“Unfortunately, in Austria fine dining often means fine serving,” Markus Höller remarked with a pert smile, adding: “that’s a lot of chichi!” In his opinion, food should always focus on fun – both on the plate and regarding the service, and especially concerning the flavor.
It should therefore come as no surprise that earlier this year, Höller found himself appointed as the new head chef at Heuer am Karlsplatz, a casual-yet-stylish after-work favorite just off of Naschmarkt amid the cosmopolitan chaos of central Vienna.
Playfulness is somewhat of a legacy at Heuer, which opened its doors in 2014 as the successor to the popular Kunsthallencafé: From day one, the restaurant’s central wall has been lined with curious jars containing all sorts of bubbling concoctions. “Fermentation is how it all began,” Höller explained: Heuer is famous for its shrubs, an acidic, fermented beverage which they make themselves.
The recent lockdowns offered plenty of opportunity for him to reflect and devise a new menu – so much so that the seasoned chef, who equates the restaurant to a stage and its customers to an audience, came up with not one, but two stellar new dining concepts.
While thinking about how to best entertain Heuer’s 240-seat bar and terrace area, he drew inspiration from dinners he shared in Madrid and the conversations they sparked, noting that “food is one of the most social topics there is… it never tastes as good (alone) as with friends.” In the age of corona, that’s akin to a manifesto, emphasizing the role that restaurants like Heuer fulfil in a bustling city like Vienna.
And so, Höller, who has two Gault&Millau stars under his belt, placed the social aspect of eating front and center, with a “small plates” concept inspired by Japanese zensei cuisine and Spanish tapas – “something to enjoy along with a bottle of wine,” as he described it. A good example is his Crispy Beef Tartare – featuring small, crunchy balls of beef with a miso dip and daikon radish, it boldly mixes European and Asian influences.
The additional 40 indoor seats serve clean-cut and ingredient-forward á la carte “casual fine dining.” Where guests would have previously found burgers and goat cheese salad, Höller offers dishes like crayfish with cauliflower rounded off with peach and trout caviar, drawing upon his extensive network of local suppliers. The menu is set to constantly change with the seasons and trends, as befitting the name Heuer (“this year” in German), which Höller clarified stands for contemporaneity.
The ambitious chef’s career is filled with enviable stations along the way: a highly celebrated student of legendary Austrian chef Reinhard Gerer, Höller gained two Gault & Millau stars at his family’s restaurant Höllerwirt on the Traunsee in the Salzkammergut; more recently, he impressed with a fresh take on meat at Artner an der Wieden. In the near future, Höller would like to leave his comfort zone by developing vegetarian dishes – after all, Heuer must remain current, and the 47-year-old is always up for a challenge.
To Höller, food and cooking is a true source of inspiration, and it shows. “Cooking is not a job to me,” he mused. “I still enjoy cooking at home – after all, I do have children.” Having just returned from a holiday in Carinthia, the chef often gathers inspiration from his travels in Spain, Italy, Asia and France – not necessarily from regional cuisine but from the diverse landscapes and conversations with locals.
Not to say that Austrian cuisine doesn’t have its place in his repertoire. Even Altwiener Backfleisch, a traditional Viennese dish of lamb testicles, can be a “cool” choice, Höller grins.
Saddle of Venison with Medlars, Mushrooms and Juniper Cream
600 g saddle of venison loin, skinned
1 tbsp cocoa beans
2 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
oil and butter
MEDLARS & MUSHROOMS
500 g fresh, seasonal mushrooms (e.g. chanterelle, beech, porcini), coarsely chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp parsley, julienne cut
1 tbsp butter
Mushroom salt and pepper to taste
200 g green beans, blanched and cut into 5 cm long pieces
1 white onion, peeled
1 tbsp juniper berries
300 ml chicken stock (or beef broth)
100 ml white wine, dry
200 ml cream
2 thyme sprigs
4 cl blue gin
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp butter
200 ml venison broth
Currant sage leaves
- Cut the meat into 4 steaks and season, then sear them in an oiled pan on all sides. Add cocoa beans, thyme sprigs and butter. Baste the meat several times with the bubbling butter from the pan. Remove from the pan and finish roasting in a preheated oven at 130° C for about 7 minutes or until cooked to your preference.
- Dry roast the juniper berries to release their essential oils. Reduce the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Cut the onion into strips and add to the pan, sautéing until transparent. Then deglaze the pan with white wine, reduce the mixture to about half and add the chicken stock, thyme sprigs and cream. Reduce to 2/3, then strain. Season with blue gin, salt, pepper and grated lemon peel. Just before serving, whip with 2 tablespoons of butter, using a hand blender.
- Heat oil in pan, sauté the mushrooms and green beans. Reduce heat, add butter, spring onion and parsley; season. Fold in the peeled, pitted and sliced medlars and heat – just briefly.
- Serve and garnish with amaranth flowers and currant sage leaves.