Once more talking about expectation management – dining at the number 11 of the world (according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) I had very high expectations and I must admit they were not fully satisfied.
After managing the most difficult part of getting a table about one month beforehand, I finally got the confirmation and was looking forward to it for quite some time – and the evening started very nicely. After you are brought to your table, you already find a small welcome from the kitchen in the form of “bread sticks” refined with spices.
Initially, patience is what is needed if you are seated – the service was quite busy so sitting for about 15 minutes without receiving much attention (although water was served right away; 0,75L, EUR 6.90) is pretty unusual but after that things got started quickly. As of course such a place lives from its reputation (and for a reason!) I figured I should try the 6 course degustation menu (EUR 125.00 per person).
After aperitivo was ordered (Mu Sattler, 2011, 1/8L, EUR 8.00; Champagne Rose Gobíll, EUR 17.00) and served, it took not long and the next thing was brought to the table: a combination of amuse bouche – basically various vegetables pickled somehow (the Austrian way) to be dipped in a crop stock and roasted crop on a salt stone – the roasted crop was of limited interest but the crop fond and the pickled and other wise conserved vegetables were quite interesting. To the right (in the picture) you can see “pomelo with verbena concentrate” which was surprising as it was sour, sweet, and had a nice consistency.
After the amuse bouche bread with butter was served – and usually this is not really something to talk about but the little plate with butter had “sweet cream butter and dried pear jam butter”. The sweet cream butter was great in taste but the dried pear jam butter was definitely something spectacular as it was very sweet and seemed to suit more for breakfast – but it went very well with bacon bread, with olive bread, and various others. Talking about which. It was not that you got to pick from two kinds of bread – but rather a whole waggon with approximately 20 different kinds of bread was rolled to your table and you were able to choose as many as you wanted – delicious bread!
Even then, the menu did not start – next was another amuse bouche from the kitchen: “young spinach refined with parsnip cream and common carp”. The spinach itself was fine but regular but in combination with the parsnip cream and the carp it was the righ thing to get you started for the menu – absolutely triggering your appetite.
And then, it started – what I have been waiting for at the time around one hour but it was worth waiting. In addition to that, I experience something I had never experienced before. To each course, a small card was put in front of you showing what you will have next. First was “Black salsify with nashi pears, goat milk and chia” …
… which was a good start. The black salsify itself did not taste like much but in combination with the pears, the goat cheese, the ox core, and the goat milk it was mouth-watering.
Next was “Puntarelle with Jerusalem artichoke, litchi tomatoes and chanterelles” …
… which was one of the best courses of the night in my humbe opinion. It was the first time I ate puntarelle and I must say I liked it. It looked like pasta but tasted somehow like salad but it was just good – I cannot quite describe it. One of the highlights making this dish even better were the litchi tomatoes. They are like cherry tomatoes but they are somehow sweet – great and surprising!
The third course of the night was “mountain trout with white eggplant, navettes, chanterelles, and purslane” …
… which was luscious. The trout was almost raw and very taste intense but not having any fish-taste at all. Absolutely great! The navette succo, the white eggplants and the purslane did a great deal of going well together to actually make a good dish even greater. Loved it!
So far, my expectations were met – I tried new things, I experience new tastes and although I missed the “oral orgasms” and shivers (like I had them in Biko (Nr. 38 of the world) or Pujol (Nr. 36 of the world), I was absolutely satisfied at this point in time.
And it was already time for the fourth official course of the night: “Pheasant with yellow lentils, parsley, almonds, and candied lemons” …
… and somehow my expectations were not quite met anymore. I mean, the dish was still great as it was thought through, the onion rings with the parsley almond pesto in combination with the candied lemons were delicious! No question about that. But the pheasant – the main element of the dish – was just … how to say … boring. It did not taste like much – to be fair, I have not eaten pheasant often before in my life but somehow I expected more … or rather anything!
The fifth course this evening was “wild duck with pearl barley, cress, salad, and tomatillo” …
… and somehow this just did not come close to the other dishes. The salad – which I know to be quite aromatic and taste intense in other cases – was just somehow warm salad, so nothing special. The pearl barley was okay, fine, good, but again not oustanding in any direction. The wild duck was below the barley and was – well – quite okay. All in all, the dish just did not persuade me.
Luckily, the sixth course was due some time after and it made me a happy person again – the cheese waggon came by! And it was so absolutely amazing – a selection of roughly 30 to 40 different cheeses and to each, the “cheese expert” had an explanation (I did not hazzle the poor guy through all 40, but I can imagine he had more to say beyond the 15 sorts I questioned him about). One of the best selections I have seen since “Restaurant Caduff’s Wine Loft” in October last year.
I went for various blue cheeses (Austrian, Italian, and so on) and the portions were quite large so it took me a while to finish and I must say the cheese was among the best selections I have had (and I eat a lot of cheese for desert). For me, the cheese waggons was among the highlights of this evening.
Now, the official menu was over – but the evening was not over yet. Of course, it was candy time! The cheese was gone and another waggon was brought to the table – and it was all white and you could see nothing, so I was curious …
… and soon got my explanation: It was the cookie waggon! The cookies were covered in powdered sugar and had to be dug out, cleaned from the powder, and were finally served. While I liked the idea very much, I am not a huge fan of cookies, so they were not my favourite but I must admit, they were good.
And then I thought it was over – but it was not. I ordered an espresso (EUR 4.90) and a Grappa (Tre Soli Tre from Berta; EUR 17.00) and it came with a nice selection of chocolates which tasted amazingly good (and remember, I am not that much into chocolate).
Looking at the dishes served, I must say what I ate was absolutely great – the food was good, high quality ingredients, well-prepared and with quite some ingredients I have not tried before in my life. On the other hand, I did not experience any oral orgasms this time – and that was what disappointed me a bit. I mean, I know that it is always a question of expectations and I am well aware that with Biko where I experience these four times I was probably on the lucky side, I was still surprised to not have one single oral orgasm!
Besides that, the price is pretty fine if you consider the ranking of the restaurant each course accounting for roughly EUR 20.00 – what I personally do not understand though that a restaurant at this level charges a cover charge of EUR 6.00 per person. I mean, I spent like EUR 450.00 there and you charge me 12.00 EUR cover charge? Seriously? This is ridiculous! In any case, you even find great wines (Amarone, Tedeschi, 2006) for reasonable prices (EUR 85.00; 0,75L).
The place itself is great – I loved the atmosphere. You get to sit in these large, plushy-like chairs whiche are very comfortable even if you are sitting there for approximately five hours in a row – great. The restaurant is like a large hall with nice decoration – just very lovely.
But not only the atmosphere is great, so is the service – the orchestration of the various waiters and waitresses (serving, taking place, bringing plates, refilling water, refilling wine, bringing bread, cheese, cookies, bringing a new napkin, moving your chair) is highly impressive! I have barely ever seen anything like that and they had 117 guests that night (not selling a table twice but once only). So, this was definitely outstanding. Given the fact that approximately 20 waiters were responsible for 6 times the number of guests, it is understandable that a few minor flaws happened over the course of five hours: The first amuse bouche (the pomelo) was not explained until I actually asked what it was, my wine glass got very, very empty a few times and was only refilled the very last minute, so was my water, and last but not least, when my company left the table the napkin was not substituted. As I said, no big deal given the whole evening but a pity as perfection was not reached.
To sum it up, dining at the Restaurant Steirereck is highly recommendable – especially if you are into food. The dishes are very well prepared, have surprising elements, and are generally speaking good. The place is marvelous, the service is outstanding and very close to perfection and last but not least, the experience is comparatively payable if you are not having alcohol to the dishes. In any case, it is very important to book a table in advance!
Restaurant Steirereck im Stadtpark
Am Heumarkt 2a
1030 Vienna (AT)
Tel.: +43 1 713 31 68