by André Cis
Click here to read the original German version
You may consider Silvio Nickol‘s move from Lake Wörth to the Austrian capital as a rather logical step, or in any case a significant one. After more and more signs emerged showing that the luxury hotel chain Capella’s flagship was sinking, it had only been a question of time when chef Nickol would accept the chance for a new challenge.
It seemed that Palais Coburg owner Peter Pühringer had no intention of revitalizing the gourmet restaurant in his luxurious Viennese hotel venue after the sudden departure of Austrian master chef Christian Petz at the end of 2008, right after the restaurant was awarded its 4th toque by the GaultMillau restaurant guide. Far from it, the situation fit the economic crisis well, due to a considerable drop in fine dining in Vienna over the past few years. This recently culminated in the cancellation of the new Shangri-La Hotel,leaving master chef Joachim Gradwohl unemployed.
Try the new kitchen at Coburgbastei Nr. 4 — and let’s be honest: One of the world’s best wine collections deserves a fine restaurant as companion.
On arrival, I instantly received a very warm welcome from the designer hotel reception. The restaurant hostess called me by name and accompanied me to the elevator, which is accessible only with a special card.
I could barely recognize the restaurant itself. Chef Nickol was given full creative reign and insisted on an ultra-modern purple- and white-dominated design, so overcoming that one doesn’t even notice the cross-vaulted architecture anymore. I had the impression that the seating capacity had also been reduced.
As an innovation in the foyer area, there are now two tables designed as a “chef’s table” substitute. Due to limited space in the kitchen that does not really allow comfortable seating of guests, a live TV connection to the kitchen has been installed for these tables…. “Big brother is watching you”…
Although a table in the main dining area – which was fully booked on this particular Tuesday evening – had been reserved for me, the friendly host spontaneously offered a seat at one of the unoccupied chef’s tables instead. I gladly accepted the offer as I was dining alone and would have been interested in seeing what was going on backstage.
The chair was comfortable, the table spacious and classically set up with silverware (which is becoming more the modern-day way). I asked for still water and was kindly offered the Viennese spring water (which actually comes from Lower Austria or Styria), served in a rather bizarre-looking kind of thermos jug with its accompany drinking cup.
After a quick chat with the young and extremely motivated sommelier, to whom I gave the freedom of choice, only mentioning that I prefer a pairing “off the beaten track” and would gladly welcome some mature wines, the first bubbles arrive: Pelours Brut from Cloudy Bay, New Zealand, quickly followed by the first “complements” from the kitchen:
Terzett von der Melone (melon trio), served dried, liquid with speck, and frozen “Fizz” — the last one clearly the one I preferred. Meanwhile, they were serving the bread, which leaves a true desire for improvement. Wine-wise, we stayed in the same region: a second (Zahlto-manufactured) glass of Sauvignon blanc, this one still, a 2010 from Ata Rangi – which they had received at Palais Coburg that very day. A server then arrives with a second amuse-bouche – a spectacular presentation on dry ice:
Quartett von der Gamba (prawn quartet). Another glass of Sauvignon arrived at my table, this one from the other side of the planet: the Russian Valley in California. This 2008 harvest from Rochioli was a perfect match for the giant prawn dish. It was also meant to accompany the actual first course:
“Gemüsejausn” (meaning “veggie snack”) instantly brought to mind new Scandinavian cuisine. A sparkling green liquid warmly invited me to dig in. It was topped with crisp bread covered with scarlet round radishes, herbs and other vegetables – crudités, all harvested nearby, in fitting with the chef’s philosophy of primarily using of local produce!
My eyes started to sparkle as I saw the next bottle coming: Neuburger is written on the bronze label, a well-known name from the Wachau wine-growing area: Högl. I was however especially delighted by the vintage: 1992! This jewel was the pairing for the second course of my meal:
Sypmphonie vom Heimischen Zander (symphony of domestic pikeperch). On one side of the composition, there was a tartar (with a little too much fleur de sel) with a trio of aromatic dips; on the other side, a baked praline with apple chutney, a Canollo roll and a mousse tart. The flavours were well balanced; the fish however was the genuine star of the dish. As I poured down the super-tasty companion a bit too quickly, the sommelier generously gave me another sip of it, no questions asked. I watched “my” flat-screen on the wall in front of me, witnessing how precise hands were assembling my next course, explained by the friendly maître d’ who joined me at just the right moment:
Tofu Steirische Art (Styrian-style tofu). The dish consisted of deliciously marinated cylinders of tofu, a (heavy) sweet-sour mash of Hokkaido pumpkin (with a very interesting “dice-like” consistency), and a “slow-boiled, 1-hour egg” (though the egg just tasted like a egg poached to me). Tableside, the waiter poured some veal jus over the whole. The sommelier paired it with a Swiss wine from the Wallis region: a vivid white made from the genuine variety Petite Arvine, 2008 vintage from Thierry Constantin. Now comes the true letdown:
“Falsche Jakobsmuschel” (“simulated” scallop) was made from white radishes and accompanied by a large variety of beetroot in different textures. Several herbal sauces were meant to set it off, but all I could taste was beetroot. It was only the juicy 2002 Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes from Guy Roulot that softened my bad mood. Wine-wise, we stayed in Burgundy, and the glass for the main course was filled with a perfectly aged 1998 Romanée St.-Vivaint GC from Confuron.
Rochenflügel BBQ (barbecued skate) was as interesting and tasty as it sounds. The dish “wowed” me because of its balance between the smoky and grilled flavours that managed not to bury the natural flavour of the fish itself. An “earthy” granulate makes a wonderful pair with jus added tableside and served with crunchy vegetables.
When he was at the Schlosshotel, chef Silvio Nickol did give me – outstanding in the entire Austrian fine dining scene – several great experiences with cheese as a modern multi-course meal. In Carinthia, he often relied on outstanding products from the Nuart farm. Here in Vienna, he showcases a cheese from western Austria:
Splitter vom gereiften Vorarlberger Bergkäse mit Apfelwasabi (splinter of mature mountain-cheese from Vorarlberg region with apple wasabi) sounded thrilling – as did the 2000 Zinfandel Dogtown from Turley selected as pairing. Unfortunately, the cheese was the big loser of this course; it just couldn’t cope with the highly dominant, yet unbalanced flavours of the wine. Even the integrated “fizzy-effect” did not save it.
My eyes opened wide as I saw the next bottle coming towards my table. Under the guise of “clearing out the stock,” the sommelier opened a bottle of 1971 Ungsteiner Honigsäckel (Riesling & Scheurebe) TBA from Frankhof in the German Pfalz region. This mature wine was lively to say the least; its pleasantly firm acidity is in tasty “counterplay” with the exotic honey flavours on my palate. The following dessert course is purist, simply named:
Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake): A chocolate gateau with a liquid core, served with a cup of mocha granita, the whole lot covered with whipped cream. The flan had the consistency of a thick custard and a pleasant taste of dark chocolate. For the last sip of the evening, the sommelier puts forward a demi-sec Champagne from Veuve Cliquot.
Joghurt Panna Cotta mit Basilikumsavarin und Melonen-Dillsüppchen (yoghurt panna cotta with basil mousse and melon and dill soup). Looked beautiful, but unfortunately I can’t really follow the idea – or better to say the harmony of tastes do not come together on my palate. Nonetheless, I appreciated the idea of ending the meal with a light, refreshing dessert.
While I was drinking my perfectly made espresso, a friendly gentleman from the pastry department joins me. We had some nice small talk, though I had to refuse tasting even one of the various petit fours offered.
“Last course” – paying the bill: The big 7-course set menu cost € 148.00 (taxes incl.), which gives you an idea of what level the restaurant self-confidently wants to achieve. My wine pairing came to a total of € 125.00 — which is surely not a bargain, though an acceptable price for the quality I’d received.
Chef Nickol himself turned up at the end with a little glass of herbal salt as a parting gift. I finished my evening pleasantly satisfied but not “stuffed”.
You understand at once the great potential of this new Vienna fine dining spot. It is true that the inventiveness in terms of the conception of certain dishes did not always work, and the same goes for some of the seasoning, but I can live with that, taking into consideration that the restaurant had been open less than a month at the time of my visit.
I will be curious to see how Chef Silvio Nickol and his team develop in the coming months. This venue serves modern food, based on the classical French haute cuisine.
Two different set menus are offered, one being with more conservative dishes to satisfy a traditional clientele. The second more creative menu gives you a clearer idea of what the young master chef is truly aspiring to; his favorite dishes are even marked in the menu.
The menus as well as the wine list can be seen online in advance. Besides a printed menu given to me at the end, I did not receive any printed material the entire evening. When taking away my first amuse-bouche, the maître d’ asked, “Did you like what we’ve just served you?” followed by a, “Shall we just continue like that?”… We agreed on the number of courses and he asked me for my personal “no-go’s” … this is a way of dining I highly recommend to anyone!
Palais Coburg / Coburgbastai Nr. 4
Austria Telephone: +43 (1) 51818800, Internet: www.palais-coburg.com email: firstname.lastname@example.org Opening hours: DI-SA / dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday _______________________________________________________
André Cis was born in 1984 into a hotel and restaurant family. He gained experience in the hospitality industry from a very young age, and went on to earn a degree at one of Europe’s leading tourism and gastronomy schools. André took over the family business in 2005 and successfully transformed it into a boutique hotel and restaurant, focused on wine and fine dining. He speaks many languages and travels the world constantly in search of culinary adventures. André began his freelance journalist and consultancy firm in 2011.