There are a lot of first-class aspects of Austria but the typical person wouldn’t think the culinary scene is one of them. Thoughts of schnitzel and goulash come to mind but world-class dining? Not so much.
That mindset, however, is quickly becoming outdated. Nowadays, Vienna is ripe with some first-rate restaurants and Steirereck is leading the new wave. Heinz Reitbauer’s chic venue has earned a couple of Michelin stars, as well as the No. 10 spot on San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017.
We made the journey to sink our teeth into their creative cuisine, and it was nothing short of splendid. Now that means that there’s just one more reason to visit Vienna.
A Modern Setting
In a city laced with architectural wonders, Steirereck fits the modus operandi. The restaurant, which originally opened in 1917, is now housed in a gorgeous glass cube located in Stadtpark. It’s part of the Chef Reitbauer’s initiative to modernize the restaurant after he took over from his parents.
Inside is a minimalistic design with highlights of wood and white. The dining room is sleek and spotless. The floor-to-ceiling windows welcome in plenty of light but my favorite aspect was that the windows actually open. It was a bit toasty inside as the late summer sun beamed in but the waitress had a remote to electronically open the window almost all the way up. In a matter of moments, I felt like I was moved from dining indoors to dining the park.
You’re likely to be greeted by Birgit at some point as she runs the front of the house. She leads the service, which is warm, welcoming, and operates with Austrian efficiency.
It’s All In The Cards
One of my favorite aspects of eating at the top restaurants in the world is that the dishes have stories behind them. The waiter comes by, presents you with a piece of art, and illustrates a story as to how the unique ingredients came together.
Sometimes those details can go over your head, as there is a lot presented to you. Steirereck has a lovely solution: little cards are delivered with each course. Each lists the details of the dish and share a story related to its conception. Not only does it ameliorate the experience, but you can also take them home as a souvenir to keep and reminisce.
House Of Carts
Steirereck is a house of carts and that’s one of the really fun parts of dining there. They’ll wheel by throughout the meal and you can’t help but be distracted by the offerings. There’s the bread cart, the tea cart, the cheese cart, the honey cart, and more.
The bread cart feels like a welcoming tasting menu of its own as there are so many options to choose from. From the twice-baked sourdough to the blood sausage loaf, this is not the day to cut out carbs.
For dessert, you have the option of choosing from the cheese or honey cart. ‘And’ is better than ‘or’ in this case, but if you have to choose – while the array of cheeses is phenomenal – the honey selection is something you won’t see almost anywhere else in the world. The restaurant is passionate about this sweet and even has a beehive inhouse in the warmer months.
Sticking with the bee theme, the signature item on the menu is the char cooked in beeswax. In the middle of your previous course, the raw fish will be delivered on a small plate. After it’s presented, the server then pours liquid beeswax (very hot) over the fish. As you continue to eat, the hot liquid not only cooks the char but then hardens itself. That’s the entire cooking process.
Afterwards, the fish is then taken to the kitchen to peel out of the waxy shell, and is then plated with yellow carrot, pollen, and sour cream.
Catering To Different Crowds
A lot of high-end Michelin-starred restaurants are very strict in terms of their tasting menus. Many only offer that route as they want the customer to have the whole experience. What I enjoyed about Steirereck is that they offered a number of options, which allows them to cater to different crowds.
The seven-course tasting menu is a reasonable 152 Euros while lunch is more approachable at 95 (four courses). You can also order a la carte, so if you want to do just one or two items, that’s an option.
Many of these multiple Michelin-starred restaurants tend to shy away from that because they like to put on a show. What ends up happening, though, is that locals don’t frequently venture in there such as at Copenhagen's Noma. Steirereck purposely has options on their menus so that they can offer a special culinary experience for those who are looking for a show while also finding a way to cater to locals who are returning for a couple of courses.