Juan Amador was born in Swabia in Germany but is of Spanish descent. His first head chef role was at a restaurant called Petersilie, which was awarded a star when he was running the kitchen. From there he moved to Fährhaus Munkmarsch in 1997, and two years later became head chef of Sailauf in Hesse. During his four year tenure in the kitchen the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars. By 2005 he was ready to strike out on his own and he opened Amador in Langen, which gained three Michelin stars. Subsequently he relocated to Mannheim, and then to Vienna, where the restaurant was initially awarded two Michelin stars in 2017, and then the ultimate third star in 2019.
Restaurant Amador is set on a gentle slope not far from the Danube and just outside the central district of the city, in a prosperous residential area. The hills of Vienna are home to a number of wineries, and the restaurant itself is set in a working winery. There is an attractive garden terrace where you can have drinks, and the dining room itself is set within a large arched room with exposed brick walls that was presumably once used for wine storage. There was no air conditioning, and on this warm July night the temperature in the room was uncomfortably high, even by the end of the evening. Today during the day the maximum temperature was 27C so it must have been pretty unpleasant in the heat wave of the previous week, when the temperature in the city hit 36C. Tables were large and widely spaced, covered with crisply ironed white linen, and lighting was good. There was no a la carte menu option, just an eight course tasting menu at €245, though you could apparently opt for a shorter length of menu. The style of the cooking has changed since I last ate Juan Amador’s food, being less molecular and experimental than it once was. The man himself was not present in the restaurant tonight
The wine list was extensive, with around 1,100 different references, and appeared on an iPad. I am not especially convinced about this method of presentation of a wine list, especially if there is no working index page, as was the case here. Sample labels were J.J. Prum Kabinett 2012 at €70 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €20, while Egon Muller Kabinett Scharzhofberger 2015 at a very fair €95 compared to its retail price of €116, and Domaine Comtes Lafon 2013 Meursault at a very reasonable €210 for a wine that will set you back €205. At the posher end of the list (if a list on an iPad can truly be said to have an “end”) there were wines such as Vega Sicilia Valbuena 1997 at €365 compared to its retail price of €150, while Chateau Latour 2007 was €1,100 for a wine whose current market value was €630. As can be seen, mark-up levels were rather erratic. We ordered a couple of different Rieslings, neither of which had been refrigerated and so arrived at room temperature and needed an ice bucket. I understand that with a large list not every wine will be stored at optimal serving temperature, but this restaurant is, after all, in a winery, so it is surprising that there was not more wine fridge capacity.
The meal began with a series of tapas style canapés. First there was tuna tartare served on a crisp base with cucumber, along with a separate glass of gazpacho, which had nicely judged seasoning with a hint of spice. The tuna was good, the base not quite as crisp as perhaps intended, but the hazelnut worked well (16/20). On a dish that, for no apparent reason, appeared in a cloud of dry ice was what was described as a Japanese dumpling. It did not look like gyoza to me but rather resembled a Chinese steamed dumpling, in this case filled with black pudding and serve warm. This was enjoyable, the dumpling quite delicate and the filling comforting. There was also a quail egg with truffle and caramel vinaigrette, which was fine (17/20).
The first formal course of the meal was mussel and smoked eel with goose liver ice cream and apple espuma. This was lovely, the eel having very good flavour and the goose liver’s richness nicely balanced by the acidity of the apple (19/20). Bread was bought in from a local bakery called Öfferl, and the sourdough bread in particular had good flavour and a nice touch of acidity. Next was a poached Gilkardeua number 2 oyster covered with hazelnut foam and a garnish of caviar and oyster leaf. This was also good, the hazelnut foam providing a pleasing nutty foil to the briny flavour of the oyster and caviar (18/20).
Langoustine was next, served with calf head, mushroom soup and miso foam. The shellfish was tender and the mushroom and miso flavours worked very well, bringing an earthy contrast to the dish (18/20). Pike perch came with a pea sauce, chanterelle, lardo and a garnish of Vienna snail. This was another nice dish, the pike perch carefully cooked and the peas having quite good flavour, being pleasingly sweet (18/20).
This was followed by a dish of carabineros prawn with ox heart tomato, sweetbread (which on the menu had the unfortunate description “sweatbread”) and mascarpone. This dish featured tender prawn and sweetbread with quite good flavour, but the tomato was too dominant, rather overwhelming the delicate flavour of the sweetbread (at best 16/20).
John Dory fillet was unfortunately slightly overcooked, not wildly so but definitely on the wrong side of correct. This came with an anchovy that was very salty even by the demanding standard of anchovies, along with dried leek and buttermilk sauce, as well as a little marinated bacon and a pair of chicken oysters. The latter, incidentally, gets its name from the oyster shape of two small pieces of dark meat that lie on either side of a chicken’s backbone. This was still an enjoyable dish but the slightly overcooked dish was a shame, as the unusual combination with the chicken meat worked well in terms of balance. The mild buttermilk sauce was nice, though the leek didn’t add much for me (just about 15/20).
The final savoury course was pigeon breast with a purple curry crust, served with mango and coconut, along with a sauce of the cooking juices. This was very enjoyable, the bird impeccably sauced from Mieral, a poultry supplier from Bresse whose history dates back to 1919. The bird was carefully cooked and had excellent flavour, the spices nicely controlled and lifting the dish nicely, the acidity of the exotic fruit balancing the richness of the meat (18/20).
The savoury section of the meal had generally been of a consistent and high standard, but this progression was brought to a grinding halt with the arrival of the pre-dessert. The theme was strawberry, which makes perfect sense at this time of year, so there were no immediate warning signs. The dish comprised a strawberry “ragu”, whatever that might be (I will assume “sauce”) along with sorrel ice cream, cucumber, strawberry tonic espuma, strawberry granita and finally a strawberry perfume that our waitress sprayed on the dish with an aerosol from a perfume bottle. I really like strawberries and although I was worried about the likely effect of the cucumber and sorrel, I was looking forward to the dish. The reality was a car crash, wildly acidic and desperately lacking balancing sweetness, the fruit having limited flavour. What little strawberry flavour existed was completely overwhelmed by the steamroller herbal taste of the sorrel, which swept aside everything else in its wake. I am not a fan of shrubbery in desserts at the best of times, but even my well travelled dining companion, who happily munches through Scandinavian desserts made mostly of the contents of hedgerows with some ultra-sour sea buckthorn thrown in, was stopped in his tracks by the sheer unpleasantness of this concoction. This was as about as well balanced as Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining” (8/20 is a kind score).
I was dreading what might follow, but in fact the next dish was perfectly pleasant, with Amalfi lemon butter, white chocolate and a caramel cracker with yoghurt and sour cream ice cream. On the side was a little dish with both pink and white grapefruit along with panna cotta cream and lemon sorbet. The dish had a texture resembling a crumble and was pleasingly inoffensive. The only problem was that the grapefruit, an inherently sharp flavour that I really like, lacked any sugar to balance it, so the overall effect was just a bit too sour. Still, after the horror of the previous course this was positively delightful (15/20).
Coffee was Illy, which is a surprising choice for a three star restaurant. Illy is not a bad coffee, and perhaps the best of the large scale Italian coffee brands, but is still essentially an industrial coffee producer in an era where there are so many superior artisanal roasters using high grade specialty coffee. I suppose I should be grateful that at least it wasn’t Musetti. Coffee came with petit fours including a decent creme Catalana, an almond lollipop with very strong flavour, a blueberry caramel and a not entirely successful modern take on the classic local chocolate cake Sachertorte.
Service was a shambles, with no-one obviously in charge. We were not offered a drink at the start, and had to ask to see the wine list, which might otherwise never have appeared. The waiters themselves were pleasant but towards the end of the meal the service fell apart, and despite there still being several tables still occupied, there were no waiters at all in the dining room for minutes on end, and getting the bill took some time. This kind of service level was way below the standard you might expect in a one star restaurant, never mind a three star.
The bill came to €479 (£430) each, admittedly with a fair bit of good wine. However even if you ordered more modestly on the wine front, you would still expect to see a bill of around £260 or so. Overall this was a disappointing meal given the expectations set by the third star and the high price point. Generally the savoury dishes were fine, though none was genuinely thrilling, as you might hope from a three star meal. Desserts, by contrast, were a mess, and they really need to fundamentally rethink their pastry section. I have no idea what was going on with the service tonight, but my local Indian restaurant manages its service operation with considerably more efficiency, charm and attentiveness than this, and the bill there is usually less than a tenth of what you are likely to pay here. My overall score is, as ever, the average of the individual dish scores. This was dragged down a bit by the very low score for the pre-dessert. However, even if I forget about the strawberry pre-dessert, and believe me I wish that I could, then the meal would still only be a 17/20 score i.e. at a reasonable but not exceptional two star level rather than three star (which should be at least 19/20). At this sort of price customers should expect more.