Simon Taxacher, chef and (with his partner and maîtresse d’ Sandra Kobald) proprietor of his eponymous restaurant at the Rosengarten hotel in the pretty Tyrolean village of Kirchberg, has held two Michelin stars for seven years now. The only trouble is that Michelin stopped rating Austrian restaurants (except those in Vienna) in 2010.
Given that his cooking is of an extremely high standard, it is understandably frustrating. He and Sandra, anxious (in the absence of French tyre manufacturers) to show me the delights of Tyrolean cuisine, took me first to the sort of cosy, gemütliches restaurant that would appeal to Kitzbühel’s ravenous skiers.
Kupferstub’n’s charming bar is generously stocked with fortifying bottles of schnapps, and its kitchen serves equally reviving food (oven-baked potatoes, for example, with soured cream, topped with speck, or – for seafood lovers – cubes of salmon, shrimps and scampi: the Moby Dick). It also grills terrific steaks. Owners Peter and Hildegard Erber and their chefs take barbecue very seriously, proudly displaying their hatful of gongs from the recent World BBQ Championships; tasting both their sirloin and ribeye, lovingly cooked over coals and gloriously tender and pink, I am not surprised they triumphed. It is also a fine place to sample excellent Austrian wines, from a long list.
There is an even longer list at Simon’s restaurant, presided over by sommelier Andreas Katona. Of the wines I tried, two different versions of Grüner Veltliner – Austria’s signature grape – impressed hugely, one light and herbal, the other wild and funky.
What excited me most was the food, though; the kitchen’s level of ambition is evident in every dish. Langoustine with fennel served two ways, for example: a single, fat, sweet grilled langoustine with scorched fennel, caviar and an intense shellfish sauce; alongside, the raw version, tangles of shaved fennel and the cleansing kick of salted lemon.
Elsewhere a profoundly flavoursome artichoke dish with black olive and vegetable “caviar” was like eating an entire artichoke in two spoonfuls. Simon has a talent for taking ingredients that might read as selected at random and turning them into old friends on the plate: lightly smoked duck breast with frozen foie gras and apricot; various textures of carrot with malt crumbs and shaved Belper Knolle cheese; and tench with black pudding, turnip and hibiscus.
This is dazzlingly good. Not so much a step, more a few hundred metres in a ski lift, up from the typically hearty cooking of the delightful mountain Stuben around Kitzbühel.