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Restaurant Review: Angerer Alm, Tyrol, Austria

Cuisine: European
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Helen Hokin: Ski food today was once mountain worker’s fuel. Though I doubt they would have had a bottle of Mad Haus Mareinberg Blaufrankisch Marienthal 2009 to go with it.
 
Anne Marie Foidl is dressed in a grey-green Austrian knit sweater embroidered all over with edelweiss, her dark hair is tied in a loose bun. She has an open, friendly face typical of so many people in the hospitality industry. She is the owner of Angerer Alm, a stunning mountain retreat with restaurant and wine cellar, high on a peak in the remote Tyrolean Alps.
 
I am joining her for lunch and to find out more about her; she is also the president of the Austrian Sommelier’s Association.
 
“I got this place for my 16th birthday”, she tells me. “It was a 250-year-old dilapidated farm building in the middle of nowhere, snowed in for six months of the year and miles from anything you could call a road.”
 
If location is the secret to a hotel’s success, not to mention access for delivery men, then this - in the hands of a mere 16-year-old  - was surely headed for disaster.
 
It must have been a bit daunting, I venture, up here all on your own. She gives me a hard stare: “I’m a farmer’s daughter. We start work at the break of day and keep going till the work is done. The same approach is required for running a hotel. There is no downing tools at five o’clock in my world.”
 
Angerer Alm, perched on a snowy peak, 1,300 metres above sea-level might be at the mercy of the elements but Ms Foidl is clearly a force of nature in her own right.
 
For the first 12 years the entrepreneurial young owner cooked and served all the meals herself while managing the property and bringing up her daughter Katharina, whom she gave birth to at the age of 19.
 
That was in 1985. Now, thirty years later, Anne Marie’s humble hut has blossomed into a destination restaurant for wine lovers, skiers, hikers, and people like me who arrive by car to do nothing but indulge in what has become one of Austria’s leading eateries.
 
In the restaurant the table has been set with a traditional Austrian embroidered cloth in pale yellow, and because it’s nearly Christmas, there is a splash of red from a poinsettia, a nutcracker-shaped candlestick and heavy silverware: the kind you only use for special occasions.
 
Lunchtimes there is a menu, but when you sit down to dinner here you don’t know what you’re going to get, “It depends what is in season and available. And there’s no wine list.” Anne Marie consults each guest, in person, and brings them wine according to what works with the food and ‘their mood’.
 
Twenty-five years ago she started the cellar with just 25 wines. It became her passion to the point that now Anne Marie has been president of the Austrian Association of Sommeliers since 2008:  “I was the first restaurant in Austria to serve sparkling Shiraz from Australia. Remember that?” Today there are 6000 wines from 400 wineries in the cellar and tasting room which lies beneath the restaurant. Sixty per cent of them are Austrian and a good few more are rare and vintage like a Massandra from a Russian Czar and the 154-year-old Madeira we will have with dessert. But more about that later.
 
Anne Marie’s daughter Katharina makes a timely appearance bearing a selection of dishes for lunch. Now 27 she runs the kitchen with her fiancé and head chef, Gerald Weiss. Old Austrian country recipes, refashioned with Katharina’s contemporary touch define the menu..
 
The showcase of rustic winter fare begins with a delicate venison carpaccio arranged on a slab of slate, scattered with a few tender chanterelles and topped with the merest few gratings of Alpine cheese. In the mouth it is melting; more sweet than gamey and well-balanced thanks to the salty cheese. The mushrooms are foraged from the mountainside. Anne Marie says they forage everything that grows from mushrooms to berries and from herbs to nettles. She makes a scissor shape with her fingers:  “Tock, tock, tock” she says, cutting imaginary herbs from thin air. “We make an incredible nettle soup in summer.”
 
The next dish arrives still in its pan. Austrian spatzle. It is the original macaroni and cheese. Topped with crispy, savoury, fried onions there is a little crunch and texture to cut through the mound of creamy pasta-like dough. We help ourselves from the communal pan to forkfuls of the comforting cheesy, doughy mix.
 
Since the snow is late falling this year there are few skiers and the restaurant is quiet. Through the picture windows I spot a couple of colourful bobble hats moving along the road below. Two hikers are slowly making their way up the mountain path, pushing the road away behind them with snow poles. Moments later the restaurant door flies open. They are here, faces flushed pink, boots covered in snow. They look ready to eat.
 
Next we try a bowl of clear beef consommé loaded with three types of dumplings: one semolina, one bread and bacon, and one cheese. The broth is rich and satisfying; long on umami flavour. The dumplings are soft and chewy, turning a clear soup into a hearty meal.
 
Our fourth and final dish is a heavy combination of fried bacon, beef, onion, potato slices and garlic piled high and served again in a pan. A runny fried egg wobbles precariously on top.  I break through the yolk with my fork and take the hearty meat and onion mixture to my mouth. The beef melts like butter.
 
Any one of these dishes alone would have fed a family. And I’m even not skiing home.
 
What is ski food today was once the original mountain worker’s fuel. Though I doubt they would have had a bottle of Mad Haus Mareinberg Blaufrankisch Marienthal 2009 to go with it.
 
As promised, Anne Marie selected this bottle according to the food and ‘my mood,’ and didn’t she just psyche me out perfectly.
 
From Burgenland, near Hungary, one of Austria’s most important red wine producing regions, her pick is elegant and bursting with blackberry and cherry with a little citrus and an ethereal  hint of spice. I drink two large glasses, they bear up well next to the intensely flavoured food. A Christmassy vibe is conjured in the room as the fire crackles and the snowy peaks glow translucent in the fading light outside.
 
And we’re not done yet.
 
There’s dessert. As rich and calorie-laden as everything that came before. Kaiser Shmarren, with apple compote and vanilla cream sauce, is best described as a thick and fluffy shredded pancake. Dusted with icing sugar it looks festive.
 
The dessert wine - I won’t forget any time soon. I am treated by my very generous hostess to a glass of vintage 154-year-old Madeira, decanted and poured very judiciously. It has a lot of sediment.
 
With one sip of the amber-gold liquid, Anne Marie sallies forth a torrent of descriptives, “It’s dried oranges, chocolate, nuts, tea and a there’s still a little vanilla,” she enthuses. I agree and offer mandarin and fennel to the tasting notes. It’s the oldest wine I have ever tasted.
 
As we sit talking and drinking, Katharina appears two or three more times from the kitchen: “Mama,” she looks a little sheepish, then whispers something into Anne Marie’s ear. Mother leaps up and the two of them disappear momentarily into the back. It’s such an endearing sight; mother and daughter working and earning their success closely together.
 
On my way out, I notice, dotted around the walls, crucifixes carved in wood, a couple of sculptures of the Madonna and Child and in the bar, a photograph of Anne Marie receiving a blessing from Pope John Paul II. Austria is a Catholic country.
 
I suppose if you live high on a mountain, close to nature and at the mercy of what the elements might bring each haphazard day, and to have succeeded despite that the way Anne Marie has, then you are bound to believe in God. Of course, it makes sense that you would.
 
Angerer Alm: www.angereralm.at
Almen am Kitzbüheler Horn Nr. 5
6380 St. Johann in Tyrol
Austria
+43 5352 62746
info@angereralm.at
 
Helen Hokin travelled to the Austrian Tyrol with Niche Destinations & Marketing Deluxe: www.niche-destinations.com
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