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Food Hotel: Rosengarten, Kirchberg, Austria

Cuisine: European
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Helen Hokin: To kick off this year’s winter season, Taxacher created a celebratory five-course dinner teaming up with one of Austria’s most renowned wine makers. From Vienna, Fritz Wieninger, was tasked with overseeing the tipples.
 
Chef Simon Taxacher runs two restaurants at his hotel, the Rosengarten, in the little village of Kirchberg.
 
The two couldn’t be more different.
 
Rustic Alpine is on the menu in the casual bistro while inside his eponymous fine dining restaurant, Simon’s intricate French-Mediterranean cooking has earned him four Toques from the Gault Millau Guide.
 
To kick off this year’s winter season, Simon created a celebratory five-course dinner teaming up with one of Austria’s most renowned wine makers. From Vienna, Fritz Wieninger, was tasked with overseeing the tipples.
 
I joined my fellow diners – a group of local food and wine aficionados – for pre-prandial nibbles in the hotel bar, a sleek space finished in slate greys, earthy browns and dark wood - all the textures and tones of the surrounding mountainous region.  
 
An array of amuse bouches offered a taste of things to come: A miniature bowl of creamy lentil soup with tangy, mustard foam and a little chunk of pork belly; a thumbnail-sized, savoury macaroon tinted black from cuttlefish ink and dabbed with cod brandade;  a single snail on a bed of black pudding.
 
So far, it is reminiscent of the sort of Michelin-style cooking that would have earned Taxacher his two stars in 2009 before Michelin packed up and ceased publication of their guide to the Austrian Tyrol.
 
Growing up next door to the Rosengarten, where his parents still run a hotel, Simon’s experience as chef and hotelier hark back to childhood, and it shows. He opened here at the Rosengarten in 2000. Beginning cautiously, as any savvy operator would, he started as a single restaurant until, his business model proven, he added 26 rooms to the upper floors and an underground spa – to become what is now a fully-fledged hotel.
 
With canapés finished, we are called, rather formally, one table at a time into the restaurant where a continuation of dark timber, slate, glass and smooth, white leather seats are quietly luxurious under the low-lighting.
 
We begin with a diminutive-sized fillet of wild char, a rare, fresh water fish not unlike trout. Sourced by Simon it's provenance is Carinthia, a region on the border of Italy and Slovenia. Its sweetness is enlivened with a few punchy barberries, dotted like little red jewels, about the plate, and celery, with its subtle aniseed flavours, to lend a fresh herby note. It is elegant, well-balanced. A harmonious dish.
 
Fritz Wieninger's pairings take me on a steep learning curve: I literally know nothing about Austrian wine. His pairing for the char – a 2013 Wiener Gemischter Satz, is grown in Vienna where, I discover, there are more than 600 hectares of vineyards. Unusual as it is for a city to have a serious wine-growing scene, such is the case in the Austrian capital. Who knew?
 
And this, my first Viennese urban tipple, has been produced according to a strict set of rules. Wiener Gemischter Satz must contain at least three white quality wine varieties all planted together in a vineyard listed in the Viennese vineyard register. The highest amount of one grape variety cannot be more than 50% while the third must be at least 10%.
 
But I don’t need the science to figure out this is an elegant glass of white, served in an exquisite hand-blown Austrian glass and superbly matched with the delicate fish plate.
 
Of the five courses, I found another stand out. Taking Jerusalem artichoke as his central ingredient, Simon paired that with the complimentary, earthy flavour of crosne (Chinese artichoke) and a few luscious shavings of headily aromatic white truffle. Then he added kumquat. That tiny, zesty fruit gave all the acidity and freshness to balance the dish. The wine pairing was another triumph: A 2009 Chardonnay, Grand Select, full enough with the right oaky and earthy elements to marry with the late autumnal ingredients.
 
Looking at the menu Taxacher’s ingredient list is eclectic. He uses fruit and vegetables native to all four corners of the globe, uninhibitedly combining continents on the same plate. Some of his more recherché items include skirret, an aromatic root vegetable; oysterleaf, an unusual salad leaf with a briny marine flavour; a variety of yams, tomatillo and all manner of heirloom carrots, turnips and asparagus. A veritable around-the-world-in-80-days of produce. But working with nearby farmers for his grow-on-demand roots and vegetables means this is a chef who strives to source locally.
 
Simon shines in his casual bistro restaurant where, on another evening, I tucked into a plate of brown trout – another rarity – fresh in from Upper Austria. The brown skin with its tell-tale deep orange spots was perfectly crispy, the flesh sweet and flaky and all arranged over a satisfyingly creamy tomato risotto. Simple, straightforward, honest. Oh, and, deeply, deeply delicious.
 
My dessert, a hefty hazelnut parfait delivered cold, creamy decadence of chocolate and nuts that got me thinking of one of those TV ads for milk chocolate or muesli with lush Alpine meadows, clear-skinned milkmaids and cows mooing in the background. Wholesome.
 
This grand show, however, has a co-star. Down in the underbelly, the aforementioned hotel spa turns out to be an absolute must-visit.
 
With no expectations whatsoever, I swung by for an invigorating massage before departure. I have been pampered and pummelled the world over: On a beach on North Island in the Seychelles, at a volcanic spring in Taipei, under the stars on a cowboy ranch in Canada, on a mountain in the Himalayas, and everywhere in between and believe me, the masseuse who kneaded me for an hour at the Rosengarten is up there with the best of them. Even if it hurt just a little.
 
Apart from eat and drink I did nothing else for a whole weekend in the Alps, and I still managed to come away feeling better than when I set out.  
 
Relais & Châteaux Rosengarten
Aschauerstrasse 46 . 6365 Kirchberg
Tyrol. Austria
T +43 5357 4201
welcome@rosengarten-taxacher.com
www.rosengarten-taxacher.com
 
Helen Hokin travelled with Niche Destinations and Marketing Deluxe
www.niche-destinations.com
1 Comments | Add a comment

COMMENTS

Stuart Forster
Sunderland
1
Good to see. Austrian cuisine can be well worth exploring. I'm a big fan of Tyrolean fayre and enjoyed dining on Alpine dishes in Lech at the start of the 2014-15 ski season.

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