In the middle of Vienna’s stadtpark, Steirereck restaurant enjoyed a solid rise from 22 to 11 in the last San Pellegrino list of the world’s best. Knocking on the door of the globe’s top 10 was a bit of a shock, according to our delightful waiter Kristiana. The restaurant team is revelling in it – while it lasts – she said.

Steirereck was recognised by San Pellegrino for its commitment to local sourcing of ingredients and commitment to the best traditions of Austrian cuisine. That doesn’t mean strudel and sacher torte gott sei dank but an array of elegant, refined dishes with some exceptional touches.

That’s not to say the restaurant is flawless. Far from it. Most tables are on a leafy terrace and, when Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband arrived, most of the starched linen and glasses were coated in various fronds from the trees. When the wait staff showed no particular interest in them, we picked them off ourselves. Ordering our standard bottle of champagne we sat back in the early evening sunshine, sunglasses perched firmly on noses and contemplated the menu.

Steirereck offers two options (well, three actually). The tasting menu can be ordered to consume six or seven dishes, or diners can choose a la carte. Each ‘course’ on the tasting menu has two choices. Opting for six courses (thinking one dessert was more than enough so far into this gastronomic journey), Greedy Girl gave her decisions to the restaurant’s co-owner (and chef’s wife) Birgit Reitbauer and said gluttonous husband would take each corresponding option. Done. We could settle in.

Most of the wait staff (especially Kristiana, who served us a little later in the proceedings as she had lived and studied in New Zealand) spoke excellent English. Some of them didn’t. Our first ‘amuse bouche’ a wire tree with little delicacies including pickled radish, celery, fennel and others skewered on the branches was presented by a girl who found the translation of ingredients a bit too much – in fact she found most basic functions a bit of a challenge. En route to the table bearing the ‘tree’ a couple of pieces fell on the floor. She paused. We assumed she would head back to the kitchen for a pristine version. She didn’t. Our amuse bouche, minus a couple of ‘smiles’ was plonked in front of us. Not happy Jan. Meh. It was too hot to make a fuss.

Before the first course arrived, we got a visit from the breadwagon. Offering at least 20 different types of bread, ranging from hunks of a giant pretzel to a sourdough laced with blood sausage (black pudding), we tried about six different breads during the proceedings, with an amazing collection of butter – a creamy, lightly salted version, a quenelle of walnut flavoured and the most amazing of all, basil infused savoury ‘fairy floss’. It was heaven, particularly with Greedy Girl’s favourite dark rye bread.

For each course, waiters placed individual cards explaining the course in front of each diner. Ours, thankfully, were in English. It was a marvellous talking point, although some of the terms still required translation. More on that later.

Porcini three ways

Porcini three ways

Greedy Girl started with porcini, done three ways, accompanied by yellow pepper and lettuce. The mushrooms were sauted with brown butter, marinated with basil, lemon and parsley and also raw. It had celeriac yoghurt, lettuce hearts steeped in yellow pepper juice, celery, a yellow pepper emulsion and the first of the crispy delights for the evening (which was to be a key theme throughout), a walnut crisp. Delightful.

Gluttonous husband had ‘Schwarzauer’ mountain trout, with melon, cucumber and purple salsify shoots. According to the crib notes, this particular trout variety is ‘forgotten’ (obviously not by chef Heinz Reitbauer), but chosen because it stores its fat evenly within its muscles to give the fish a ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ consistency. Gluttonous husband concurred.

Second up was green asparagus with sheep’s cheese, hop shoots and bergamot for Greedy Girl. It’s definitely been an asparagus fest this trip. Long, steamed spears were dotted with the cheese and punctuated by a few (too few) pecan nuts pickled with maple syrup and verjus. The bergamot flavour (the essential oil is arguably most famous for providing Earl Grey tea its distinctive taste) was not at all strong.

Gluttonous husband chose confited and fermented turnip with smoked foie gras and sea buckthorn. He admitted later he didn’t expect to enjoy the dish as he’d never liked turnips but his clean plate told the story. The turnip was flavoured by a number of herbs and marinades and combined well.
After this course, it was time to move inside. The rampant smoking of a large neighbouring table had got up both our noses. This is where we met the delightful Kristiana who, on hearing our accents (well, gluttonous husband’s accent), greeted us with a hearty ‘mate’ at the end of her sentence and looked after us for the rest of our meal.

Next course for Greedy Girl was fish. Pan-fried ‘reinanke’ with chanterelle mushrooms, jerusalem artichoke and red onion. Reinanke was a firm, white fish, served skin on. The artichoke was done three ways – braised with pepper, a crunchy version with red onion and the red onion combo was also done as a crisp. It was served with a very rich egg yolk ‘creme’ spooned lovingly over the dish at the table.

Gluttonous husband was hoeing into Danube salmon with broccoli, black rice and camomile. The salmon was steamed after being marinated with balsamic vinegar, chilli and carrot juice. It had a black rice creme flavoured with a light miso but again, the sheer delight was little nuggets of crunchy black rice. Yum.

Heading into the meats, Greedy Girl had what the menu described as ‘best end’ of Pogusch lamb with fennel, medlar and sumac. Despite her curiosity, Greedy Girl decided it was probably best not to know what the chef considers to be the ‘best end’ of the lamb. The sumac was very strong in this dish and a little overpowering. Medlar, however, needed clarification. It’s apparently very like a apricot but with a smooth skin.

Gluttonous husband, in an experimental frame of mind, had calf’s kidneys with king trumpet mushrooms, coconut and ‘Peruvian’ clover. The latter, a slightly sour herb, was indeed from the Andes and we were informed both the leaves and stalks are edible. Some of the kidneys were very light in taste and, at all times, their note came in last after all the other ingredients, including presereved young coconut flesh, Mangalitza pork lardons and a veal jus with blue gin.

Bellies were getting a bit stretched by this stage. One more meat course to come and then into the afters.

Greedy Girl had ‘barbecued cap of alpine foreribs with beans, truffle potatoes and French sorrel’. The beef was pink and served with two different types of beans with bone marrow, celeriac, buttermilk and pepperoncini. It was dressed with an Austrian herb called ‘minutina’ which the menu lauds for its salty, sour taste and grassy aroma. The truffle potatoes were a violet coloured crispy delight from lower Austria. Greedy Girl assumes it is a style of potato as no actual ‘truffle’ flavour could be ascertained.

Gluttonous husband’s venison with pine needles, white asparagus and violet Syrian carrots was a riot of colour. The venison, cooked rare, and carrot puree were both a very deep pink colour while the meat itself was wrapped in a vivid green leaf. Unfortunately gluttonous husband is colour blind so he couldn’t discern any difference in the colour of the leaf to anything else on the plate. The venison jus was studded with black walnuts and sweet onions. Gluttonous husband estimated it was the equal of the roebuck dish he’d savoured at the Ledbury in London earlier in the trip (see the blog The Ledbury Life).

And so to dessert (finally). Unusually for Greedy Girl she chose wild strawberries with elderflower, chicory and meringue. Tiny local strawberries were marinated in elderflower juice and deliciously sweet and slightly resistant to the bite. Chicory hearts were also marinated with elderflower and ‘sour wine crystals’, a by-product apparently of wine production, gathered from barrels once they’re emptied. An elderflower, chicory and yoghurt ice-cream was contained within clouds of meringue. As gluttonous husband was experiencing the cheese cart instead of having something sweet, naturally Greedy Girl shared (mainly the ice-cream).

Gluttonous husband chose a truffled brie (very strong in smell and taste), a local cheddar which worked particularly with the wild strawberry ‘mustard’ drizzled on the plate, a ‘blue brie’ (a misstep – it was more brie than blue and didn’t provide any point of difference) and a local red brie which was the easiest of the soft cheeses on the palate. He did, however, polish them all off – the truffled brie needed the sweetness of a walnut bread to help tone it down.

While the techniques owe a lot to French cuisine, the local ingredients and inventiveness of the chef with the range of crispy counterpoints for each dish made Steirereck a unique experience. It’s not cheap, so go when the exchange rate against the Euro is in your favour.


Stadtpark, Vienna

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