Bread, beeswax and Birgit: how Steirereck is redefining the art of hospitality

William Drew - 19/10/2021


Nestled in the heart of historic Vienna in Austria, Steirereck has become one of the most loved and respected restaurants in the world, cementing its position near the top of 50 Best’s global ranking for more than a decade. It combines chef Heinz Reitbauer’s singular, research-driven take on contemporary Austrian cuisine with his wife Birgit’s peerless service style. At the most recent edition of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, Steirereck was presented with the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award. Here Birgit Reitbauer herself outlines six elements that set the Steirereck dining experience apart

Laughter and magic
“The Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award we received is donated to my team. They work so hard every day to welcome all our guests with a lot of laugher and joy while doing their job in the most professional way. Steirereck is known for a warm, relaxed atmosphere where guests who are not so familiar with fine dining feel comfortable and enjoy their special moments. It is not without reason that we have so many regulars and local guests who not only come to enjoy the wonderful food but also to visit their friends here. Good food itself is not enough – but when combined with the right hospitality, it can become magic.”
The dining room at Steirereck in Vienna, Austria

Trolley heaven
“For more than 20 years now we have had a bread trolley that shows off the creativity of Austrian bakers and their wide spectrum – some classic, some modern. And for most of that time Andreas, our ‘Bread Andi’, has been in charge of it. He works closely with the different specialist producers and changes the varieties for the time and season. But there is not only a bread trolley: we also have aperitif trolleys, a tea trolley, one national and one international digestif trolley and, before Christmas, a vanillekipferl [a traditional Austrian crescent-shaped biscuit] trolley. You see,  we love trolleys in all shapes and sizes!”

A little theatre
“There is always a reason behind why we present something in a certain way. For example, the idea for the char in beeswax [a signature dish] was born at a time when bees’ mortality in Europe was becoming a big story. Heinz wanted to show how great their products are, so he not only invented the char ‘cooked’ in beeswax but also a petit-fours trolley with sweets presented around bees and their products. Of course, the theatre of the char being presented tableside is impressive, but even more important is that the flavour of the beeswax really goes into the fish and it tastes beautifully delicate.”
One of Steirereck's popular dishes: a variety of blueberries with cyclame, chicory and caviar

Note perfect
“With each course, we give the guest a card explaining more about the ingredients and the story behind the dish. In a complex and diverse cuisine like ours, with many forgotten or heirloom ingredients, the cards not only show the different steps in the preparation, but also explain the not-so-known ingredients, where they are from and by which producer. It makes the idea of the dish a lot easier to understand – and if you are in a busy conversation you can read the card whenever you like and you don’t have to listen to the full story when the waiters are serving it.”

My husband, the chef
“Heinz is the most respectful person I know; he treats everyone and everything – staff, producers,  the products themselves – with respect and honesty. And, over the years, he has found his very own signature while cooking, which is unique, authentic and very Austrian. At Steirereck you can really enjoy the flavours of our beautiful country, put in the right spotlight.”
Birgit and Heinz Reitbauer and dishes on the pass at Steirereck in Vienna, Austria

Birgit’s personal touch
“At the age of 13, while on vacation at a farm with a bed and breakfast on Lake Fuschl, I witnessed all the family members working together in the name of hospitality and I decided this would become my passion. I attended tourism school, then studied hospitality management at the University of Vienna, always with part-time jobs in gastronomy. At Steirereck, my role is a multi-tasking one! I try to take all the orders from our guests at the beginning of service; that first impression allows me to work out how best to help them enjoy their time with us. Afterwards I make my rounds through the restaurant, chatting with guests, pouring water, serving and clearing, and so on. I am a full part of my team and we work hand in hand. Also, to many of our staff members I am like a surrogate mother. If they are away from home it can sometimes be lonely and so I help with different personal matters. Overall, I love it that no one day is like another. There are so many things happening, and we host so many interesting people – that’s what makes is special for me.”
Heinz Reitbauer's Pompoen pumpkin with caviar

Now meet the other special award winners for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, which was announced on October 5, 2021 in Antwerp, Flanders. To stay up to date with the latest news, join the community on InstagramFacebookTwitter and YouTube.