When I visited: October 2016
Location: Vienna, within the Grand Hotel Wien
Team: Roland Huber and Guenter Moser (Chefs de Cuisine), Toni Morwald (Head Chef)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 1 star
What to wear: Men – shirt and jacket and nice trousers and shoes; women – a smart dress and/or smart trousers and a top
Ambience: Formal, intimate, grand
Course of the meal: Venison with shiso, salsify and peanut
If I could change one thing: Fewer gaps in service
Unable to resist some Viennese Michelin, my partner Owl arranged for a dinner at Le Ciel, the flagship posh restaurant within the central and beautiful Grand Hotel Wien. One of the immediate positive points was the live pianist playing a mix of old pop, film and classical pieces on a white baby grand Bosendorfer, which really added to the ambience. The restaurant space is fairly big, with a private room, featuring very tall vases of classy flowers (or ‘blumen’) and sparkly chandeliers.
The staff were very polite and happy to hear us praising several of the dishes, but there was a bit of a recurring problem with ‘gapping’ in the service – we had to wait quite a while before getting any menus or food at the start, between the starter and main courses and before getting the bill.
However, there was very little to criticise when it came to the food itself, which had shades of traditional Vienna and France but also of Japan, possibly due to the fact that there is also a Japanese restaurant (Unkai) within the same hotel.
We had the choice of the a la carte menu, the ‘autumn menu’ (choosing between 3 and 6 of the listed courses) or the Grand tasting menu with ‘surprises’. We opted for the 5-course autumn menu and chose to miss out the pike perch as it sounded the least exciting of the courses on offer.
We began with a glass of house champagne (light gold and deliciously dry) which went well with wonderful array of snacks, although these mostly arrived after we had finished the champagne itself. They were veal tartare with radish, mini octopus with tapioca and beetroot and goat’s cheese, which had a strange but lovely texture of hard foam, almost like a meringue.
The sommelier helped us to pick a bottle of white wine to accompany the autumn menu (2014 Grüner Veltiner Weingut Knoll, Unterloiben Ried Loibenberg, Wachau) for €90). This was a really good choice as it was fairly full-bodied with slightly buttery notes and was strong enough to accompany venison as well as the lighter courses such as the mackerel. There were lots of wines under €80 on the list, which is fairly unusual for a 1-star restaurant.
After the snacks came the bread basket: mini French sticks, warm brown quarters and olive bread with salted butter or chilli butter. The breads were great but the butters were closer to cheese in texture and while tasty, were hard to spread.
The first of the listed courses, mackerel ribbons with pericon, buttermilk and radish, was balanced and beautiful. The turnips with Wagyu beef, truffle consommé and bone marrow were even better. However, the meal’s highest points came with the next two courses – langoustine with pumpkin, moujean tea and chilli (for which the waitress changed our fork and spoon as she said we needed different cutlery for the sauce) and venison (cooked ‘medium’) with shiso, salsify and peanut. I had a hard time choosing between the langoustine and venison for ‘course of the meal’ but went for the venison as the flavours were just amazing.
The dessert was plum with spice cream, meringue and clover and Tonka bean chocolate (for some reason the Tonka bean chocolate was not listed on the menu but it was a big part of the dish). This was light and not too sweet, and left us room for our green teas with petits fours (a passionfruit praline, strawberry jelly, blueberry knot, wrapped up salted caramel toffee, and white and dark striped nougat). The tea trolley was quite theatrical, with a fire lit under the teapots and an hourglass timer used to get the tea just right.
There was also an option of a cheese trolley but we didn’t have room for this; however, my partner Owl did partake of a 1975 Armagnac (from choices from 1946(!) up to the 1980s) and although it smelled ridiculously strong to me, apparently it was great.
Le Ciel is a great choice for a high-end Viennese restaurant and the live piano music and middle courses elevate it to a really high standard.