The BarFlys recently traveled to Vienna for an industry tradeshow. It was a short trip of four nights, but we were able to take a night off and get a reservation at one of Vienna’s top restaurants, Mraz & Sohn. It’s a rare occasion when our dining expectations get wildly exceeded, but we can’t think of a better example than this trip to Mraz & Sohn. We knew that they have held a Michelin star since 2010, and that the meal would lean towards modernist cuisine, so our expectations coming in were already high.
At his family-run operation since its beginning a few decades back, Chef Markus Mraz took the reigns from his father, Karl, a few years ago and now runs the kitchen along with his sons, Chefs Manuel and Lukas Mraz. Together, the culinarily talented father-sons team are creating internationally-influenced fare using traditional and modernist techniques. Using high quality seasonal ingredients and unique plating, the presentations of the courses run on the more artistic and whimsical side.
It was a pleasant 30 minute walk from our hotel to the locked door of Mraz & Sohn, located in the 20th district far away from most tourist spots. A press of the buzzer and a wave at the closed circuit camera granted us entry into a modern interior dominated by grey tones and white tablecloths. The prixe-fixe choices include a four- or six-course menu, plus a combination of both as a nine-course option dubbed the “No Risk, No Fun” menu. With three of us dining together, one selected the six courses while the other two took the risk and waited for the fun to begin.
Once seated, the first thing presented to us was a water menu, which was itself contained in a plastic bag of water. This was the first hint of things to come:
There were several amuse bouche plates served before our actual dinner even started. First came a beet gelée with cottage cheese, lovage dust and a rye crouton:
The next delicious amuse bouche of octopus arrived in two layers: the top layer consisted of a hollowed-out lime shell containing a cold octopus salad flavored with mayo, and the bottom layer held a fried piece of the cephalopod creating steam under glass:
Bread service arrived with fresh baked white and dark breads baked in clay flower pots:
House-churned butter topped with chives and balsamic glaze accompanied the warm bread halves:
A broth was poured over a bowl of heated rocks containing nearly camouflaged open shells of mussels, served with guacamole and cilantro. We were instructed to pick up the shell with our fingers and eat the contents in one bite:
The last of the amuse bouche courses featured a chicken fritter served with a papaya salad. We were provided with a special tweezer-like implement to eat this course:
With over 1000 bottles in their wine cellar, they handed us two almost phone-booked sized wine lists to peruse: one for white wines and the other dedicated to red wines. We knew we wanted to stay local with Austrian wines, and Sommelier Johannes Kahler was on hand to help us select a bottle of white and red to pair with our meal:
The no-risk menu began with bites of mackerel served with flavors of coffee, pear and celery in various forms.
The six-course menu offered larger tasting portions and started with the delicate Wagyu beef tartare with smoked eel and red bell pepper. Served alongside the tasty surf and turf dish was a potato “peeled” from its ash jacket table-side:
The “Truffle Pig” course featured parts of a pig’s head served with different textures of chestnut in many forms, including a soup poured table-side. It was rich and nutty and a great flavor combination of the pork and the food that pigs typically eat:
The no-risk menu included a “Venus Shell” course set in giant clam shell. We started noticing that many of the courses were comprised of surf and turf elements, like these clams and mussels with veal tongue rosette, accompanied by quince and pumpkin:
Another great surf-and-turf dish, the “Ham & Eggs” course featured ham broth poured over a perfectly runny sous-vide egg yolk with a piece of Turbot fish and spinach in leaf and purée dots:
We were served an intermezzo of deer tartare served on belgian endive, precariously balanced on steel sticks:
The tartare set us up for a perfectly cooked venison loin, plated with smoked semolina grains, Jerusalem artichoke sticks and rowan berries. It wasn’t lost on us that, similar to the pork course, the animal was once again presented with one of the typical foods it eats: in this case, the rowan or ash berries which added a slight bitterness to the sweet deer meat. Note that this was the presentation for the six-course meal; the no-risk menu’s version was about half this size:
After clearing the thoughtfully presented and playful savory course, they set us up for the Cheese course by rolling the bread cart to the table, then asking us to select a few slices from the many, many different kinds of house-baked breads:
They also brought lidded tins and laid out the different cheese accompaniments, including fruit paste, plumped raisins, vinaigrette, nuts, olives and pesto:
The cheese trolley was very impressive, containing four levels and drawers of over 50 different cheeses. The cart ‘handler’ had an encyclopedic knowledge of 500+ cheeses and was able to steer each of us in the direction of our individual preference with a generous taste of five different cheeses:
One of the BarFlys likes her cheeses soft and stinky, which resulted in the sampler plate on the right. The other BarFly opted for a selection of soft, but less pungent, cheeses. Each of the cheeses were served at their perfect ripeness, and we found that we rarely reached into the tins or used any bread since these cheeses were truly delicious on their own:
The no-risk menu offered a choice of a “whiskey” or “milk” dessert flight. Obviously we would lean towards the alcoholic version:
Both of the menus offered the “Tropical and Exotic” dessert, which was very refreshing and set in a beautiful ‘splash’ bowl:
Post-dessert bites of speared fresh fruit and a glass of freshly squeezed Zweigelt juice (a common Austrian red wine grape) were the last items offered:
They have about fourteen tables accommodating approximately 50 diners every evening. It should be noted that Mraz & Sohn may only accommodate vegetarian or food allergies with advanced notification. Otherwise, they do not make inquiries regarding any allergies or provide substitutions. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and technique is spent on preparation of the playful menu, as each course tends to have many ingredients that all work well together.
When we first arrived the dining room was at capacity, and the service felt rushed and very rote. For example, we weren’t able to order and get our first bottle of wine until well after the four amuse bouche courses. Perhaps they need to get more help for the front of house since the menu is very eclectic, with many of the courses requiring explanation and finishing table-side. We were one of the last parties to get seated, and as the restaurant emptied the servers seemed more at ease and had more time to converse about the dishes and restaurant history.
The food quickly made us forget the initial hiccups, and the meal proved a tour de force that caught us by surprise. We enjoyed our meal so much that we would rank this as one of our Top 10 dining experiences. We are already looking forward to returning next year.