Steirereck, Vienna 2014
You don't expect to find one of the worlds best restaurants in the middle of the Vienna city park (right next to the outdoor basketball court), but there it is. Steirereck has a proud tradition of constantly being on the top of the St Pelegrino top 50 best list, and when we were visting Vienna, we couldn't miss the opportunity to try it out.
The restaurant is managed by Heinz and Birgit Reitbauer. Heinz took it over from his father— making this restaurant almost an institution. Though, even if many old restaurants keep living on old merits, Steirereck is steaming full ahead. The restaurant was moved to the new location in 2005 (with a total remodelling), and when we visited they had recently finished a new complete overhaul of the exterior and interior of the restaurant. As the restaurant is located in the middle of the Vienna City park (Stadtpark) the new exterior of the restaurant reflects its surroundings (literally) by aluminum exterior with reflective metal facade blending in the restaurant well with the trees and scenery reflected. Though kind of futuristic, while still fitting into its surroundings, it also looks a bit like a giant spaceship :)
The interior is very cleverly designed (by architecture firm PPAG) with several alleyways and round shapes, giving the diner a sense of "intimacy" while still serving an impressive 80 diners. The new layout also takes advantage of the great views (the big windows can be opened up, essentially creating the feeling of "eating in the park"). (This however also made one of us have trouble finding our way back to our seat after being to the bathroom-- the dining room is much bigger than its experienced by the diner).
We're warmly welcomed by Birgit Reitbauer herself. She smiles and welcomes us as if we were entering her own home. We're seated by an older gentleman (that seems to be rather troubled that he needs to speak english with us; he doesn't give the same charming experience as Birgit ;)
The menu at Steirereck is a mix of either A'la carte, or a fixed course menu (with two options for every course). We're feeling a bit of "heritage" in the way the menu is presented, with several options for courses even at the fixed menu. We're used to simply choosing a menu and then have the dishes served to us. This way creates added pressure on the kitchen to get the orders right (and puts pressure on us as diners to pick the best dish, obviously a true first-world-problem).
The initial nibbles straight away indicates that we're in for a journey where we need to heighten our senses. We're served (among other things) cucumber cubes infused with cucumber juice, tonic water and eucalyptus with juniper and eucalyptus powder and cresses salad (soaked seeds), cooked cresses roots, cresses roots raw and pickled in verjus, nasturtium and blossom. This is light and delicate, clearly on another level than most other restaurants. The bar is set extremely high straight from the start.
We're pleasantly surprised that we're offered several types of beverages to start the meal off with (among others beer) instead of the normal question to start with a glass of champagne.
Something that initially caught my attention when looking for restaurants was the high praise for Steirerecks bread-serving. It's shelled in on a big "antique" stroller and presents an array of options to choose from. The server presenting the bread is very funny and lightens the mood in an otherwise rather "stiff" environment. It seems however that the architecture-remodelling of the dining room didn't account for the use of the old bread-stroller, which has to be precisely navigated to fit. To the bread we're served peach and popcorn butter (yes popcorn). This addition sets the restaurant apart from others. It's fun that they still keep this "schtick" of a way to present the bread serving.
The first dish of peas and kohlrabi with fermented milk and coriander is a great start. This is a perfectly composed dish that has both texture and flavour (and looks beautiful).
Each dish is presented with a card describing each ingredient used. We love this, as it gives a chance to understand the intricacies of the dishes (which would otherwise be lost on most diners). We're amazed by the care to every ingredient in the dish (and upon knowing how everything has been treated and handled, we start to try and taste it all-- but there's so much going on that we fail to do so).
Have a look at the detailed descriptions for the following dishes. As we read them, all we can say is "wow".
It's evident that much thought process has been given to each dish— it has all needed components to bring it all together, very impressive.
The service is friendly, but feels a little bit rushed at times. We like to chat with the servers, which pleasantly responds, but we're feeling they're anxious to get going to the next table. Strangely enough, the servers wear bright blue costumes out of linen, which clearly has a lot of wrinkles and generally gives a less refined look.
We can't find any faults with any of the dishes. Everything is perfectly cooked, and it feels like the kitchen can bring out consistently good food in a perfect pace. There's however no "star dish" that stands out among others. Everything is just "very good". Steirereck has a few "famous dishes" (for e.g. "Char with Beeswax, Yellow Carrot, "Pollen," and Sour Cream"), but they can only be gotten if chosen from the a'la carte menu (which is a shame).
If there's anything to complain about it's that the presentation of the food doesn't live up to the modernistic interior. The plates look old and the presentations would be better of with a bit of modernising (maybe that's the next step in the remodelling). Also, when we order still-water instead of sparkling, it's presented in a branded bottle and placed right in front of us. Did they buy this at the local supermarket? The table beside us which order sparkling water is given a custom made jug instead. If you pride yourself as a 2-michelin star restaurant, consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world— don't present water in a branded plastic bottle (on top of this, the water is added to the bill).
During the dinner, Birgit constantly checks in to see that we're having a good time. It's evident she's a perfect hostess— and she enjoys her work.
The deserts that follow are "true deserts" (and not just an afterthought) which is refreshing. We truly enjoy these dishes.
After the meal we're asked if we would like coffee or tea, and as Steirereck is famous for their "tea-cart" (just as their "bread-cart"), we can't resist. The server is back again (struggling to get the cart across the tables yet again) to lighten up the mood and create truly delicious fresh tea straight from the cart.
There's no question that Steirereck deserves its 2-michelin stars. The cooking simply is on another level. The dishes are composed of fantastic produce, and with an amazing hand for delicate flavour and finesse; and it's cooked to perfection. It's evident that there's still "tradition" held within these walls, even though everything is totally remodelled.
As we leave, we have a peak in the kitchen and have a chat with Heinz. We learn that many of the ingredients are taken from his own farm, and he gives great care to each produce used. It's also evident that the kitchen runs like clockwork— it's a truly impressive establishment the couple is running.
The Reitbauer couple is delighted that we've chosen to dine with them and so are we.