Austria

Steirereck, Austria (**)

2 Michelin Stars, 22 Best restaurant in the world(2011)

I had been looking forward to this meal the whole trip. Service had been a little rough in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, I was sure that our experience at a 2 Michelin starred restaurant would be nothing short of excellent. I was a little nervous about this meal because I honestly did not know much about the place, other than it has won many awards and been regarded by many as the best restaurant in Austria. To top it off, this was the first Michelin starred restaurant I would be stepping into since El Bulli, no pressure though, no pressure…

The menu at Steirereck is interesting, there are a la carte choices, and the degustation menu has 2 choices for each course, and you have a choice of a 6 or 7 course menu. Ingredients are sourced around the area and the food is quite modern in presentation and flavour profiling, but at the same time staying true to its roots in national and regional Austrian cooking. The restaurant is apparently named Steirereck because it is the name of the town where Heinz Reitbauer hails from, at least, thats what the waitress told us. Googling the name, however, this is what I found from Reitbauer himself, “Steirereck was opened in 1970 on the corner of two streets: Weissgerber Lände and Rasumofskygasse in Vienna. Because of the location and the fact that my parents came from Styria they named the restaurant, “Steirereck”, which translates as “Styrian corner”. Apparently I was lied to… Regardless, on to the food:

Wheat crackers

A little on the oily side, but nothing special. Okay

Celery marinated in verjus(Juice from unripe grape), served with vermouth salt (sugar, salt, vermouth, reduced and dehydrated)

The salt was actually quite interesting. Very tart but without being overpoweringly so, the celery was quite a letdown, the grape marination didn’t seem to do much for the celery, and there was a taste of lingering celery rawness that I dislike. Bad

 

 

(Some berry) on elderberry shallot powder

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the name of the berry served, but it had a mandarin orange(kumquat) taste with a very meaty, almost fleshy texture. The shallot powder had great depth, elderflower was a little faint but the powder had a nice caramelized onion sweetness and a slight burnt, smoky flavor that was very pleasant, it balanced the freshness of the berry well. Good

 

 

Young fermented wine ‘marshmallow’ 

It was actually more of a frozen whipped egg white consistency that had a sticky consistency after it melted down in the mouth. Fruity and refreshing, but wasn’t strong enough to make an impact. Bad

 

 

Homemade roasted chestnut w chestnut mousse

A warm, roasted, crisp, paper thin chestnut shell encapsulating a cold intensely sweet chestnut mousse. Interesting contrast of textures and temperatures. This was technique wise, very interesting, managing to not only create such a thin crust, but to mould it into a shape of a chestnut was quite amazing, the lightness of ingredients made everything disappear on the tongue, but the flavour release was quick and intense. Good

 

 

Pork loin with elderflower, and avocado

The loin was nicely cooked, with a hint of pinkness and good moisture, the pairing of pork and avocado was new to me, but it really worked very well together. The elderflower was too weak to make its presence felt in the dish. Good

 

 

Sour Cream butter(top), and sweet butter(Lines drawn on the cold slab)

I appreciated the unique presentation of the butter, and I have never had butter that had a texture akin to finely grating it. I greatly preferred the sour cream butter over the sweet

Bread server kinda looks like Mr Bean, but he was one of the more friendly ones of the night

 

 

Porcini mushrooms with seaweed and marinated Foie gras

The wakame lent the dish a deep briny sea flavor that went beautifully the deep, earthy, slight bitterness of the mushrooms, the foie didnt overpower with its sweetness and stayed in the foreground while the primary flavours still came from the wakame and the mushrooms, it was the creamy foie that actually binded and brought the dish together in the mouth. It’s a dish grounded in Umami flavors, and it all came together very nicely. This was my favorite dish of the night. Very good

 

 

Gillardeau oysters with Quince, butternut squash and black walnuts

It was an interesting combination of ingredients, but it didn’t quite work for me, The oysters seemed to lose its connection to the sea after being cooked in the butternut squash, the taste of the oyster was a little lost in the sweetness of the squash, the addition of quince threw the dish off balance for me as well. Bad

 

 

Sweetcorn and uhudler grapes, Vanilla, Shiso and leek

I’m not sure how this was made, but the corn kernels had their top ‘dome’ structure trimmed off and were somehow binded together to form a circular round. Within the round was a corn and tomato puree, the tartness of the tomato and sweetness of the corn balanced each other very nicely. I’m not sure why, but the dish felt a little over processed, although the grapes brought it back a notch. Good

 

 

Confited Tench with white radish, nashi pear, lemon and almond

Tench(A firm, lean fish with a nutty flavour) was soft and well cooked(Not the best fish I’ve had on the trip, but we ate very well, more of that to come later). The pear was cooked down to a point where it didn’t deliver an overpowering sweet punch when eaten, just a subtle sweetness with the fragrance of the fruit, it fit very nicely into the light savory note of the dish. It was the foam(Almond and bean spout) that re-invigourated the dish and brought it to life. Radishes have a nice crunch to the other soft ingredients. Good

 

 

Braised veal tongue

Tongue was nicely cooked, and didn’t have an overpowering offal taste, the texture of the crispy lentil puffs with Mangalitza bacon complimented the tongue perfectly, but he strong acidity of the blanched fennel threw the dish a little off and overpowered the rest of the ingredients. Bad

 

 

Pheasant w chestnuts, Chard, Rowanberries

Pheasant, like most of the cooked meats in the menu, was nicely cooked, it had a similar texture to sous vide chicken and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was cooked that way. However, the steamed chard w bread felt a little out of place on the plate and I feel like some form of textural contrast would have elevated the dish, the rowanberry jelly and water chestnut brought a strong but welcome sweetness that balanced the pheasant nicely. Good

 

 

Braised lamb shoulder with Chervil root, Bok choi, Beechnuts and buckthorn

The lamb shoulder was falling apart but was a little dry on the inside, the roasted beechnuts gave a nice crunch to the dish that didn’t seem to intrude on the texture of the shoulder. Bok choi is usually cooked with strong Asian sauces like soy sauce or oyster sauce to mask this intense woody, herb-y smell(not as delicate as herbs) and its bitterness, using it as a sauce just didn’t work for me at all. Bad

 

 

 

Salted almond ice cream w physalis, Cantuccini, Spaghetti squash

Ice cream was delightful, strong taste of the almond with small nuggets of salt flakes giving frequent bursts of saltiness with every scoop. The squash wasn’t overcooked and had a nice crunchy consistency to it, although it seemed to dilute the flavor of the ice cream quite a lot and didn’t seem to taste very good with the ice cream either. Because of the sheer volume of squash served, I ended up having to finish it without any ice cream, and I quickly I was struggling to eat the physalis on it’s own because it didn’t taste very good. The physalis on the other hand, was delicious, cooked in a compote style with apple and pumpkin juice with star anise. Bad

 

 

Iced Cornell cherries with warm vanilla custard, Pomegranate and chioggia beets

A beautifully put together plate of good with beets, cornell cherries, and cornell cherry sorbet mashed together and disguised. Every dollop of sorbet had a cube of pomegranate jelly within it that seemed to burst in the mouth and fill it with pomegranate liquid when eaten. Sweetness from the cherries ensured that the raw earthiness of the beets didn’t overpower the dish. Good

 

 

Java Coffee with yellow dates, plums, and Cinnamon Flowers

I didn’t have enough of this to make a fair assessment of the dish, but I had enough of it to tell that it was the best tasting dessert of all. Finely ground Java coffee and bitter chocolate filled with a Java coffee creme. Tell me that doesnt sound good.

 

Credit where its due, Steirereck serves some very good food with intelligent, well thought out flavour combinations. We had no complaints about the food, but many about the service. For a two Michelin starred restaurant, service was very erratic.  Most of the waiters and waitresses who served us didn’t seem to have a very good grasp of English, which isn’t a big issue, but they seemed hurried and impatient when serving, and any questions were quickly answered with a mumble before trotting off. Maybe it’s a pet peeve of mine, but I hate it when table side presentations are done with no explanation whatsoever. More so, some of the ‘finishing’ of the dish was a little sloppy, with sauce dripping all over the place at times. It doesn’t sound like a big issue, but these are the details that separate a 2 star restaurant from a 3 star restaurant.

We were one of the first few tables at the restaurant, but towards the end omf our mains, the restaurant was starting to fill up(it looks to be a very very big restaurant), service got extremely sluggish. We spent way too much time sitting idly between the mains and dessert, and since there was no palate cleaner, so there really isn’t much of an excuse there. There was a course where not everyone was served at the same time, and there were a few bones in the Tench of one of our dines. Again, these don’t seem to be a big issue, but they damped the overall dining experience for us, which is a shame because the food really is quite good.

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