In September 2017 a small restaurant opened its doors to the public of Innsbruck; little did they know what was opening on their doorstep and little did they know that possibly one of the greatest culinary experiences in Europe was now to be had high up in this Austrian alpine city. You may think that I am joking, but when I think back to that day that Cheeky and I ventured off Maria-Theresien-Strasse down a little alleyway into a little unassuming restaurant called ‘Oniriq’- French for ‘dream’, it felt like we actually did walk into a dream, one of culinary delights, tastes and textures. The Alps have always captivated me since I was a tiny; the mountains and forest holding a sense of mystery and excitement for me, creating memories that will stay with me forever… and what we experienced that evening will stay amongst those Alpine memories forever.
We entered the restaurant to be welcomed by partners Alina and Christoph. A light and airy space that would probably only sit about fifteen people maximum, and with an open kitchen it was a cosy and intimate affair. Cheeky and I immediately warmed to Alina and Christoph. Christoph a local of Innsbruck who had spent 17 years gathering experience in some of the best restaurants around Europe and learning from the likes of Christoph Zangerl at the Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol was Oniriq’s head chef; whilst Alina, originally a high flying creative from Germany, is Front of House and Sous Chef. What was immediately palpable was the passion that oozed from every pore of them both; it is immensely satisfying to see people follow their passion and follow their dreams, for ultimately it is passion that forges success. Christoph admitted that it was his dream to have a small restaurant creating exactly what he liked to eat and drink . . . and now we were about to discover exactly that!
No sooner had we sat down there was a fine glass of South Tyrolean sparkling wine, Brut Nature from Kellerei Kaltern, in our hands, then we began the proceedings with a small taster of very satisfying Tyroler Groestl; a salty, savoury delight. It was not long until the show really started to liven up as plate upon plate appeared in front of us. Beautifully served on what looked like two grey pebbles was a crispy saffron with cucumber foam and trout row. However, suddenly the pebbles were opened and miraculously hiding inside were two more courses, now this is my kind of culinary magic, food that multiplies in front of my eyes! Inside these mystical pebbles were hiding one butter fried yellow beet with elderflower yogurt and preserved elderflower buds and one larger dish that Christoph called his edible garden. This certainly was a spectacle, made to look like a little garden there was ‘edible soil’ as the base with sour cream, creme fresh, pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts whilst various vegetable looked like they were growing out of the soil and just ready to pick and eat from young radish, carrots, asparagus and cress. These were not only fun dishes to look at, but the tastes were sensational and natural, I can not help that think the secret to these dishes success was partly down to the selection of fantastic ingredients.
It was now time for bread in the form of good rustic bread and black bread with cumin, served with alpine butter, basil butter and butter with black poppy seed; it is not often that I eat bread, but this was so worth every bite. Next up was pumpkin with subtle horseradish, muscat grapes and grated Macadamia which I absolutely loved. This was served with a delicious 2015 Loibner Gelber Muskateller from Weingut Knoll. Shortly after we were tucking into beetroot cooked in soil served with Jerusalem artichoke puree and mugwort oil washed down with a 2015 Pinot Gris from Clos Mon Vieux Moulin. The raw flavours were outstanding; by cooking the beetroot in soil Christoph had somehow managed to intensify the best flavours of the beetroot, quite a trick. Whilst we waited for the next course we moved to a delectable Chardonnay wine from Far Niente of the Napa Valley, made in oak barrels this tasted like the finest Ruinart Champagne! Whilst sipping on this fine wine, the next course arrived; all the way from Lake Constance was pike perch served with pearled vegetables, fava beans in mushroom sauce with ‘False Truffle’- Cheese with mushroom powder; a very fresh, clean and light course.
After quite a few dishes, it was time to cleanse the pallet with a little cranberry sorbet, mandarine and salsify crisp; a clever combination of savoury, sweet and sour with a hint of earthiness. This prepared us for the main course of the evening, Venison with a 30 hour cooked bone broth, with baby red cabbage, onion puree and cep mushroom. Every item and every flavour on the plate was perfectly balanced like the colours and brush strokes of a work of art, the flavours worked together to make something that was more that the sum of it parts. Whilst we enjoyed every mouthful, we drank a beautiful 2011 Porpora Marche from Il Pollenza. Now it was time for a cheese course of sorts, with deep fried Camembert, served with fennel, chervil and quince; an original and as ever there is always room for cheese. It was now dessert time and my sweet teeth were getting excited at the thought of it. A perfectly presented plate appeared with jellified parsley root milk, popcorn ice cream, bee sting cake with bee pollen and honeycomb; clearly the bees had been working hard at helping create the last course of the evening, their produce created a feeling of nature in my mouth, once again taking us back to mother nature and not letting us forget the origin of the ingredients, pure genius was at work here.
This was an evening like no other, I felt like we had explored parts of our tastebuds that had been forever dormant! Writing my conclusion of Oniriq, I am stuck for words to describe the evening. Every element of every course had been carefully thought through, Christoph seems to have this ability of marrying flavours and textures together to produce sublime courses that take the mind back to where the ingredients originated from that keep you in touch with the ingredients on one’s plate whilst letting each flavour speak for itself. It was a delight to eat food that we were already familiar with and rediscover their flavours and textures in a totally new light. I also love that Alina and Christoph have chosen to create something away from the big cities of Europe up in the mountains. Had this been sitting in Paris, I have no doubt that it would have every possible culinary award there is to win and I have no doubt that every food critic, magazine, newspaper, TV channel would be visiting regularly! So my advice to you would be to get yourself to Innsbruck and book yourself a seat at Oniriq before they do discover the place and you are on waiting list as long as your arm and possibly miss out on getting to dine in one of the most amazing restaurants in Europe.