Steirereck, the half-centenarian from own farm to fork gastronomic refuge in Vienna’s Stadtpark was on my must dine wish list for years. While my expectations from the two Michelin starred restaurant were high, I was not let down. Once we got into the hard to reserve magnificent dining destination we had to come back as full-fledged connoisseurs of harmoniously innovative Viennese cuisine sourced responsibly, seasonally and cooked into impeccable concoctions of creative zest. For atmosphere it is best to dine in the glass, steel and trees reflecting restaurant in summer when the windows are open into the verdant park or in autumn when the leaves turn crimson warm.
The most romantic fine dining in Vienna
Set in the urban hive of outdoor pleasure in Vienna’s most central park, the family-owned, Pogush farm-based produce directed Steirereck im Stadtpark is a far more connected fine dining restaurant than the only local three star Amador. The later remotely directed by a renowned Spanish chef Juan Amador in an outskirts winery setting just had not impressed our taste buds at all.
The name comes from Steiermark (Styria) where the Reitbauer family comes from and the German word for a corner (Eck) because the first Viennese location was located on one until it moved in 2005 to this more prominent spot. The service is impeccable, friendly yet very professional. Approachable, eager to offer you more bread from its legendary bread trolley. The locally refined choices from the best bakeries in Vienna, one of the hallmarks of bread diversity in Europe, next to their own creations such as black pudding bun and the best seeded gluten-free bread I’ve had at a restaurant.
Steirereck im Stadtpark strikes a delicious balance of creativity and produce. We have also enjoyed countless delectable Viennese meals at its casual sister restaurant downstairs. Meierei im Stadtpark would deserve a star from the Michelin Guide.
Understated quality at Steirereck
The farm in Pogush (owned by Margarethe and Heinz Reitbauer) supplies both restaurants – Steirereck though gets the best cut. In the countryside Pogush, Styrian cuisine plays the high note at the farm’s inn restaurant. Ahead of the Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Manhattan, the Reitbauer Family created a truly whole feeding supply circle of farm to table experience in Austria. The art of hospitality is dear to the owners. “If you booked a room on a day from Thursday-Sunday a table will be automatically be reserved for you in our restaurant.” The chef is open to working with other Austrian farm or wild produce. Any time a stellar apple, wild game, or tomato passes by his palette, the menu proudly announces the location it was sourced from.
Vegetables in the spotlight
Upon our first visit, after a family bbq and heading to the meaty mountains, their vegetarian menu option lured me to balance my animal consumption. For vegetable lovers spring is the best season. Asparagus, May turnip, Albina Vereduna beet, kohlrabi, puntarelle and other greens brighten up the produce highlighting menu. Citrus fruits naturally acidify the plates.
My second meal at Steirereck I selected a la carte also some impeccable seafood. All the meat and fish are sustainably raised, wild-caught or hunted. The increasingly rare a la carte option is more flexible, and welcome for the seasoned diners frequenting gastronomic establishments regularly as we do. Anyway, sometimes you just feel like having a specific dish or three. What about an adventure with the unusual sisterhood of Caviar & Lentils with Banana & Bacon on the recent spring menu?
Austrian cuisine had already been a blend of Austro-Hungarian regional traditions, yet in the 21st century the cosmopolitan Vienna-based chefs donned a contemporary, artistic coat to whatever excellent produce grows and grazes around.
The ‘Marchfeld’ artichokes during my veggie tasting were so scrumptious that also a la carte most recently I relished another take on the young artichokes. Braised with madeira wine and thistle oil and others preserved with earl grey tea and bergamot citrus. These gently warm spiny flowery vegetables were further paired with bergamot thyme, savoury nettle chips, caper leaves, green (fresh) almonds and roman sorrel in an elegant chicken velouté. This was not a vegetarian dish as most of the vegetable-centric plates on the regular menu are about highlighting the garden produce, not about dietary restrictions. This is how vegetables were also traditionally embellished in the southern french cuisine by the iconic Michel Guèrard and Alain Ducasse still promote savvy simplicity of seasonal bounty. The French vegetable king Alain Passard in Paris also often pairs animal ingredients in tiny amounts to highlight the magnificent plants his two organic gardens yield. Liberated culinary art like any open creative pursuit does not have strict boundaries between the types of produce combined in a recipe. The focus is on anything that tastes great together goes.
Many other uniquely bred vegetable species shine on the menu. The Rosa bianca eggplant with Mieze Schindler strawberry (named after the breeder’s wife) were transformed into strawberry salt and also its juice with tomatoes. Served with steamed may turnip variety, pepperworth (had to google that slightly tingly one) emulsion, mustard greens (spicy leafy veggies) and Red Orache (seriously, I need an edible plants dictionary!) This mountain spinach from the amaranth family is grown as warn-weather alternative to spinach. At Steirereck you will expand your flavour vocabulary. The eggplant was first marinated with lime and the strawberry salt, grilled and then baked to softness and finished with an exotic depth of coffee oil. A marvellous dish!
The vegetarian menu included wholesome mushroom ‘Beuschel’, with forest perennial rye bread soufflé. Oh la la, delight assuring you won’t crave a pizza after the meal. A gently braised Fennel with bergamot and a slice like a tostada topped with herbs and crunchy rye croutons was lighter yet still substantial for the oil herb sauce added some welcome weight.
Sustainable produce of the land and the seas
From fishing rod to the plate come river or lake fishes like char, catfish, sturgeon, trout or eel. Even lesser known species like Perlfisch. Sometimes also sea or ocean bounty arrives on the carefully considered plates at Steirereck. Usually seafood like clams that are on the lower food chain and cannot be found in the proximity of the landlocked Austria. I relished the Venus clams honoured through delicate braising with vermouth and anise seed. The later further flavoured a flamed summer squash and so did dried perilla leaves (known also as shiso) in a unique concoction with preserved watermelon in scented oil. This sea meets the garden freshness swam in an emulsion reduced from the clam-watermelon creation. The fresh Mountain trout was served with kohlrabi, pineapple sage and mustard caviar.
The meat options always include some pork, more wildly-grazing breeds like Magalitza from Steiremark that are cooked with an utmost respect for the kill. Sustainable farming practices were the only acceptable option for the Reitbauer family and it stars in the quality. The recent Paprika chicken with herb gnocchi on the summer menu was a sublime version of a Czech dish I am familiar with.
Deserts are fruit-focused during their ripe season. Plums, strawberries, apricots, cherries, nectarines, sometimes combined with vegetal notes, but during summer usually light and refreshing. Beyond summer and autumn harvest, chocolate, local poppy seeds and by flour-defined pastry skills enter the sweet finale at Steirereck. The local Prater entertainment fair themed multi-desserts are laid from churros, cotton candy, and other sweet delights next to ripe fruit on ice for the tasting menu fanfare. Flavoured shaved ice was presented at the end of summer tasting to cool us off before walking off into the evening park. Of course there is a traditional cheese trolley with impeccable selections that is not to be missed if you can. Not that I want to encourage alcohol consumption but from my experience, an extra glass of wine with a long gastronomic meal somewhat miraculously fits more food in.
The wine cellar abounds with Austrian labels, some with good age, but overall has a global reach. The current head sommelier René Antrag understands well that “Guests now are more open to being surprised”, and it shows in the trust they put into going for a wine pairing. We like to combine both, so usually pick some well-priced bottle with reasonable age when it makes sense and then according to the food we choose one or two extra glasses not just from the menu but also from the daily changing pairing. In Austria we tend to go with local or a German white wine because they suit the cuisine, however updated to contemporary style.
In front of you is placed with each course a small card with a detailed description of the ingredients used in the plate served. We appreciate this gesture in the contemporary fine dining world favouring obscurity over transparency in nondescript tasting menus. Who remembers, especially after two glasses of wine, all that the the strangely accented waiter said while pouring sauce over one of the seven or sixteen courses served during one meal?
The only, slightly bothering, but noticeable flaw at Steirereck was that most of the plates, save for the desserts, were rather too salty on my first visit, yet I did not find them so at all during our most recent meal this July. Traditional Austrian fare beams with salt and catering to the local palates during the pandemic years made sense. This year the world travellers are back in full force so spilling more salt onto the savoury courses would not please the more refined palates of its international diners. The Chinese traveler relish in the pork dish, while the grannies sip on the herbal infusions from the Austrian fields.
While there are many newer, casual yet exiting gastronomic restaurants to try in Vienna, I would most excitingly return only to two – Steirereck and the vegetarian Michelin star Tian. Their culinary perfection of finding the right balance on each and every plate is striking.
An old school couvert (‘Gedeck‘), perhaps for the abundance of bread selection, is added to your bill at €9.5 per person.
Mon to Fri: lunch 11.30 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. Dinner from 6.30 p.m.
Closed on weekends and public holidays