Review: Restaurant Steirereck, Vienna Austria

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Special occasions ought to be celebrated with a special meal. In 2014, I went to O Bar and Dining for my birthday, two years before that I went to Rockpool on George. I knew that we were going to be Vienna for my birthday in November 2015, and so I booked K and I in for a fancy birthday lunch at Restaurant Steirereck, named at number 15 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

I didn’t know much about the restaurant’s ethos prior to our meal, and really only knew the basics from its blurb on the World’s 50 Best website – farm to fork eating, modern Austrian cuisine, chef and owner trained by Joel Robuchon. What I didn’t expect was to have a mind-blowingly amazing meal, on par with my experiences at The Fat Duck Melbourne and Sepia.

It started on arrival as we were shown in and seated at a table that had a subtle “Happy Birthday” message under the tablecloth – a nice little surprise. It continued with excellent service, immersion of the diner into the meal, a slight touch of theatre, and true attention to detail. Sometimes it’s the little things that really enhance the experience, like how Steirereck places a little card describing the upcoming course to you, allowing you to better appreciate the origins of what you’re eating.

What I loved most about Steirereck was its traditional service, an interesting choice in what is otherwise a very modern building. A highlight of this traditional service was the use of specialised ‘carts’ to accompany different parts of the dining experience:

  • An aperitif cart for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to accompany your meal (wines are offered separately)
  • A bread cart, featuring 30 different breads from seven different bakeries located around Vienna. Choose as many or as few as you want!
  • A cheese cart, featuring 55 different cheeses from a variety of different regions. The selection of smelly cheeses is particular impressive and
  • A tea cart, featuring not only a number of canisters of dried tea leaves from around the world, but also a number of pot plants grown on the rooftop of the restaurant. On request, the waiter could create a custom blend of tea with snippings from these pot plants.
  • A petit fours cart mimicking the structure and sounds of a bee hive, in line with the honey theme of all the petit fours.
  • A digestif cart which we didn’t take part in, but which featured a number of bottles of liquors to suit any taste.

What I also liked is how they catered to those who don’t drink alcohol. I’ve already mentioned how disappointing it was that a restaurant like L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon didn’t offer a good range of non-alcoholic drinks, so it was a pleasant surprise that Steirereck is much more thoughtful in that area. When I initially turned down the aperitif offered by the waiter, he followed up with “I do have a non-alcoholic option if you prefer?” and made me a fantastic spritzy berry aperitif.

Along the same lines, the tea trolley was one of my personal highlights of the meal. I was a bit surprised when the waitress asked if we wanted tea or coffee to finish the meal, then walked away after I asked for tea. Was she going to just give me a generic tea without asking what specific tea I would like? Imagine my surprise when the sommelier rolled up the tea trolley and proceeded to give us a sniff sample of each of the pot plants – the chocolate mint plant was particularly delectable, but I opted for a more refreshing citrus blend instead, including sprigs of lemongrass. That attention to detail, and commitment to the freshest ingredients for a fantastic individualised experience is simply superb.

The dishes were, naturally, simply delectable. My personal highlight was the Char with Beeswax, where a piece of char is cooked right in front of your eyes through ‘baking’ in hot beeswax, which leave the piece of char with a glossy firm white flesh. I also loved the look and subtle taste of K’s Chioggia Beets, with its delicate combination of colours and flavours. The dishes were simple in the sense that they used simple, homegrown or otherwise locally sourced ingredients, but each dish was exquisitely put together with both visual and palate appeal.

I can highly recommend Restaurant Steirereck as an amazing restaurant for a fantastic dining experience. We went for a special occasion and had a larger lunch menu with more courses, but it looks as though they’re very open to having people go in for casual one-course lunches, as there seemed to be a number of people who go in for shorter business lunches for only an hour. Steirereck is one in a million, and completely deserves their ranking in the World’s 50 Top Restaurants list.

The Lunch Menu

  • Appetisers including marinated celery in shoyu, cucumbers in eucalyptus powder and sour cream, baby sweet corn, fried soy milk
  • First Course: ‘Schwarzauer’ Mountain Trout with Melon, Cucumber and Etiolated Pea Shoots AND Char with Beeswax, Yellow Carrot, ‘Pollen’ and Sour Cream
  • Second Course: Chioggia Beets with Roses, Porcini Mushrooms & Verbena AND Gulash from Alpine Beef with Leek-Bread Roulade and Pickled Vegetables
  • Third Course: Venison with Squash, Baby Artichokes & Orange Blossom AND Cat Fish Poached in Coconut Milk with Coconut Farina, Porcini and Water Chestnuts
  • Fourth Course: Quince with Burnt Milk & Lavender AND Apricot Soufflee with Amaranth and Lemon Verbena
  • Petit Fours

Restaurant Steirereck is located at 2A Am Heumarkt im Stadtpark, Vienna.

Review: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Saint-Germain, Paris

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Joel Robuchon is known as one of the leading luminaries of the international culinary world. With restaurants located in top cities around the world, it’s become a feather in the cap for many people to be able to say that they’ve eaten at a Joel Robuchon restaurant in Paris, Hong Kong, London, Las Vegas, Tokyo… We joined that elite group when we were in Paris, with lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Saint-Germain. I had originally thought about booking for L’Atelier in Etoile instead as its website listed a budget-friendly set lunch menu, but after advice to book for Saint-Germain instead, I decided to bite the bullet.

Truth be told with hindsight, I do wish that I had booked for Etoile instead – a $43 Euro per person set lunch (amuse-bouche, entree, main, cheese or dessert) would have been a lot more budget-friendly than the $271 Euro ($400 AUD!) we ended up paying for lunch for two people. Providing that it’s a similar menu and of a similar standard, I would advise the budget-friendly amongst us to consider booking for L’Atelier Etoile instead of L’Atelier Saint-Germain in the future.

As you enter the restaurant, you’re shown to your seat. While there are some normal tables in the back of the restaurant, all guests for the lunchtime service are seated around the high bar that goes around the whole restaurant. There are some benefits to this seating arrangement, with the key one being the ability to see into the open kitchen and see the chefs at work. At the same time though, you lose some intimacy as a special occasion lunch with your loved one becomes a shared experience with the ten other people seated around the bar.

The first disappointment of the meal came with the drinks. Wine is easy to order in France, even if the extensive wine menu at L’Atelier made it hard for K to narrow down his choice. Non-alcoholic beverages are a lot harder to order in restaurants though, and the main offerings are soft drinks or juices. Unlike Tetsuya’s or Sepia who offer a tea pairing, or Fat Duck who offer a juice/tea pairing, the bar staff at L’Atelier simply offered me an orange/grapefruit juice mix. Not quite the five star experience I was hoping for!

What did the actual meal look? We opted away from the degustation menu (couldn’t justify close to $200 Euro per person with drinks!), and ordered a few individual dishes instead.

  • Shared Tapas-style small plates / Entrees
    • L’Aubergine – confite en mille-feuille a la mozzarella et au basilic ($26 euro)
    • Le Jambon “Iberico de Bellota” – escorte de pain toaste a la tomate ($29 euro)
    • Le Pigeon – en supreme au chou et au foie gras ($43 euro)
  • Mains
    • La Morue – fraiche en imprime d’herbs aux sucs de legumes et basilic ($49 euro)
    • Le Foie de Veau – aux rouelles d’oignon croustillantes et son jus acidule ($49 euro)
  • Dessert
    • La Sphere – en chocolat aux fruit de la passion ($19 euro)

The language-adept amongst us will no doubt be looking at that second listed main dish and marvelling at our bravery in ordering veal liver. Readers, all I can say is that I played no part in that decision, and K ended up kicking himself for not picking up the fact that ‘foie’ meant liver. Neither of us are big fans of offal – while we can stomach it (ha ha!), it’ll never be our first choice. K gallantly offered to eat the whole rare liver by himself so that I wouldn’t have to, and painfully ate bite after bite until it was finished. At $49 euro for the dish, he couldn’t bear to let it go to waste even though he wasn’t enjoying it!

The other dishes of our lunch were much more satisfying. K loved the salty savoury Iberico jamon (a nice precursor to the time we would spend in Spain!) with its little palate cleanser of a tomato salsa on toast. He particularly liked watching the chefs  in the open kitchen carving our slices straight from the giant leg of jamon which must be worth at least $4000 AUD!

I was a little disappointed in my first choice of the aubergine for entree – although it was a fantastically tasty dish with lovely fresh mozzarella and smokey grilled veggies, I didn’t feel as though it warranted the price tag. The pigeon was a much better choice – although pricier, the presentation of the dish was just stunning, and it was particularly helpful that the kitchen divided the single serve onto two plates so that K and I could share the entree more easily.

What really sold me was the small serve of the house specialty mashed potato which was presented to us initially for the pigeon, with a second serve offered for the main course as well. It’s ridiculously buttery, creamy and more-ish, so much so that I would even venture to say that there’s more butter and cream in the dish than potato. Needless to say, I scooped up every last mouthful of this delicious mashed potato!

I loved the presentation of my morue, or cod fillet, with the printed dumpling skin on top to dress it up as a springtime dish. It was really flavourful and more-ish as I started eating it, however the intensity of the broth increased dramatically with every mouthful, meaning that the latter half of the dish was far too salty. I have found that though with many restaurants that we’ve visited while in Europe, where the salt shaker seems to have been used far more liberally than in Australia.

By far the stand-out dish of the whole meal was the dessert, which drew oohs and aahs from our fellow diners as it was brought out to us and finished off at the table. The white chocolate and passionfruit sphere had the mist of liquid nitrogen billowing around it, which was further enhanced when hot passionfruit syrup was poured over the whole dish, melting the chocolate and creating a delicious little island of tropical chocolate dessert. Absolutely stunning!

Overall even though we loved the dessert, I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t amazed or blown away by our dining experience at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Some bad menu choices may have contributed, but I don’t feel as though it was value for money. If we had gone in 2012 when the AUD was strong against the Euro, the exchange rate may have made it a more worthwhile meal – as it was, I think we had better meals for a much lower price, with even De Jonge Dikkert in Amsterdam being a better meal.

Review: Sokyo, Pyrmont

One of the most budget-friendly ways of trying a fancy restaurant is to go at an unconventional time, or for a faster meal. The pre-theatre dining option at most hatted restaurants in Sydney combine these two options, with a specific 5.30pm to 7pm sitting that gets you fed quickly before rushing you out the door to ensure that you can get to your seat in the theatre in time. Sokyo in The Star casino complex does a great $55 three-course pre-theatre dining option. Drinks and dessert are extra, but $55 isn’t bad when you consider that ordering off the regular a la carte menu could set you back an easy $150 per person.

sokyo-01

K and I recently took advantage of Sokyo’s fantastic pre-theatre option before a performance of Matilda the Musical (which incidentally, is a fantastic show so go and see it while it’s still showing in Sydney!). I’d been wanting to visit Sokyo for a while, especially after rave reviews from everyone I know.

Salmon Ssamjang with red shiso, ginger, ssamjang dressing
Salmon Ssamjang with red shiso, ginger, ssamjang dressing

The first course offered in the pre-theatre menu is a sashimi course. There’s three options on the menu, and I opt for the Salmon Ssamjang – thinly sliced, lightly seared slices of salmon with the most amazing spicy Korean-style dressing. It’s deceptively simple, but the spice really makes it something special.

Tuna Umami with choya umeshu, garlic soy umami
Tuna Umami with choya umeshu, garlic soy umami

K orders the Tuna Umami, which comes dressed with Choya branded plum-flavoured umeshu. While there’s only a very subtle hint of alcohol in the tuna dressing, it really lifts the whole dish.

Hibiscus mocktail and Phillip J Fry cocktail
Hibiscus mocktail and Phillip J Fry cocktail

We decided to get a drink each as well, outside of the pre-theatre menu. A Futurama fan, K opted for the Phillip J Fry cocktail, while I chose to have the Hibiscus mocktail. The cocktail was quite tropical in nature, with a healthy dash of pineapple juice that went extremely well with the yuzu. My Hibiscus mocktail was really refreshing, with a mint and lime twist.

Red snapper tempura with coriander salad, black pepper chilli vinegar, and Cuttlefish tempura with chilli de arbot, tarragon ponzu sauce
Red snapper tempura with coriander salad, black pepper chilli vinegar, and Cuttlefish tempura with chilli de arbot, tarragon ponzu sauce

The second course of the Sokyo pre-theatre menu is tempura. I chose Cuttlefish Tempura, and K chose the Red Snapper Tempura. I always think that tempura is particularly difficult to get right. Done wrong, the batter is too thick and gluggy, or the tempura is too oily. Sokyo gets it right though, with an incredibly light and barely-there batter, and light and tangy dipping sauces. Even the cuttlefish is nice and soft, without that overcooked chewiness that it can sometimes have in other restaurants.

Mixed field greens and rice
Mixed field greens and rice

We’re served a green salad and a bowl of short-grain sushi rice each, to accompany our main meals to come. The dressing on the salad was just right – enough to lightly coat the leaves, but not drench them in oil. Serving the short grain sushi rice, flavoured lightly with rice vinegar and sugar, rather than the usual boring long-grain jasmine rice, was a nice touch as well.

Sea Scallops with Shio Koji sauce, wood ear mushroom and coriander
Sea Scallops with Shio Koji sauce, wood ear mushroom and coriander

My main of the Sea Scallops was a little overdone for my liking (I like my seared scallops verging on raw), but others would really enjoy the firm, plump texture and strong bold flavours of the scallops. I did enjoy it myself of course, just not as much as I would have if it had been slightly less well done!

Lamb Chop with Aonori & mint and chilli amazu
Lamb Chop with Aonori & mint and chilli amazu

K chose the Lamb Chop as his main, as he often complains that we don’t eat enough red meat at home so he orders it every time we dine out. I retorted that as we couldn’t possibly hope to replicate the soft tender smoky charred perfection of Sokyo’s lamb chop at home, we might as well give up before we even start!

Goma street (caramelised white chocolate, sesame ice-cream)
Goma street (caramelised white chocolate, sesame ice-cream)

I had to order the Goma Street dessert as soon as I saw it on the menu. I’m an absolute fiend for anything black sesame related, so although we hadn’t originally planned to have dessert at Sokyo, we ended up staying for this. It was a fantastic choice as well, with an ideal blend of sweeter chocolate, strong nuttiness of the black sesame, as well as the creamy smoothness of the ice-cream. It’s beautifully presented, though challenging for those who aren’t used to eating grey or black desserts!

Donatsu (pineapple mascarpone filling, creme fraiche ice-cream)
Donatsu (pineapple mascarpone filling, creme fraiche ice-cream)

K opted for the Donatsu dessert, pineapple cream filled doughnut morsels served with a sweet drizzling sauce and a creme fraiche ice-cream that was clean, crisp, and refreshing. The doughnuts by themselves were probably a tad on the sweet side, but partnered with the fresher ice-cream, it really hit the mark.

With drinks and dessert added on top of our $55 per person bill, we ended up spending closer to $200 as a couple once we added on a tip as well. Still, I think a visit to Sokyo for their pre-theatre menu is well worth it, especially if you’re planning on seeing Matilda the Musical over the next few months!

Sokyo Restaurant - The Darling at the Star Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato