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Obauer in Werfen, Austria

Rating: 83.
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Outstanding (93-95)
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Hotel-Restaurant Obauer in Werfen (some 35 miles from Salzburg) is an establishment with a considerable tradition and history. The current Obauer generation, Karl (b. 1953) and Rudi (b. 1961), took over the family business in 1979. In the 1980's both brothers did stints at internationally acclaimed restaurants, such as Au Crocodile and Léon de Lyon (Karl), as well as Troisgros, Au Crocodile, Romeyer and Alain Chapel (Rudi). In the 1997 Europe guide, Michelin awarded Obauer two stars. They held on these two stars until they were demoted to one star in the 2008 guide for Austria. When this Michelin guide was discontinued in 2009, Obauer did not return in the Main Cities of Europe Guide. Not only the cuisine at Obauer has been revered in Austria for decades; the wine cellar is presided over by Austria's only Master Sommelier, Alexander Koblinger.

Obauer is open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu, a multi-course tasting menu (2 courses €45, 3 courses €60, 4 courses €80, 6 courses €120) and at lunch there's a set lunch menu (3 courses €35). I had lunch with my husband at Obauer on Wednesday 16 September 2015 and we both ordered the 6 course tasting menu. 

With our aperitifs a few nibbles arrived: a venison terrine with a soft mousse-like texture - a fish "krapfen" (a traditional Tyrolean deep-fried dumpling) with a hole in it and some pumpkinseed oil mayonnaise - a small piece of lamb brawn - polenta "sushi" with quince compote. Four nice bites, but with a lack of finesse in execution and presentation. If it had been dinner, I would have thought these bites had been sitting around since lunch. This was followed by nice amuse bouche of apple puree, creamy cauliflower espuma and a dehydrated apple crisp. 


The menu at Obauer offers some extra (signature) dishes, which can be ordered to extend the tasting menu or the replace a course in the menu. I replaced my first course with their signature foie gras dish (€ 19 supplement), which turned out to be a messy plate with four simple preparations of goose foie gras. There was a piece of pan-fried foie gras, seasoned with balsamic vinegar and sea salt; a slice of foie gras marinated with white wine and seasoned with sea salt; a cognac-flavoured foie gras terrine (too alcoholic); and a slice of foie gras lacquered with a medlar marmalade.

Second course was sturgeon, served at room temperature, with some coco beans, oxtail brawn, an indistinct sort of vinegary puree, and two pickled mushrooms, one of which was filled with a saffron yoghurt. Altogether an unfortunate series of things on a plate. The sturgeon was on the dry side, I did not really get the sturgeon and brawn combination, and the high level of acidity in this this dish was just overkill.

Slightly better was a dish of pork cheeks (first brined, then braised), served with pork jus, a creamy mushroom sauce/soup, and a thin strip of pork crackling on the side. The cheeks were tasty, with a firm but tender texture and the pork jus was lovely. However, the dish had been seasoned with a lovage-like herb, which turned out to be quite a dominant flavour. 

Next we were served lumps of fennel ice, passing as a granita. Flavourwise this "palate cleanser" wasn't a joy either. After two tiny spoonfuls I decided not to finish it, but still all I could taste for the next 10 minutes were dire, overly sweet liquorice flavours.

Main course was a sad affair of sous-vide cooked pigeon, coated with a rather sweet pigeon jus, and served with a sour cherry compote and a "Gewürzapfelstrudel". Tastless pigeon with a weird texture - it could have been dark chicken meat for all I know. The flavours of the strudel, which was filled with a spiced crumb mixture, were nice, but unfortunately the casing was not as crisp as it should have been.

Time for cheese. Now, what could possible go wrong with cheese, right? On the plate were four cheeses, including a lovely "Frischkäse" and a 20-month-old hard cheese, but somehow an overpowering, dry herb pesto/oil had made its way onto the plate, and an unpleasant acidic cep and vinegar dressing had been spooned over the Frischkäse. Puzzling.

Dessert was a slice of mocha mousse and cake "Torte", covered with a thin layer of dark mocha jelly. Also on the plate was buttermilk ice cream, blackberries coated with a thick blackberry syrup, a small chocolate pave, and a milk crisp. Nice enough, but the buttermilk ice cream didn't add anything to this dessert.

Austria's highest scoring restaurants in the 2015 edition of the Gault Millau Austria guide are Steirereck in Vienna, Rosa Alpina in St. Kassian, Simon Taxacher in Kirchberg and Obauer. Each of these restaurants has 19 points (out of 20) and 4 toques (out of 4; the only guide to award 5 toques is the French guide). I have had excellent meals at both Steirereck and Simon Taxacher, yet this was a car crash meal with deeply disappointing cooking on all levels, also considering the price tag (€139 per person, excluding drinks and tip). A restaurant as illustrious as this, run by chefs whom Gault Millau awarded the accolade of "Chefs of the Decade", should have served me a far better meal. This was a series of confused dishes, that were distinctly below par or average at best, and in which balance, finesse and harmony were conspicuously absent.

Posted 28-10-2015


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