21 March 2013
Last time I was in Vienna I couldn’t snag a table at the much-lauded Steirereck im Stadtpark — and had that god-awful experience at the god-awful Österreicher im MAK instead. This time I made sure such calamitous situation didn’t happen, and I managed to arrange a booking well in advance for this 2-Michelin institution. On the train from Schwechat I saw an article in the Österreich tabloid about how it came joint first as best restaurant in Vienna at 99 of 100 points in a local guide (with Silvio Nickol).
It was a windy and crisp evening as I walked into the Stadtpark…it seems I’m the only person in Vienna not wearing a heavy coat; I wasn’t wearing anything except a suit, and people were puzzled on why I wasn’t cold — especially since I was standing outside tweeting…
Steirereck is in a cute building in the middle of the Stadtpark, and I wandered in just as it was opening for dinner service for my 1830 booking. I was given a very nice seat at the side that seemed like a throne — one from which I looked out at the rest of the restaurant in a panorama. It was early so service was extremely attentive.
I relaxed with a local sparkling and smiled, hoping this evening will be a continuation of my surprisingly good day in Vienna. The menu soon presented itself and immediately I was both impressed and perplexed… Usually, even in top restaurants, I have dishes fly out at me from the menu. But from the list of ingredients listed I was now totally stuck…not just between the degustation and the a la carte, but also between the pair of choices on the degustation side… Now that’s impressive.
I then opted for the degustation and made my choices to the approval of the waiter. Some of the dishes are notable for me as they feature trumpet mushrooms, which I love, so I opted for them. As I enjoyed the rest of my sparkling, the first of the amuse-bouche arrived.
There is a love of citrus at this restaurant, apparently, and the start was just that. Very tangy and nice, a good start for the night. Then the second came in a very garden-looking display…
This reminded me of a similar AB at Die Quadriga in Berlin, although the non-starred Die Quadriga version was much better and visual. I was also hinted best not to eat the supporting greens…
At this point the huge bread cart arrived…I have never seen such a selection of breads, a choice amongst more than a dozen different breads. I immediately felt hooked to the bread with black pudding (!!!) — and was told it was a perennial favourite. I also had some with crackling (!!!), and finally some “beer” bread. I’m sorry I should have taken photo of the bread cart, but I was drooling and shaking!
My server nodded with approval, saying my choice was the “breakfast for real men” — lol! It says a LOT that I skipped the bread with bacon! I was so in love with this place by now…and I’m *not* a bread person!
The last of the amuse-bouche arrived, an oyster-centric treat. A nice final palate-pleaser before the main production began. Good timing, as my sparkling was just about drained.
The restaurant was getting busier now, and some larger parties were coming in. By then I was receiving my first course, based on salsify. They were nice enough to present cards with full description of the components, so you can see for yourself.
With a paired local white it was terrific. The salsify was excellent, as was the goat cheese. I particularly enjoyed the toasted chia seeds, but the marrow was somewhat flavourless. But all together in one bite it was a great combination. I was very happy so far.
Unofrtunately, that all came to a rather crashing halt on my second dish, which was based around the endive, but featured the wood sorrel…
The fried sorrel were soggy and tasted like they’ve been sitting around, the mushrooms were nearly non-existent. There were 2 razor-thin translucent slices of king trumpet and the diced sauteed ones just didn’t work — did not needed to be diced as it loses its natural charm. I was particularly unhappy with some poor planning and poor execution on this dish, and was the only dish I did not finish (not by a longshot). What a shame…and I hinted this to service staff.
Dish number three was one the waiter was particularly excited about, but it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It was based on the local “mountain” trout, which is considered an exotic breed with good marbling.
Sadly, I didn’t sense much of it, as it tasted rather plain. Perhaps the “branding” didn’t help by messing with the temperature? It came out rather “room temperature” which was the worst of both worlds… In addition they skimped on the trumpet mushroom yet again. I was starting to lose faith quickly in this kitchen. Whoever did the first dish was good and the following ones have major execution issues… I don’t like to use words like “skimping” when it comes to a 2-Michelin restaurant…
And even more worrisome I noticed the pourings of the paired wines have been extremely ungenerous…they barely lasted half the courses at this stage… Never a good sign… #skimping
I was not expecting too much when the next dish came, the duck. However I was pleasantly surprised with this one.
The very flavourful duck was cooked perfectly and the selection of sprouts and shoots were absolutely fantastic. One criticism, the coating on some of the duck was frightfully awful, just ruined the texture of the tender meat. I wiped them off the duck and it was fantastic. And you really do need to serve this with sharper knives without just tearing the meat up messily. Maybe wee re-think on this one? Again, too little wine…
The next course was the lamb, and this was just utterly beautiful…
I have to say this was one of the best lamb dishes I’ve had in many years. The lamb was extremely flavourful even at medium (as chef recommended), with enough fat to bring out the best of this dish. It seriously revived my hopes for this kitchen.
By now the short pours have really bothered me and I asked for a second glass of wine (and they didn’t charge me extra, to their credit). And the restaurant was now packed, and service has become noticeably stretched. Not good in a 2-Michelin place, sadly. Not the staff’s fault, more managerial fail here.
As I chose to skip the 6th dish and cheese, my dessert based on the calamansi came out.
But at the same time they sent another dessert, based on the medlar, out to me — to make up for the poor sorrel dish. (BTW sorry about the shadow in the photos…there was a big light behind me all night…)
As nice as that is, bringing two desserts out — both with quickly-melting ice cream — was perhaps not the best idea. It was hard to enjoy both before it was all melted. The calamansi was nice, over a bed of walnut and chocolate gratings. The crepes on the other plate was nice too.
I was having mixed thoughts about this restaurants, noting the inconsistencies (especially in execution and service) — which really shouldn’t happen at a 2-Michelin place. As I enjoyed a nice red pear spirit and espresso, it made me wonder why this place got 2 and some places more deserving got only 1 and some extremely deserving ones (such as Ylajali in Oslo and Die Quadriga in Berlin) did not get anything. If this is a 2, Maaemo in Oslo should be a 4-star place. Shows a major bias in the Michelin system.
They brought out some candied citrus for a closer off yet another impressive cart. I have to say the production of this place was fantastic and is very show-off’ish, from the big bread cart-from-heaven to the tea/herb cart to the citrus cart. And even the loos…the craziest gents I’ve seen in ages (for decorum purposes…this is a food review after all…I won’t post the picture of the neon-green urinal pod here). But what I take away, aside from the amazing bread with black pudding and the lamb, is this restaurant’s inconsistency.
It was good, and I had a nice time, but it needs some quality control to even things up to keep its high standards running throughout the dining experience.
Steirereck im Stadtpark
Am Heumarkt 2A, im Stadtpark