Salzburg airport probably isn’t the first place you’d think of for a high-end dining experience – or any airport for that matter. Soulless and transitory, why would anyone really want to dine somewhere that is not a destination in itself? I have a particularly painful memory of being stranded in Milan airport where the only dining option was a brightly-lit café serving plastic, microwaved lasagne. No doubt you have similar horror stories.
Ikarus is far from that. In fact, it’s not really in Salzburg airport but adjacent to it, located on the first floor of Hangar 7 – a glass aircraft museum owned by Red Bull (hence the wings reference) and about a 15 minute taxi drive away from the centre of Salzburg. This city of music has its fair share of traditional restos and tourist traps (avoid St. Peter Stiftskulinarium), so this quirky, modern choice on the outskirts is well worth the change of scene.
It already comes with a great pedigree, having been awarded 2 Michelin stars year in year out since 2003. But here’s the rub. Ikarus’ USP is that it has a different guest chef every month – changing more frequently than the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union but less frequently than speed dating. Previous chefs include Gilad Piled (now head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Le Pressoir d’Argent in Bordeaux), Jose Avillez of Belcanto in Lisbon (reviewed by Palate here), UK superstar Sat Bains, and the legendary Daniel Boulud. I mean, wow.
This is the grand concept of founding chef patron Eckart Witzigmann (a former student of Paul Bocuse). His executive chef Martin Klein runs a standing menu too, just in case the guest-chef-in-residence isn’t your cup of tea.
Really, there was nothing not to like
A restaurant review can only ever be a snapshot in time and this is particularly true of Ikarus. By the time this gets published the chef who cooked my wonderful meal – Christophe Hardiquest – will be long-gone. But it’s a snapshot I’d like to preserve and set in aspic, being one of the stand-out meals I had in 2019.
Hardiquest is normally behind the stove at 2-starred Bon Bon in Brussels. The thought of me – a half-English, half-English critic eating food by a Belgian chef in an Austrian restaurant – and how such a thing has been made possible by this wonderful continental peace project, was thrilling in itself. Brexit be damned! And with such an impressive background – both Hardiquest’s own and the previous Who’s Who of superchefs that have graced this kitchen – my expectations were very high.
As in most Michelin-starred restaurants there’s fuss and regular interruption as cutlery is re-arranged, crumbs are brushed off, dishes are explained and your hair is combed. I had only just sat down and was taking in the view of the planes in the hangar as a Champagne trolley trundled its way over. But this trolley was just a palate cleanser for my favourite trolley of all. The butter trolley. This is the kind of thing you can only dream of. No fewer than five different types of butter sliced with precision and presented on a piece of slate, with warm bread. Things got off to a very good, if decadent, start.
Then began the five course extravaganza (you can go for more if you wish), starting with pickled mackerel arranged in small rhombus shapes, dashi jelly, toasted quinoa and paired with a Berg Rottland Riesling from the Rheingau in Germany. A light, thoughtful dish but this alone wouldn’t satisfy the appetite of a daddy longlegs, so thankfully there was more to come.
After this came an inspired vegetarian course. Artichoke cut into fine strips and arranged like a kind of cacio e pepe with coffee (!) and chunks of Gouda. On paper it sounded vile but much to my surprise it turned out to be beautiful. Its accompanying wine – a Catalonian natural wine called ‘Stol’n’ – tasted like cat’s piss by itself but with this dish it somehow all came together.
Following on from this, the main course went back to the familiar, classic French territory that I imagine is Hardiquest’s wheelhouse. Pigeon “Lutticher style”, cooked pink with lardons, mushrooms, pearl barley and an incredible jus de viande that had obviously taken several hours to make. The pigeon melted in the mouth and there was a beautiful autumnal woodiness to the mushroom and barley combo. A* outstanding cookery right there. And for the accompanying wine, a joyous number from California’s Sonoma Valley. I had to commend the sommelier for his choices throughout.
For the sweeter side of things, a trifle-esque dessert of fromage blanc, fennel and sorrel ice cream was all I really needed by this stage, and then petits fours came in their own box for taking home if you couldn’t finish them. Really, there was nothing not to like – apart from, perhaps, the kids on the next table making a bit of a racket during the meal.
But, who knows how the experience would play out on a different day with a different chef. This is only a snapshot in time.
by J A Smith