Wrapping up the year in Kitzbühel is becoming something of a tradition in my household, and though the lovely Austrian ski town may not rival other alpine resorts in terms of high-altitude skiing and high-storey hotels, the local cuisine has always warmed my heart.
And so to Wirtshaus Steuerberg (first picture), a charming restaurant I discovered this Christmas. Perhaps that’s because it’s tucked away in the mountains, accessed via a narrow and winding path about a 10-minute drive from town – or, as our local dining companion informed us, via an “appetite-working-up, 50-minute walk through the wilderness”. He also said that Steuerberg is a hands-down favourite among Kitzbühelers, ranked alongside Rosi’s and Hagstein as having the top three terraces in the area. Sadly, the night of our visit was snowy and blustery, but we were assured that views of the glorious Wilder Kaiser and the Kitzbüheler Horn, not to mention wide expanses of dense forest and lush meadows, could all be had on a clear day.
Husband-and-wife team Wolfgang and Barbara “Babsi” Obernauer have owned the restaurant for nearly 15 years, nurturing its homespun, rustic feel. Old black-and-white photographs of the region are dotted throughout the cosy, candlelit space, which is filled with traditional wooden furniture paired with gingham tablecloths and matching curtains (second picture). Anywhere else it might look kitsch, but here it makes you want to settle by the fire, glass of wildberry schnapps in hand. (And here is the place to sample such a drink – the bar is packed end to end with an impressive array of the Austrian digestive, presented in some of the most gorgeous bottles I’ve ever seen.)
Chef Wolfgang offers both local and international fare, and though there are hearty alpine classics such as raclette with potatoes, bacon and mixed pickles (€17), or pork knuckle “from happy pigs” (€14), I opted for the pan-baked veal Schnitzel served with potato salad and a glorious homemade cranberry sauce (€21.50). It seemed a no-brainer in such a quintessential mountain restaurant – and the crisp crust was divine. Still, that doesn’t mean I hadn’t been torn between the other traditional choices such as butter-grilled Tyrolean char with roasted potatoes and green salad (€16.50) or the Beuschel – sliced lung and heart from young cattle in a cream sauce with bread dumpling and quail egg, which sounded just the ticket for powering me down the slopes the next day. Looking around, however, the real must-orders seemed to be the range of steaks (from €29), large salads and a jacket potato Steuerberg overflowing with chilli shrimps, salad and sour cream (€16).
Too full to even consider the Happy End dessert menu, on my list for next time are the Kaiserschmarrn (sliced pancake with plum compote, from €6.80) or sweet curd dumplings with raspberries or blueberries (€7.80). For anyone lucky enough to be in “Kitz” for this week’s Hahnenkamm race, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, it’s advisable to book ahead: Steuerberg only has 16 tables inside and is reputedly where the great and good of ski racing go to celebrate their victories – or drown their sorrows.