The food comes from a large open kitchen which, as well as having a sushi corner, produces suckling pig, Wiener schnitzel and Vietnamese spring rolls. Desserts and chocolates are excellent, as befits a company that also owns Demel, one of Vienna's most respected coffee houses.
Up one floor is an even more distinctive eating space called the Club Restaurant although it is not a club at all. There are only 12 tables, each of which is situated round a U-shaped open kitchen so that every customer can talk to the chefs as they are cooking. The food here is more complex: yellowfin tuna with a yuzu vinaigrette; sea bass with Turkish lentils and venison with a gratin of Jerusalem artichokes. There is also an excellent wine list.
The Club Restaurant is less expensive than others in Munich of the same quality and certainly less expensive than the London norm – unless you decide to drive off in a brand new BMW, of course.
BMW Welt, Am Olympiapark 1, D-80809 Munchen. +49 893582749-17