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Steirereck in Vienna - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 92.
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Steirereck is a second generation restaurant located on the banks of the river Wien in Vienna's Stadtpark in a former 'milk pump room'. Heinz Reitbauer senior and his wife Margarethe opened Steirereck on the corner of the Rasumofskygasse and the Weissgerberlände in Vienna in 1970. In 1996 the Reitbauer family established Wirtshaus Steirereck Pogusch, a restaurant, country inn and farm in the Steiermark (Styria) province of Austria and Heinz Reitbauer junior was put in charge of the day-to-day business. Reitbauer junior trained under some of Europe's most celebrated chefs, including Karl and Rudi Obauer (Restaurant Obauer in Werfen, Austria), Alain Chapel and Joël Robuchon in France and Anton Mosimann in London.

In 2005 Steirereck relocated to its current premises and that same year Heinz Reitbauer junior (b.1970) took the reins of the kitchen, succeeding Helmut Österreicher, Steirereck's Chef de Cuisince since 1978. Heinz Reitbauer jr. has managed to maintain the restaurant's two-star status since and Steirereck currently holds the number 9 spot in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

Steirereck is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Friday. The fine dining restaurant is located on the first floor of the building. On the ground floor is the more casual 'Meierei im Stadtpark', offering breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. Steirereck offers an à la carte menu, a tasting menu (6 courses for € 125 or 7 courses for €135, with two alternatives for each course) and there's an extensive lunch menu (4 courses for €75, 5 courses for €85). I had lunch with my husband at Steirereck on Friday 31 January 2014 and we both had the 7-course tasting menu.

With our aperitifs we were served a pear snack, lightly coated in fine 'Zwetschgenbrot' (plum bread) crumbs. Then Steirereck's seriously impressive bread trolley was wheeled in front of us. I picked a rye sourdough and a Parmesan baguette. The bread came with some whipped butter and cress butter.

Shortly after, an elegant amuse bouche of pumpkin, pomelo and mushrooms arrived. The pumpkin came in various guises: lightly pickled/marinated pumpkin, roasted pumpkin and there was a mayonnaise made with pumpkin seed oil.

The first course of the tasting menu was a complex dish of Gillardeau oysters poached in buttermilk and celeriac juice, served with very thinly sliced celeriac, a tamarind and raisin puree, celery cooked in tamarind juice, oyster mushrooms marinated in oyster juice, a delicious mixture of finely chopped roasted celeriac, raisins, celery and almonds and finally a buttermilk and almond sauce. The oyster married well with the celery and celeriac, resulting in a harmonious dish with well-balanced sweet and fresh flavours. Nice build up of the flavours too. Mild sweetness from the thinly sliced celeriac, followed by a more intense sweetness from the tamarind and raisin puree and the roasted celeriac mixture.

Next up were poached puntarelle tips, a trendy winter vegetable from the chicory family. Traditionally puntarelle tips are served thinly sliced with an anchovy dressing. These puntarelle tips came with some crispy sweet potato antennas and came with a neon orange sea buckthorn and sweet potato sauce and crème. Unfortunately the sweet potato neutralised the sharpness of the sea buckthorn, resulting in a rather bland sauce. A flavoursome mixture of chopped capers, chestnuts and watercress didn't manage to correct this.

Third course was Grayling (freshwater fish), golden beetroot, Abate Fetel pear and parsnip. A beautifully cooked fillet of grayling, with a nice crisp skin and lovely moist flesh, served with an aromatic pear and golden beetroot jus, delicately flavoured with Mexican pepper leaves. Next to the grayling was was a slice of parsnip topped with a golden beet and Abate Fetel pear chutney and garnished with some fresh and deep-fried Mexican tarragon leaves. A lovely dish with a nice synergy of earthy-sweet and oily flavours, the aniseedy Mexican pepper and tarragon leaves delivering just the right amount of freshness.

This was followed by succulent Pogusch lamb, wrapped in blanched kale with brown butter, served with macadamia nuts (paste, grated and roasted), crunchy kale stalks, a mildly sour and floral Cornelian cherry sauce and a delicious kale crème, seasoned with Baharat spices. A wonderfully creative dish with intricate flavours. The cherry sauce complemented the kale and lamb beautifully, great depth from the kale crème and the macadamia nuts delivered a creamy, rich finish.

Fifth course, 'Schneebergland' duck with couscous. A tender, though visually unappealing piece of duck served with a powerful roasted onion sauce, flavoured with walnut oil. The couscous had been cooked in beetroot and blood orange juice and was mixed with chia sprouts. Also on the plate was some soft, poached 'Schoderleer' onion and crosne, dipped in a mixture of dried onion powder and chia. The duck and the onion sauce combined nicely but the couscous was a let down for me: it looked lovely but it didn't deliver on flavour.

On to the cheese course. The aformentioned Meierei im Stadtpark is well-known for its huge cheese selection, with 120 different types of cheese to choose from. Steirereck has around 50 perfectly matured (raw milk) goat, sheep and cow cheeses from all over Europe on its cheese trolley.

Seventh and last course was Quince with burnt milk and lavender. An outstanding dessert of meltingly delicious, burnt raw milk and lavender ice cream, a lovely warm brandy-soaked quince cake, quince meringue, caramelised milk skin and some gorgeous caramelised quince, lacquered with Japanese cido quince and lavender. The ice cream had delightful milky flavours with a hint of lavender coming through. A perfectly conceived and executed dessert with well-judged use of lavender, which paired wonderfully with the elegantly sweet and floral quince.

A selection of dried citrus crisps (including Buddha's hand) was served after dessert.

Its high ranking in the World's 50 best restaurant list has turned Steirereck into a destination restaurant that attracts an international clientèle, but Heinz Reitbauer jr. is far from resting on his laurels. He is a good restaurateur and accomplished chef who delivers a range of original dishes, some quite complex and with a large number of ingredients, others more restrained, but all cooked with meticulous attention to detail. Highlights of the meal were the kale and lamb dish and the magnificent quince and lavender dessert. However I did struggle with the puntarelle and duck dishes.

The Reitbauer family motto is "Alles Anders Als Alle Andere" ("Everything Different from all the Others"). Rarely I have come across a two-star restaurant that goes to such lenghts to offer up to 90 people a top-class fine dining experience, including a large wine list and well-stocked bread and cheese trolleys. Produce is sourced from their own farm and gardens, but also from suppliers (often small family businesses)whom they visit every two or three months. Citrus fruit comes from the citrus trees at Schönbrunn Palace's orangery. The sophisticated dining room really breathes fine dining, yet the restaurant feels confident enough to put a Wiener Schnitzel and Beef Gulash on the menu too. And yes indeed, with this engaging menu, Steirereck was Alles Anders Als Alle Andere.

Posted 18-02-2014


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