★ Steirereck Restaurant, Vienna

Our gastronomic journey in Austria continued with our visit to Steirereck Restaurant – a Michelin 2-Star restaurant and the highest ranked restaurant that we ever visited so far in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (ranked #9 in 2013).

The flourishing flora and fauna encased on the ceiling of the restaurant immediately caught our attention once we entered the grand and elegantly designed dining hall – photo below was taken after most guests had left after they finished their meal. When we arrived the place was fully booked even on a Monday night.

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We had the Tasting Menu (6-7 courses) with wine pairing and the well-thought menu made us felt as if we had embarked on an enchanting garden tour. Starting with some light snacks – pear, white carrot with mushroom (the server had to inform us to only eat only the sliced crisps sitting on the decorative mushroom).

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We were amazed by the elaborated bread cart presented to us comprising of a wide selection of breads. After listening to a whole list of options available, I chose a few that caught my attention namely one with Lavender and one with sunflower seeds. Although the selection was aplenty, I needed to save stomach space for the dishes to come. The last amuse bouche was served – again another crunchy and refreshing snack, I think it was radish with seaweed (didn’t had time to note down).

Thankfully the restaurant provided small description placards for each of the dishes in our menu to be displayed on the table before serving the dish.  The cards included the name of the dish, description of ingredients used and also further explanation on some of the more uncommon ingredients. This considerate arrangement is something very rarely seen in other fine dining restaurants and we often had to test our memory skills when the server explains the dishes. After checking with the server, we were happy to be able to bring home these placards as souvenirs.

There were 2 options for each course in the tasting menu and we elected to have different dishes for our respective courses so that we could sample more variety. Our first course were: ‘Schwarzauer’ Mountain Trout with Melon, Cucumber and Etiolated Pea Shoots and Gillardeau Oysters with Celery, Celeriac, Tamarind & Almond.

As printed on the info card – The ‘Schwarzauer’ Mountain Trout: A forgotten trout variety with a firm, yet tender, flesh. The fish stores it fat evenly within its muscles giving the flesh a melt in the mouth consistency. I especially liked the pickled cucumber which brought out the freshness of the fish. The dish was paired with 2012 Weingut Hajszan-Neumann Gemischter Satz Riede Weissleiten – a Viennese wine specialty that must be a blend of at least three grapes.

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The oyster dish had a distinctive earthy taste due to the extensive use of Celeriac and complemented by the nutty taste of roasted almonds.

Second course were: Puntarella with Woodruff, Sweet Potato & Sea Buckthorn and Jerusalem Artichoke with Pak Choi, Pea Shoots & Viennese Snails. The service staff brought out a display of Puntarella to show us how it looked like and we were fascinated by this odd-looking plant. The puntarella had a texture similar to asparagus and the creme had an overwhelmingly strong sweet potato taste. The dish was paired with a 2011 Pinot Blanc ‘Leithaberg’, Prieler – another delicate and crisp white wine that I enjoyed.

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Compared to the strong flavoured sweet potato creme, the flavours of Jerusalem Artichoke with Pak Choi, Pea Shoots & Viennese Snails was a lot more subtle. The snails were thinly sliced and buried under the chopped jerusalem artichoke.

By now we were impressed by the many cooking methods used by Chef to prepare “vegetables” and the large array of unique ingredients sourced.

Third course were: Duwicker Carrot with Mandarin, Chicory and Tench and Grayling with Golden Beets, ‘Abate Fetel’ Pear & Parsnip (top left and top right photo). The duwicker carrot had a unique texture different from the normal carrots, I thought the texture felt like potato – perhaps cos it was cooked in mandarin juice and then partly dehydrated. This dish was paired with 2011 Rajnai Rizling, Villa tolnay / Badacony, Hungary.

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We were delighted with the perfectly pan-fried Grayling that had a thin crisp skin with firm & moist flesh. I liked the sweetness and crunchiness of the ‘Abate Fetel’ pear & golden beet chutney. As printed on the info card – Grayling is the king of freshwater fishes. The meat is tender and smells delicately of thyme.

Fourth course were: Kale with Macadamia Nut, Cornel Cherry & Pogusch Lamb and Salsify with Coconut, Powidl & Perigord Truffle (bottom left and bottom right of photo above).  The lamb was tender and cooked to minimal hint of gaminess, perhaps also helped by the astringent flavour of the cornel cherry sauce. The dish was paired with 2011 St. Laurent ‘Altenberg’, Pfaffl / Stetten – a red wine to match the gamey meat.

Admittedly I had googled for what is Salsify when I first saw this dish…”Salsify: is a root vegetable belonging to the dandelion family, salsify is also known as the oyster plant because of its oystery taste when cooked.” The cucumber with coconut combination was matching as both are said to have “cooling” properties. The fragrant aroma of perigord truffle added the finishing touch to this refreshing dish.

Fifth course was Braised and Roasted Milk-fed Veal with Nasturtium Root, Wold Broccoli & Mint (serves 2). Paired with 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, E.Triebaumer/Rust – I always have a soft spot for Cabernet Sauvignon cos of its richness and oak flavour. Back to the dish, I preferred the soft shredded braised veal’s tail to the roasted loin. Loved the crunchy nasturtium root and the flavoursome veal braising jus.

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Sixth course was choice of selected cheeses from Meierei or Sweetened Vanilla – ‘Fresh Cheese’ with Physalis & Cereals.  As we are not cheese people, we opted for the latter dish. As printed on the info card – ‘Fresh Cheese’: a cheese which has no rind and has not been aged. The fresh cheese was served on a flour sieve before it was sliced using a fine thread/line and adding the preserved & dried Physalis and ‘whey’ sorbet. I absolutely enjoyed this sweet variation of the normally savoury fresh cheese.

Seventh & the final course were: Quince with Burnt Milk & Lavender and Chicory with Nashi Pear and Walnut. The burnt raw milk & lavender ice-cream was another delightful dessert. The milky flavour was well-balanced with a tinge of citrusy quince and mild whiff of lavender.

The acquired taste of chicory root which has a smokey, bitter flavour didn’t go down well with my palate… It strongly reminded me of licorice – something that I don’t like as well. To match the strong flavoured dessert, it was paired with an intensely sweet 1988 Beerenauslese Rulander, Stefan Schneider / Illmitz.

While we didn’t try the cheese, we did however saw the huge variety of cheese available when staff pushed the cheese cart to other guests – and that is only the top tier, there is another drawer below displaying the cheese. 

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We ended our meal with a selection of paper-thin sliced dried citrus fruits from Schönbrunn Palace Orangery. Being someone who suffers uncontrollable adverse reaction from sourness…these pretty citrus crisps (the blood orange one looked exceptionally colourful) were so innocent looking but they took me by surprise and made me cringe and shrivel upon my first bite… I even felt my tears dribbled down my cheeks!!! I needed to quickly gobble down the sweet delights to counter the ‘potent’ sourness.

It took us 3 hours to finish our dinner and its time to visit the washroom for another magical experience…the washroom in Steirereck is one of the most artistic & interesting one I’ve ever visited. Although it seems like the wash basin area theme was consistent with the “flora” theme at the restaurant, it’s vibrant colours was a great contrast to the “fine-dining” ambience at the dining hall.

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For guys, you can relieve yourself in a ultra-sleek futuristic “fixture”. For ladies you can enjoy washing your hands from the fountain of water spewing out at the side of the basin and activate the hand soap dispenser by placing your hands into the “receptacle” of the flower. I felt as if I’ve accidentally barged into the set of “Alice in Wonderland”…

This marks the end of my enthralling visit to Steirereck. I was impressed by Chef’s commitment to sourcing and promoting the use of sustainable produce. The interesting dishes here changed my perception of “boring vegetables” and I see them in different light now.

With the wine pairing, we were also able to taste a variety of Austrian wines. Through the tastings, I’ve gained a lot more knowledge about the grape varieties commonly used to produce wines in Austria.

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This entry was posted in Austria, ★ Michelin Star Restaurant, ☆ Michelin Star Chef, Degustation Menu, International, Restaurant, World's Top 50 Restaurant and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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