Words and photos by Constanze Weiss – Cover Photo by Toro Toro Restaurant
Perched on the wall beside the gate, the eponymous iron bull is the first indication that this is a special place. He is surrounded by torches, illuminated against the dark night and greats his guests, as they pass through the entrance. The Spanish restaurant he guards – said by many culinary guides to be the best in the state, even in the whole country – is located about twenty minutes from the city of Salzburg, in Hallein, Austria. It houses in an old hunting château but bears no resemblance to what anyone would expect such a place to look like. Instead, to enter Toro Toro means to leave Austria behind, to cross the thousands of kilometres separating yourself from Spain in a matter of a single step.
Behind the threshold, the Iberian Peninsula is instantly palpable. The music tells tales of passion and fire, the air weighs heavy with the scent of saffron rice and seafood, and the waiters recommend the best dishes and wines from the menu with their Spanish accents clearly audible. Like the produce handled in the kitchen, they are all from the South, providing a dinner experience on a more personal level of authenticity that is guaranteed to stay in a diner’s mind. Their friendly service – one of the things most important to la patrona Gisela Reitsamer – has also been especially underlined by Gault & Millau, when the restaurant was awarded their first hat in 2014. The atmosphere is the second indication that this is a special place, with King Felipe VI smiling from his picture on one side of the room and his wife adorning another part of the restaurant. Both members of the Royal Family are surrounded by memorabilia of Spain; painted maps and Spanish quotes written out in calligraphy.
Finally, food has to be mentioned. It’s new and creative, a special way of giving emphasis to details that would go neglected or even unnoticed in other places, while never losing touch with the Spanish motherland. Particular attention is given to the 6 – and 12 – course menus, the restaurant has gotten known for, and in which every course is telling a story in its own right: of the sweetest sun-grown tomatoes and freshly caught fish, fragrant olive trees and shrimp from the middle of the ocean. These characteristics are combined effortlessly, resulting in dishes of great quality and taste, like their unusually flavourful Tomato soup, reminiscent of warm summer days, or a Prawn and bacon combination dipped into an orange sauce that stays in the mind long after the dinner has finished. Needless to say, the food is the third and final indication that this is a special place.
In the end, the restaurant’s exceptionality lies not just in its ability to transport guests from a small country town in Austria to the vastness of Spain or in the fantastic taste of each dish presented. It’s the astounding sense of authenticity that makes a dinner visit at Toro Toro an experience to remember. With its amazing food, loveable service and unique atmosphere, the restaurant resembles a breath of Spanish ocean air surrounded by Austrian mountains.
5400 Hallein – Austria