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Silvio Nickol in Vienna - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 93.
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Palais Coburg is a suite-only hotel in the heart of Vienna, originally built in 1840-1845 as the residence of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who was related to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Various members of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family lived in the palace until 1994. In 1997 Palais Coburg was purchased by the POK Pühringer Piravatstiftung, a private foundation established by investor and fund manager Peter Pühringer. The palace underwent an extensive €80 million renovation from 2000 till 2003 and opened as a luxury 5-star hotel with 35 suites in November 2003. Since April 2011 the palace has also housed the fine dining restaurant Silvio Nickol, named after its executive chef.

Restaurant Silvio Nickol debuted with 2 Michelin stars in the 2012 Main Cities of Europe guide. The restaurant boasts a 60,000 bottle wine collection, divided over six cellars. There's the French cellar, the Old World cellar, the New World cellar, the Champagne cellar, the Rarities cellar and the Yquem cellar (> 100 vintages). Highlights on the wine list include an imperial of Château Latour 1961, single bottles of Château Lafite-Rothschild 1864 and 1865 and various grands formats of Romanée-Conti (including a mathusalem of the 2004). The oldest bottle in the collection, which is currently valued in excess of € 25 million, is a 1727 Rüdesheimer Apostelwein from the Bremer Ratskeller.

Chef Silvio Nickol (b. 1975) started his career as a chef in the mid-nineties in Germany, first at the then 2-star Wald- und Schlosshotel in Friedrichsruhe (currently 1 star) and then at 3-star Die Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn. In 1999 he became sous-chef at 2-star Scholteshof in Stevoort, Belgium (now closed). He returned to Die Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn in 2001 and in 2006 he did a stint at Heinz Winkler's then 3-star restaurant in Aschau. From 2007 till 2010 Silvio Nickol was head-chef at the Michelin starred Schlosstern in Velden, Austria. Schlosstern was awarded a second Michelin star in the 2009 guide for Austria.

Silvio Nickol is open for dinner Tuesday till Saturday and the restaurant offers a set tasting menu, 5 courses for €148, 7 courses for €168 and 9 courses for €188. As you will have gathered, the wine list contains an inordinate number of utterly unaffordable wines, but there is also a lovely selection of well-priced, well-aged Austrian wines (we had Riesling Hollerin 1995 and Solitaire 2004). I had dinner with my husband at Silvio Nickol on Thursday 30 January 2014 and we opted for a 7-course tasting menu.

Dinner started with four amuse bouches. First there was a creamy salt cod crème with a game chip, char caviar and some orange zest.

Next two cornettos arrived. One had a lovely, fresh salmon tartare filling with some Jalapeño mayonnaise on top; the other one was filled with a veal tartare, garnished with iced mustard pearls. Then there was a poached oyster, served in a pungent green herb sauce (made with chives, basil, dill and chervil), puffed wild rice and oyster water foam.

The final amuse bouche was a succulent langoustine, accompanied by an intensely sweet 'carbonated' cherry tomato, iced goat's cheese, a mildly sharp, clear tomato vinaigrette, a rice cracker and tomato foam. Both the cracker and foam were sprinkled with tomato powder.
These were four attractive amuse bouches, executed with great finesse.

Viennese sourdough with lightly salted butter and smoked butter was next. The restaurant uses leek ash to make the smoked butter which gives the butter really nice warm leek flavours.

Shortly after the first course arrived: Foie gras, Macadamia nuts, walnut and fragolino grapes. At the bottom of the glass bowl was a duck foie gras crème, covered with a fragolino grape jelly. On top of the jelly were iced fragolino grape and foie gras pearls, a few marinated grapes, a fresh 'golden' walnut, a milk and hazelnut crisp and finally a few spoonfulls of thickened fragolino grape sauce. The foie gras crème was wonderfully smooth and the addition of fragolino grapes really balanced the richness in this dish, the grapes also delivering a nice and delicate sweetness.

Second course was a  juicy scallop served with a cauliflower puree, a small cauliflower floret, Pandan rice, a cylinder filled with a creamy cauliflower puree, a dried scallop crisp, peanut foam, orange puree and an orange vinaigrette. Lovely sweet nuttiness and saltiness from the peanut foam, which married well with the scallop and the cauliflower. A distinctive dish with many rich and intense flavours, but balanced out perfectly by the freshness of the orange.

This was followed by a piece of tender and moist John Dory, cooked sous-vide, served with some delicious wilted spinach, an airy miso crème, puffed buckwheat, chlorophyll (parsley) foam, a few dots of miso and celery cream and a Chardonnay and verbena vinaigrette. The elegant earthiness of the spinach and the mildly sweet, caramelised flavour from the miso crème complemented the John Dory wonderfully and the chlorophyll foam brought a lovely freshness to this exquisite dish. Great extra flavour and texture from the puffed buckwheat.

Next up was a topped egg with a rich filling of braised calf's head, egg yolk and an artichoke foam. The egg was served in a porcelain egg which, when the top half was removed, released an aromatic puff of wood smoke.

Fifth course was Venison (loin and stew). First a very flavoursome and succulent piece of venison, coated with a coarse and fragrant spice mixture of black pepper, juniper berries, caraway seeds, cloves, bay leaves, pimento and coriander, served with textures of pumpkin, some nice and sharp braised red cabbage, mushrooms, hazelnut crumble and an expertly made Rouennaise sauce. Even better was an utterly delicious venison stew (leg and shoulder) with pumpkin, cranberries and chestnuts, flavoured with oregano, thyme, pepper and marigold. Beautiful cooking on all levels, great balance between richness and intensity.

Cheese was next. A creamy mountain cheese (Vorarlberger Bergkäse) mousse, accompanied by a piece of tender potato, leek, anchovy, olive tapenade and a cracker. A wonderful dish; I loved how the anchovy enhanced the flavours of the cheese, which had lovely floral notes.

Seventh and last course was a beautifully presented dessert of smoky, barbecued banana, served with a foamy lapsang souchong cream, a few small pieces of wonderfully intense freeze-dried passion fruit, some sesame crumble for crunch and some savoury Jerusalem artichoke pearls. A gorgeous combination of flavours. The passion fruit delivered the right tang against the richness of the banana, nice bitters from the lapsang souchong cream and the Jerusalem artichoke pearls gave the dish a delicate, creamy touch.

Some final treats: Parsnip, milk, lemon and vanilla (in the cup) - Mandarin and quark bonbon - Citrus chocolate - Cannelé.

"Money can't buy me love", the Beatles sang half a century ago. When you consider the incredible amounts of money that have been poured into the Palais Coburg hotel, its 112-page wine list and its restaurants, it is clear that many other things can be bought ....... but not the quality of the restaurant. It is the people that make the difference, the heart and soul of the people behind the stove and in the dining room (which is slightly reminiscent of starship Enterprise). These days, many top-notch restaurants thrive with the financial backing and clout of the luxury hotel in which they are located. This is particularly noticeable in the German-speaking world (e.g. Nils Henkel at Schloss Lerbach in Bergisch-Gladbach, Haerlin at Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer at the Adlon Kempinski Hotel in Berlin, Restaurant Überfahrt at the Althoff Seehotel Überfahrt in Rottach-Egern).

Restaurant Silvio Nickol is an example of this trend and its eponymous chef is a confident and accomplished professional; his dishes are technically strong, the flavours are generous and the combinations can be innovative. The menu was carefully composed and digestible and I was impressed with this chef's ambitious and creative cooking. Service was excellent, welcoming and professional, but not formal or stuffy. My meal at Silvio Nickol was a convincing and delightful experience, in keeping with the restaurant's status and standing ....... and I did find the kind of thing that money just can't buy.

Posted 12-02-2014


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