And so we bid a final Auf Wiederschauen to Vienna. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve clenched our bottom cheeks together in confined spaces after too much boiled beef and cabbage (that might just be me. Incidentally, when this happens whilst walking why does it insist on following you down the street like a sprouty miasma rather than do the decent thing and vanish like a… well, a fart in the wind? This is a rhetorical question so please do not leave anything in the comments section). It has been a glorious trip through some of the best food the Austrian capital has to offer and I have been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of outstanding restaurants and cafes that have been there to welcome me during the moments when other aspects of the city left me cold or vaguely apathetic. Is Vienna the greatest city I have ever visited? No. Is it a city that I fell in love with at first, second or even third sight? No. Is it a place that I feel a pressing need to visit again? No. Yet I leave with fond memories of my time here and feel that my culinary horizons have broadened with the onslaught of amazing food on offer in this most cosmopolitan, diverse and intriguing of cities. But before we head to patisseries new let us bow out of Vienna with one last dazzling waltz.
Enjoying a nice cuppa after a visit to the striking Hunderetwasserhaus. The equally eccentric shopping arcade nearby – modelled on an oriental bazaar with overtones of the Mexican-themed area of Disney’s Epcot Centre – is where you go to buy yet more tourist trifles whilst taking in the kitsch interior of your surroundings. The bar at the heart of the arcade is the perfect place to have a quick drink before deciding which Mozart-inspired tote bag you aren’t going to buy.
Griechenbeisl (Fleischmarkt 11)
Styrian Kasnudeln (17.20 euros). Once a guesthouse frequented by Mozart, Mark Twain, Beethoven and a host of others who showed their appreciation by scribbling all over the walls, this most traditional of Viennese restaurants offers an authentic dining experience with a menu full of Austrian classics in a setting that harks back to medieval times. I was seated in the Sitherstuberin, full of locals eating great slabs of meat and downing great pints of Pilsner as live zither music played in the background. The pasta parcels were cooked to perfection with a variety of fillings and the entire atmosphere and experience was outstanding.
Haas & Haas (Stephansplatz 4)
Cake plate (4.20 euros) & cherry coconut tea – When the rain comes out, some people retreat into doorways or under the hoods of translucent plastic rain macs. I retreat indoors to where the cake is at. I will happily take elevenses at oneses or twoses if the situation calls for it, and so I settle into this classy restaurant just behind the imposing Stephansdom, able to catch a glimpse of the towering Gothic spire but thankfully shielded from the Samsung Galaxy 10 ad attached to scaffolding surrounding the structure. I ordered what to me sounded like the perfect sample platter, a collection which included a thin slice of lemon cake (plain sponge with lemon flavoured icing), orange cake (plain sponge with orange flavoured icing), English tea cake (I do love candied fruit) and chocolate-hazelnut cake (yum!), all washed down with a pot of cherry, cranberry and coconut tea. Delightful.
Cafe Central (Herrengasse 14)
Wiener Erdapfelsuppe ($6.20) Wiener Schnitzel ($21.90) Trio of Petits Fours (£4.20) – First things first: Schnitzel is NOT served with noodles. Where Rodgers and Hammerstein got this notion from is utterly ridiculous. I also suspect that if you were to ask a chef to make you a schnitzel with noodles they would bar you from their premises for life, much the same way an authentic pizzeria would hurl you out into the street if you asked for an Hawaiian with extra pineapple (Mmmmmm… hot pineapple with melted cheese, hubba hubba!). I had set my sights on experiencing this dish at Cafe Central, the intellectual hub of Vienna’s coffee culture in which Freud, Stalin and Hitler came to peruse the free newspapers, sip coffee and have a good old think about the world around them (not on the same day, presumably. That would have been an ideological minefield even Sigmund would have struggled to defuse). I doubt that much thinking is done in Cafe Central nowadays. It is a grand, beautiful cathedral to coffee; stunning to enter and photogenic in the extreme. The problem is that everyone else thinks so to. They have come to take pictures, gulp down a slice of cake so they can say they have eaten something in Cafe Central, and make an awful lot of noise whilst they’re doing it. Crying babies; smashed glasses; cutlery clattering to the floor; and all the while you try to imagine the place as it would have been before it became just another stop on the tourist trail. I gave it a good go. On two separate occasions I braced the queues outside and tried to make Cafe Central my local watering hole for the time I was in the city. I tried to settle in with my book in the evening whilst a piano played softly in the background. The screeching baby put paid to that idea. I tried again two days later in the afternoon, nursing a cup of tea and a delicate trio of petit fours almost too lovely to eat. The chatter and noise and constant rushing of customers and staff past my table put me on edge (and sent my copy of The World According to Garp flying to the floor when a customer swung a rucksack too wildly onto their shoulder). It is not a place where you can linger. It is a place to pop into, take the obligatory picture of the cake counter, and leave. Yet the food was, in a word, wonderful. The Wiener Erdapfelsuppe – a Viennese potato soup of cepe mushrooms and diced bacon – was hearty and delicious, whilst the simplicity of the Wiener Schnitzel – a thinly sliced cut of veal cooked to perfection in a golden coating of breadcrumbs with parsley potatoes – was a highlight of the trip, so tender and tasty that I could quite easy have ordered the meal again as soon as I’d finished. And while (sadly) I cannot attest to the individual qualities of each dessert on offer, the small trio of cakes that I had tasted just as gorgeous as they looked. Cafe Central is a unique place with a great history and a wonderful selection of food and delights on offer. I just wish it felt more personal and less like a tourist attraction.
And so we say goodnight Vienna for the last time. I hope you have enjoyed (or at least tolerated) these posts and will pop back soon when there will be more amazing afternoon teas from around London and beyond. Till next time, folks xx
Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx