And now the first of a series of guest-posts on Food Police - posted by the widely acclaimed PT.

Ikarus first surfaced in local gourmet media a couple of years ago and I wanted to go and try it since then. Opportunities came and went for a long time until - out of the blue came a surprise, in the shape of a birthday gift that awarded me with the opportunity to witness this phenomenon.

The restaurant is situated in Hangar-7 within Salzburg Airport in Austria, the architecture and lifestyle extravaganza of Red Bull owener Dietrich Mateschitz. The hangar (sponsored by Red Bull) is dedicated to his private collection of airplanes, helicopters and special vehicles as well as being the official base for the Flying Bulls: a team of vintage aircraft and their pilots, with our one-and-only Peter Bessenyei deeply involved.

The Ikarus restaurant, situated on the first floor of Hangar-7 „boasts“ only 40 seats, and reservations for a random date in December were difficult to come by even in September - but we got two dates to choose from and we were happy.

We arrived around 9PM for dinner so we could not get a good picture of the place from the outside. A simple, but striking idea is that the road taking you from the main road to the hangar was lined with blue lights in the middle, imitating a runway. We felt like we were ready to fly to the sky, and honestly speaking our expectations were high enough to say that.

Arrival by the Ikarus staff is smooth: friendly smiles and eye contact are part of the routine. We were the last four of the fourty guests for that evening, so even our name was used correctly, when they greeted us. Our table was set discreetly, but elegantly in the corner of the restaurant where we could view and examine the crowd in between our courses.

Aperitifs were offered swiftly and courteously and delivered stlyishly and relatively fast, a good starting point in my view. A selection of five different kinds of fresh bread was served, more than enough to choose from, considering you don’t want them to be the major attraction of the evening.
Our menu selection is made quite easy. Black or White? The Black menu consists of 8 mouth-wateringly described courses each of them featuring black truffles. Similarily, the White menu delivers 8 courses, all of them featuring nothing less than white Alba truffles. One could choose 3, 4 or 5 courses or go for the whole degustation menu. As you can imagine - having driven such a long way - we were not ready to leave without trying every single creation. So we ordered two black and two white menus.
First up the Amuse Bouche arrives. As you would expect from a place of this standard and (unlike the one we were presented only a few weeks before in a „premium“ Budapest restaurant that consisted of spicy butter on a slice of bread) it was a super combination of three items, shedding some light on what was about to come in the next two and half hours: trio of Fois gras lollypop, nigiri of rice noodles with steam-fried pigeon and Périgord-truffles and a small cup of frog legs puree with chestnut. All of this presented neatly on a heavy marble plate that needed one waiter at a time to deliver.
The fois lollypop was soft and tasty, the snail soup with chestnuts was smooth as silk and you would probably love it even if you did not like snails. I liked it so much I thought about epxanding the rather simplistic portfolio of Budapest street-chestnut-stands with this ultimate winter gourmet soup. After the amuse bouche the black and white ride began.

The first appetizer in the Black menu was a Sot l’y laisse with calamari, beans, buffallo ricotta and apple truffle jelly. The sot l’y laisse (also called chicken oyster - a very fine delicacy) -, the clean, fresh taste of buffala, the sweetness of the jelly and the crispiness of fresh calamari it made a very strong start.

The White menu‘s first starter was Polenta cream with marinated scallops, almonds and white truffles presented in a beautiful large round white china plate/bowl.
The polenta cream was very light and the two succulent, crispy-on-the-outside, melt-in-your-mouth-on-the-inside scallops made all of us go quiet for a few seconds. The soft but characteristic taste of freshly shaved white truffles complemented this dish perfectly.

All parties praised their own selection as best choices and after having tasted each others first menu items we decided this will be a race of black truffles vs white truffles and their representative menus.

The first round was awarded to the Whites, because the polenta-scallops was more transparent in taste and just slightly more sophisticated than its rival.

So, Whites lead by 1.

As a second starter, the Black team had a stew of crawfish with cabbage turnip, pea ravioli and (black) truffles, the White team enjoyed Pot-roasted langostinos with spinach tortellini, goat milk and (white) truffles. The perfectly cooked al dente tortellinis and their premium companions, the langostinos were putting up a good fight against the Black truffle team, but could not overcome them for the surprisingly harmonic combination of crawfish and cabbage that was elevated to a new level by the accent of the Black truffles.

Game evened out, Blacks 1 – Whites 1

Third course of the Blacks was Octopus-tripe-fig-Jerusalem artichokes and black truffles „en Papillote“ against False gnocchi with Atlantic turbot, Lardo, lettuce salad and white truffles. The octopus trio came in a large, heavy black pot, even though the en Papillot is a long-forgotten or long-ignored but innovative method of cooking in a so called parchment paper. For a third course out of eight this was a bit too heavy for us, any of the ingredients could have made a dish of their own but somehow the truffle balanced it all out.
The Whites took glory here with the gnocchis and the turbot’s super-light marriage that converged even better with the characteristic lardo that we have not seen used too much outside Hungary, at least not at this level. The lettuce salad sauce and the Alba truffles blended in nicely with this light fare.

Whites 1 up

Fourth round was Sauteed sole with pumpkin canelloni, artichokes and Black truffles on one side and Risotto with white truffle, cauliflower florets and broccoli Agar-Agar on the other. This was a difficult call as the sole-pumpkin-artichoke trio was a very well balanced dish with all three ingredients showing their best sides (the pumpkin canelloni was amazing) and the risotto showed us how simplicity with pure, fresh vegetables topped up with truffles can be a gourmet feast. We decided to call this round a draw, so…

Whites still 1 up

At the middle of our dinner, we raised our heads above the table decoration to look around a bit. We realised that we had not looked around since we arrived, so we decided to take in the place. Everything around us was perfectly in line with the food and drinks experience. Sophisticated, well dressed people chatting and smiling quietly, tables of two and four having a good time over a white tablecloth on a Sunday evening outside Salzburg in a restaurant. We could tell from the cars in the parking lot that some travelled from Germany, some were local (and some drove all the way from Budapest).
The dining room staff were effortlessly looking after each table’s wellbeing by working like shadows around the diners, silently resetting the tables and refilling the glasses between every course. Service was smooth, quick and unnoticable, which are the three main characteristics of good service in such an establishment.
The flower decoration was impressive but not overdone, the silverware was stylish (Robbe and Berking and Christofle pieces were noticed) and completely in harmony with the china and the glassware. Form and design never compromised function and nothing overpowered the main reason for everyone’s visit: the cuisine.

Going on to our fifth courses, the Blacks went for the Potato-scamorza roulade with pot-roasted egg-yolk and black truffle sauce while the Whites engaged in the Bone marrow dumplings with spring leak, roasted onions and white truffle sauce. Two of the most outstanding dishes of the evening stun us with their combination of simplicity and creativity, this is our hardest call of the evening.

The farm-raised chicken egg-yolk sits roasted on top of what is a perfect combination of cooked potato sand melted scamorza cheese. It is thick but soft in consistency and crunchy on the top and when tasted with the generous amount of grated truffles on top of all this, makes a perfect spoonful of a dish. Legend says thar scamorza was created by accident by a dairy worker leaving the curd for caciocavallo cheese too long, then dipping into water to get rid of the acidity but this dish was no coincidence as we saw it. This was a genuine creation.
The Bone marrow dumplings were the other star of the night. The night before we had tiny balls of bone marrows deep fried in another restaurant, knowing that the locals like to „pick the brain“ of their cows. This was a superbly upgraded version of this delicacy. The brain was tightly filled into the potato-dumplings, lightened up with the onion and leek in the truffle sauce.
Hard choice but we give this round to the Blacks.

Whites and Blacks even.

This was the point of switching wines, the one accompanying us to this point was a Chablis and from here on we were escorted by a Petit Syrah from Australia. The only thing we missed was a recommended wine selection, but it left us with the responsibility and challenge of finding the best matching wines for our menus. We would like to think that we did well as we were more than happy with the above choice.

Sixth course is Shoulder of Joselito pork with blood sausage gnocchi, in a brew of onion and celery with black truffles. It immediately beat the opponent in the White corner: the Pheasant breast cooked in a vacuum bag with braised pointed cabbage and white truffle. The pheasant is a difficult bird to cook and this dish left nothing for us to complain about, but the pork was superbly braised and the blood sausage gnocchi was as tasty as it sounded bizarre at first.

Blacks 1 up

Seventh course is Goat cheese brulée with ragout of quince and black truffles. As good as it sounded, the beetroot replacing traditional sugar on top for the actual brulée was not our thing. The glazed chicory with Vacherin Mont D’or, pear jelly and white truffle in the other corner was such a taste bomb that it swept away this round. The crisp pears and the charismatic cheese form the Jura region don’t let the chicories sing too loud, they fused well with the truffles.

Blacks and whites even again

Last round of desserts was again a tough choice and a very personal one, too. On the darker side is Dark chocolate with pulse, Muscovado sugar and black truffles, on the lighter side is a Delice of white chocolate, spinach, pumpkin and white truffles. We couldn‘t figure out whether it was peas or beans representing the „pulse“ in the chocolate dessert, because it was very intensive. With the addition of original sugar - produced directly from sugarcane juice – it was also very concentrated, sweet and therefore didn‘t allow the black truffles to be noticed. The reappearance of beetroots in the shape of a superlight mousse-ish foam as part of this chocolate dish was an interesting twist, but the White chocolate was the ultimate, creative, light and tasty end to our gourmet experience. It surprised us with a garnish of spinach(!) ice cream and pumkin puree, a combination of which let itself be accentuated with the last serving of white truffles we had for that night.
Dessert goes to Whites, ending the match 1 up for the Whites, making the winners of our little black and white truffles contest.
Whites take victory over the Blacks but - truth be told - both degustation menus were in a league of their own. All in all it was a bit too much truffle for the ladies at the table, but we agreed this was the classic case of a luxury problem.
Coffees are accompanied with an impressive selection of petit fours, from right to left, raspberry jelly, home made caramel, black truffle and chocolate macarons, walnut cake and chocolate praline.
When you think you cannot be more impressed, the head waitress arrives with a large silver tray with a birthday cake with „Herzlichen Gluckwunsch zum Gerburtstag“ written on it. I ask my wife: did you organise this, as you did everything else? She says she had only mentioned it once to them at the time of making the reservation.
Value for money? At 135 and 145 EUR per person, eight courses full of not only truffles but creativity, simplicity, class and a fantastic atmopshere is well worth the price if you ask me (even if you add the travel expenses …).

You cannot just leave Ikarus and Hangar-Sieben after finishing your dessert. After dinner you can choose from three bars to have a nightcap within the hangar. We went for the obvious choice, the „360“: a glass bowl hanging about 15-20 meters from the top of the structure, allowing for perfect view of the whole place for a small group of guests. Sitting in a comfortable leather armchair, set on the glass floor of the hanging bar, tasting a 20-year old port you keep wondering why there isn‘t a place like this in Budapest.

And who is behind all this? The professional patron of Ikarus is Germany‘s one-and-only-three-Michelin-star-super-chef (famous for his restaurant called Aubergine in Munich before it closed), „Chef of the Century“ and the father of all German speaking chefs as they say, Eckart Witzigmann. The resident chef is a talented young chef called Roland Trettl. 11 months of the year he „just“ assists other world-known chefs who are invited to Salzburg and show off their talents by featuring a different gourmet menu every month. However, this December was showtime for Roland Trettl himself – and surely not because they could not find a chef somewhere else. The Black and White menu is his idea, his creation, his success.

The next morning we decide to go back to the crime scene, because we want to see this place in daylight, at least from the outside. We drive there around 10 o‘clock and decide to take our chance for a coffee. This develops into an Ikarus breakfast (beef tartar with fresh toast for me, danish pastries and coffees for others). I decide I want to congratulate the Chef, if he is in today, and ask if I could see him, trying to use our long drive as an excuse.
The kind hostess tells me he isn‘t in but a nice gentleman overhears our conversation and turns to us saying „Creative people need time to rest“. This man is the patron, Mr. Witzigmann himself. He says he spotted our cars in the parking lot and he is happy that people drive from Hungary just to try their restaurant. We get into the conversation so much that he calls Chef de Cuisine, Martin Klein and instructs him to take us on a kitchen tour. I‘ve done quite a few of these in my previous professional life, so perhaps it’s not that impressive for me as for a non-inducted person. The kitchen is full of young, smiling people, all them busy working on something, moving swiftly from one place to another, saying hello to us as we pass by. We get to inspect the daily fish delivery and the fruits and vegetables. The kitchen is busy, but quiet, like all professionally run kitchens. It is spotless even at this time of day and it has to be, because there is a Chef’s table in one of the corners, where distinguished guests can have lunch or dinner – if they are lucky. But Martin says that if you have had a kitchen tour already, that is a direct link to having a Chef’s table meal. Right on!

Gourmet hangover

After we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the magic experienced the previous night we sit in our cars and set our GPSs to take us back home. The display says Salzburg – Budapest 547 kms. In kilometers it does not seem that far, but in gastronomic measurements it is a long long way.

Driving on the highways, talking about what turned out to be a gourmet trip (we visited other very interesting places in Salzburg, too) we didn‘t feel like eating anything at all. We keep thinking of the creativity, the quality and the attention to detail on display in Ikarus. At almost every highway exit we contemplate whether to take a break for a snack, but each and every time we decide its not worth it.

We just sip our Red Bulls and keep on driving.
As we sit there contemplating the question arises: were we the victims of another brilliant Red Bull marketing gig - as always taken to the extreme, this time in gastronomy - or is the love of food and the owners‘ hobby simply a coincidence?

Who cares! The answer isn‘t black or white anyway.

Ikarus Restaurant
Hangar 7, Salzburg Airport
Overall: 9/10

posted by: PT