The Steirereck, although in a different location, was once the home of the brilliant Helmut Oesterreicher. This chef cooked Austrian food of the highest order. He now advises the bistro of the MAK, where he serves traditional Viennese dishes of all sorts.
A few years ago, Heinz Reitbauer and his wife have taken over the Steirereck and moved to the picturesque Stadtpark. The restaurant now lies just off the Wien and has the huge advantages of having two different terraces and being completely surrounded by trees. One of the terraces is facing the river, the other the park. Also, under the main restaurant, lies a Meierei, a cheese shop, where you can go for a quick bite or some Viennese classics. The restaurant’s design is quite modern and funky. The interior sports a vivid red, and the toilets must be coolest after Sketch’s unbeatable eggs. I had the luck to be seated on the terrace, which is something you rarely have in a restaurant of that class.
The service was lovely and had the Austrian charm, which doesn’t exist anywhere else. One thing they do like here are carts. There is an aperitif cart, a bread cart, a mignardise cart and a cheese cart. That makes up quite a nice collections of, you name it-carts!
The bread here deserves mention. It comes from four different bakeries and some of the varieties are made in the kitchen. The types vary from day to day, according to what is best at the moment. Usually, you will find around 10-15 types, ranging from classic crusty sourdough to something more interesting as chestnut, wine-leave and hazelnut. Butter comes from the restaurant’s own cows and does taste very nice. The two types on offer are a salted one from Steiermark and an unsalted one from Kärnten. On top of this, you are allowed 1 (?!) « leaf » of basil butter.
This should be noticed too: It was the first time I came across a restaurant, which has it’s own sheep, cows, pigs. They raise them right next to their Wirtshaus am Pogusch in the Steiermark. To have access to all of these great natural products is a real luxury these days and does pay off, as I was about to see.
The wine list is done in co-operation with the Palais Coburg, a hotel which has one of the most impressive wine cellars in Europe. It sports a healthy number of Austrian and French top-producers at equally healthy prices. Especially for Austria, where you will normally find the prices in top restaurants to be slightly lower than those in London, Munich or indeed Paris.
To start the meal, I was offered a few crackers, which did look and taste very much like those you get offered in the Louis XV. The only amuse consisted of a few different “sandwiches” filled with a variety of creams: chervil, asparagus, cauliflower and lardo, avocado. All of them were very nice, but it seemed a bit je m’en foutiste. Compared with what you get in many top-restaurants around Europe, it was very poor indeed. Still, you have to acknowledge that the flavours were there and well balanced. Good.
Following this came the first course. With it, and this was a very nice touch, came a little card explaining all of the different elements. That way, those who care can find out about what they eat, and the rest, well forget the rest.
I started with Leicht gepökelte Kalbszunge & marinierte Krake mit Hagebutten-Schalotten. The veal-tongue was cut very thinly, and then wrapped around a shallot confit and marinated octopus. The whole thing sat atop very thinly cut celery and was drizzled with the juice of the octopus and Bengal-pepper. The quality of the products was excellent. The execution faultless too, it simply was very good. Simple but delicious. Unfortunately, I can hardly say that I was wowed or moved by the dish. It might have been the plating, that did not seem too careful or the absence of overwhelming taste explosions that tamed my praise for the dish. All in all it was very good.
To follow this I had another local product. Confierter Zander mit Zwiebel, Lauch & Schweins-Krust’l. The fish was confit and therefore very soft and tender, which you either like or not. The only kind of fish where I enjoy this cooking technique is salmon or tuna. Other types of fish do loose the lovely firmness they have. Especially, if it is something like Pike Perch, which can have a lovely texture (if fresh, which this one was). This personal taste issue apart, the fish was cooked perfectly in spiced oil and served with onions, filled with cream and leeks. The whole thing was topped with crunchy pork belly fat (ahhhh, divine!). Around it, the waiter poured a so-called “onion-spiced tea”. All in all, it was similar to the last dish: Delicious, simple and “easy” to eat and enjoy. Nothing too refined but perfectly executed with great local products. Very good. Of course, being a sucker for good pork in all forms and variations, I had to ask for a second helping of the pork crackling.
The next course was what I waited for: Gulasch vom Almochsen. Now you can write it as Gulasch, Gulyas, or whatever you might like. Fact is, the Gulasch here was delicious, excellent. The whole thing was just what I had hoped for: A refined Austrian classic, that every grandmother (Austrian grandmother, that is) does at home with great success made even better. They use a piece of ox, that I’ve not come across yet, but well in Austria you use a very large variety of very tasty cuts. The accompanying Semmel/Lauch roulade was fabulous to, as it was crunchy, soft, fluffy and well seasoned. It showed how much you can do with an age-old recipe. All in all this dish, which cost a mere 11euro, was probably worth coming for alone. Notice the sizeable portion though, which might be a bit rustic for a 2* restaurant. Excellent.
I decided not to have the classic Beuscherl, but: Gebratener Rücken vom Weide-Schwein mit warmem Wintersalat & Aromaten. Here, the product, once again, from their own farm, was great. Tender, tasty and simply succulent. The problem I had with this dish were the three little things that lay besides the huge pork chop. The gigantic portion of meat aside, nothing else was on the plate apart from these three little things, that did not really do anything. The jus was great, as was the turnip cannellono served a part. All in all, it would have been great to have a smaller piece of meat and some more expressive accompaniments, not just some visually unattractive little dots. Such big portions of a single cut of meat, not offering great textural variety do not make sense. Excellent for the meat, jus and turnip. Less so for the whole conception.
To finish off this rather filling meal, I had to choose the Oesterreich-Boehmische Mehlspeisen. This was one of the reasons to come to this restaurant so I had no other choice. To say that the plate looked rather uninspiring is the least. A massive tray filled with six little plates carried the various desserts. It would have made much more sense to serve them in little groups, giving you the time to eat the hot ones first, before the ice cream melts. Also, the plating seemed to have been done without any logic, or thought behind it. This just seems sloppy.The individual parts must be treated individually, as each was a different classically Austrian dessert.
On the top left was a Geeister Kaiserscharrn mit eingelegten Rum-Rosinen. Well, this didn’t have much to do with a real Kaiserschmarrn apart from being ripped into small pieces. In the end, it was vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a few horribly alcoholic raisins. Such a lot of alcohol with nothing to compensate for it doesn’t make much sense. This was very poor as not even the ice cream was of remarkable taste or texture.
To the right was something much better. Topfenknödel mit Zwetschkenröster. This was like what you’d expect from such a restaurant. The Knödel was light, tasty and the plum marmelade equally intensive. Excellent.
Further right still, was the Marillenpalatschinke. Now, unfortunately, this was another letdown. The crepe was supposed to be filled with abricots, but when opened I didn’t even find a hint of abricot. Aprat from that, cold crepes aren’t anything I particularly fancy being served in any restaurant. Poor again.
The fourth might have been the best: Gekochte Mohnnudeln mit brauner Butter. This was as good as the Knödel and showed how much you can achieve when carefully preparing these traditional dishes. I’d rather have had only this and the Knödel than have all of the other useless stuff. Excellent.
Right of it lay the Michlrahmstrudel mit Hollerkoch. I had this Strudel the day before in their Meierei and found it much better back then. Still, this was very good.
The last was the worst: Dirndltascherl mit Dirndlsauce und Dirndlgelee. I could not even tell what filled this little raviolo, which didn’t have much taste at all other than being straight out of the fridge. This, as a general remark, is one of the most annoying things that can happen to you in any good restaurant. Why can such well organised kitchens not get their preparations out of the fridge earlier so that the diner can enjoy the actual flavours of these? Poor, sadly again.
The petit-fours came on a huge cart, which sure looked very impressive, but couldn’t really deliver anything great. The macaron was very good, the rest of the pralines forgettable. They were cut in a very sloppy way, the kind of way one might do at home when preparing christmas sweets. It just seemed a little ridiculous to have a cart of that size carry a tiny selection of chocolates of equally tiny size.
I was somehow puzzled by this meal. It started much better than I had expected. The savoury dishes were tasty, delicious, well made and based on local ingredients. You simply can’t ask for more. The bread was fantastic I must admit. The only problem was, that problems appeared here and there. Some sloppy mistake here , some part served way too cold there. This is not acceptable from such a restaurant. The dessert was particularly disastrous. Had it been as well made as the Gulasch, I would have left the restaurant with only one wish: To return as soon as possible. This accumulation of poorly made dishes really didn’t make me want to come back anytime soon. Especially if you charge for couvert and a supplement for a dessert. I didn’t see any caviar, truffles, in it. Why charge a supplement then?
The last issue for me, was the plating. It seemed sloppy, not very well conceived and done without much attention or care put to it. It doesn’t take much effort to plate something reasonably nicely.
The positive sides have to be mentioned though. The meal was cheap. You can come here and eat for 50euro if you don’t have wine (or limit yourselves). However, at dinner, the prices look much more like those in any other big city. Also, the bread and service were great. Far better than that you often get elsewhere. Finally, some of the dishes, or parts of them were great.
The fact that the Steirereck is on the 30th position in the 50 best list shows only too well how ridiculous this list is. Where is Bau? Why are most of the Parisian 3*s either far behind the Steirereck or not even on the list?