One of the best restaurants in the world is just around Hungary’s border
Since Michelin Guide does not travel around in the countryside of Austria, the Taubenknobel, which was formerly awarded two Michelin start, is now a place in a village near Lake Fertő waiting to be discovered. The luxury cars parking outside the establishment are the only signs suggesting that the restaurant here is among the best in the world.
The buildings and interior are rustic, the furniture is made out of beautiful wood and the walls are decorated by the works of Arnulf Rainer. One of the interesting things is that there is no a la carte, rather a simple menu that contains what the chef has to offer at that time. The meal has seven courses for 138 €, but you can order an extra dish for 22 € more, another optional extra for 22 € is sturgeon caviar placed onto the first appetizer and the biggest extra you can get is a 98 € one. This includes wines specially selected for the dishes of the meal. Although it is a luxurious place they do not despise you if you go there in flip-flops as the founder is a creative artist – wrote Forbes.hu.
Walter Eselböck and his wife, Eveline, who has Hungarian roots were teenagers when they got married.
Because they were not skilled in many things they saved money as waiters and kitchen personnel in Lake Fertő and after a few seasons they gathered enough to buy a farmhouse in Burgenland, on the main street of Sérc in the 1980s. Around that time they did not even dream about being one of the most innovative restaurants in the whole world.
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Because Walter was born into a house where many artists came by, later in his life he liked the company of artist and creative people. The home they furnished themselves soon became the meeting place of such people and the conversations with the painters, musicians, and writers of the era lasted until dawn. They soon realized that it would only be sustainable if they make it into a paid system and open up a bar and a gallery.
The name was an easy choice, Taubenkobel got its name from the dovecote in the yard of the house. Playing a joke with the name, the meal always starts with “dove fodder”. It consists of roasted corn and sunflower seeds.
At first, there were two major obstacles. The first was that their customers were hungry as well and Walter’s expertise proved to be inefficient. The second was that they could not provide accommodation, and in 1984 there were no possibilities to do so in the whole village and it is known that no one detested wine. First things first, they tried to mitigate the first problem and Walter decided to be the best chef in Austria, the first one to get three Michelin stars.
Walter went ahead of the trend of using local ingredients by some 20 years. He used authentic and bio-ingredients, even utilizing the mushrooms, herbs, and spices from the local forested area. The Pannon kitchen, as he calls it was a self-explanatory choice for him. It is somewhat similar to being a fusion kitchen, but when Walter came up with the idea, this term was not even formulated yet and the pinnacle of gastronomy was very much different in the 80s than it is today. According to Schluck magazine, “Walter was the first and Noma only came after”.
The couple was quite successful in keeping to their determination as Walter became the chef of the year in Austria within less than 10 years and later he even became the chef of the decade as well. While Walter trained to be the best chef, his wife was not idle either. She finished her studies at the wine academy of Rust and she became the first woman sommelier of Austria.
Walter’s establishment was able to acquire two Michelin stars, but although they aimed for it and tried really hard, they could not get the third star, and since Michelin Guide does not test outside of Wien (and neither does so in Hungary, they only test in Budapest), they have no stars anymore.
When they got the chance to buy the neighboring farmhouse, they built their accommodation, which Chateau & Relais keeps a record of. The place has a lovely little lake and the rustic style combines the furniture gathered together from flea markets and India very well. Walter also self-taught himself to be an interior designer, as he and his wife bought everything to furnish the rooms down to every little pillow.
The uniqueness of the apartment is that visitors can view the starts while they are bathing in a huge bathtub. You can do this for 324-360 € per person per night. Of course, if someone wants to keep their wedding here, they can do so, if they can pay for it. The whole building can be rented, but the food and drinks start from 150 € and the limit is the bright blue sky.
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As Nina, the 23-year-old employee said: “We are more like a family than colleagues. They do not expect perfection, they would like you to bring the best you can. If you are not afraid of work, you will have no problems”. Nina has been working for 8 years with the Eselböck family. Walter in the early 90s took the whole staff of the restaurant and they visited the restaurant of Pierre White in London. The experimentation still plays a major role in the foods and workflow of the place and according to Nina “they never say to anything that it is a bad idea, probably because they have many artist friends”.
The Taubenkobel is now lead by Walter’s older daughter, Barbara and by her husband, Alain Weissgeber.
Barbara admits that even Western European customers find the menu expensive, but she does not agree with them. She says that the high-quality ingredients, the unique, rustic milieu, and the small surprises make it worth the price.
What about the food?
One of the appetizers is a creamy poppy seed cake with mushrooms. And most of the other dishes are plant-based foods and aside from the freshwater crayfish, a cut of lamb meat and the filed goose liver, every course is vegan. This is proof that the restaurant is still open-minded and can follow the newest trends.
The main attraction of the menu is the bread which is made on location in the furnace in the middle of the restaurant. A piece is broken off for you by hand and a whole ceremony is involved. They then bring several toppings you can pick and taste from. These include lardo, Istrian ham, Hungarian sausage from Csaba, mangalitza fat, thistle and thistle oil, as well as nine different fresh herbs. The dessert is never really sweet and is almost always plant-based.
The wine is very important in this restaurant and for those who are competent in tasting wines or are open-minded wine lovers, the extra price is very much worth it. It is in every scenario, harmonizing with the foods and the experience is world-class.
According to the journalist of Forbes.hu, the overall experience is not cathartic, but the dishes are very delicious and the matching wines are excellent but are the milieu that is truly unique. Although the prices are steep, for the true gastro enthusiasts for a one-time experience you cannot get elsewhere is it definitely worth it, if for nothing else, but for the legend around the Eselböck family.
Featured image: https://www.facebook.com/Taubenkobel/