First guest chef concept restaurant still flying high after 15 years
With a nod to Austria’s alpine nature, a skilift cabin hovers high above the airplanes standing in Hangar-7, Salzburg’s museum where culinary art and aviation come together. From the same elevation, the diners look out over old-timer aircrafts and the capsule in which Austrian Felix Baumgartner floated up 12 kilometers before jumping down to earth again. Dinner at restaurant Ikarus certainly has the potential to bring you to higher realms.
Ikarus has an innovative concept; since its opening in 2003, it had a different world-class guest chef every month. The likes of Quique Dacosta (of the eponymous three-star restaurant in Denia, Spain), André Chiang (from two-star restaurant André in Singapore), Virgilio Martinez (Central in Lima, number 5 on the list of the worlds fifty best restaurants) and Rasmus Kofoed (from three-star Geranium in Copenhagen) have all passed through Ikarus’ kitchen. He (or she, mostly he) creates an extensive tasting menu executed by a local team, currently headed by Martin Klein. For repeat visitors or those who are simply not attracted by the guest chef’s offerings, there is the Ikarus menu with Klein’s creations. Vegetarians have their own menu. However, according to our sommelier, 80 percent of the diners choose the guest chef menu.
Smørrebrod with smoked eel
The concept is the brainchild of Austrian’s legendary chef Eckart Witzigmann. Almost 77 years old, he is still actively involved – especially during the first three days of each month – getting to know the guest and the new menu.
The beauty of the concept is that it offers a platform for chefs to showcase their skills and creativity in other parts of the world and hence facilitate the exchange of culinary ideas, incidentally making tiny Salzburg a gastronomic hotspot. As menus in top restaurants change continuously, guest chefs don’t have to worry too much about giving up their secrets. And rather than losing customers, they may actually tempt people into visiting them in their hometown restaurant. Many restaurants have now copied the concept in some shape or form, resulting in a travelling circus of chefs, which prevent them from being behind their own stove, a drawback that has become all too apparent these days. People understandably want to see the chef.
Gurnard, octopus, artichoke and Suquet Catalan
Last March, Dutchman Nick Bril from The Jane in Antwerp (Belgium), took over at Ikarus. Although our waiter told us Bril’s menu doesn’t necessarily have a red thread that binds all courses together – he rather presents dishes that shine on their own – its traditional structure (a handful of amuses, four fish courses, followed by two meat dishes, a cheese course and two desserts) loosely connected our nine courses.
Bril reputedly has a good hand in using umami flavors, but he certainly isn’t single-minded about that. In fact, his dishes cover all the basic tastes (sometimes a tad too salty) and he draws inspiration from all corners of the globe. His gurnard got a distinct Catalan touch by serving it with Fideua (a pasta, rather than rice based, paella), the Blue Fin Toro (Tuna belly) had a clear Japanese touch (Kyoto onion and wasabi) and the first dessert of blood orange, tonka bean ice cream and double-fermented chocolate was spiced up with Indian cardamom.
Pigeon, hazelnut, foie gras and blueberry
A highlight was the perfectly cooked langoustine with porcini and Jerusalem artichoke served in a buttermilk sauce that got its incredible emerald color from algae. The rosé pigeon (22 minutes at 64°C) with a hazelnut and goose liver crème and a blueberry vinaigrette served with a generous dollop of the bird’s tenderly braised legs and innards also stood out.
If I were to mention one point of improvement, it would be the portioning. In particular the otherwise exquisite fideua with octopus and mussels and the airy potato purée with shortrib (accompanying a eight-week age-dried piece of Holstein ribeye) were too tempting to ignore, but too filling for the stomach.
Nick Bril, and on behalf of him Martin Klein and his team, including the informed and approachable waiting staff, delivered a high flying culinary performance that makes us want to go to The Jane, but also come back to Salzburg for another surprise dinner by a new guest chef. The Ikarus concept poses a luxury problem of choice. I guess I should do both.
Restaurant Ikarus at Hangar-7
Wilhelm-Spazier-Straße 7A – Salzburg (Airport)
T: +43 6622 1970
Nine-course tasting menu Nick Bril: €190,-
Gault Millau: 3 toques (18/20)