Meet the coffee lovers shaking up the Austrian capital’s favourite pastime
Wake up and smell the coffee in the Austrian capital, where Michael Raffael takes his with a side-serving of Michelin stars as he meets the chefs who are moving the city forward
Viennese don’t travel by horse and carriage to work. They take the U-Bahn or tram. Hailing a fiacre outside flamboyant gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral is a one-off, a nod to the city’s imperial past. It’s near the top of any to-do list, along with apfelstrudel (apple strudel) at Demel and Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss at Belvedere museum. Movie buffs would also add its Ferris wheel, from which Orson Welles playing Harry Lime in The Third Man looked down at the fairground below and uttered the words: ‘Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving?’
A first trip to Vienna is about covering bases: everything from Schönbrunn Palace to the sausage stand at the corner of the state opera house. But peel away that wrapping and it’s shifting – with style – from its chocolate-box past. Its 1st District, fringed by the Ringstrasse, remains the axis. From it, spokes stretch to vine-covered hills still within city limits. Along them, expect the unexpected: a B&B with chickens and a swimming pool above a vinegar factory, a snail farm and bistro, a deli producing mozzarella and burrata from its own herd of buffalo and a Spanish three-star Michelin chef simmering the world’s best goulash.
Oliver Goetz owns Alt Wien, a coffee shop that typifies the shift from classic to modern. Supplying his coffee to more than 300 restaurants and cafés, he contrasts the city’s reputation as the world’s kaffeehaus (coffee house) capital with the quality of beans sometimes used to make it. ‘I call the fancy coffees served in the central district “coffee cocktails” because they don’t have anything to do with the taste of the coffee itself,’ he says. ‘For Viennese, kaffee still means very chocolatey, very nutty with little acidity.’
It’s something of a mocha taste that is best suited to the muted shades of a latte, the popular melange (1½ shots of espresso and steamed milk topped with a dollop of whipped cream) or the einspänner (black coffee and a lot more of that whipped cream).
Competing with Demel, Sperl, Landtmann, Sacher and a bevy of other famous coffee houses that date back more than a century are a raft of new spots to hang out. Some of them, such as Radlager, are like clubs. Radlager focuses on vintage racing bicycles and coffee. An espresso at the bar costs 80p and Der Standard newspaper, Austria’s Financial Times, has voted it the best in town.
At another, called Supersense, you’ll find rare Polaroid cameras and film for sale plus a press that hand-prints individual designs. Aside from sitting back enjoying a brauner (espresso, cream and whipped cream), you can also use its analogue recording studio which comes equipped with session musicians and a stereo disc recording lathe to produce bespoke master albums.
Vollpension started out as a place where retired people with too much time on their hands could work. Pensioners with enough panache to teach Mary Berry a few tricks come in here to bake a cake or three. There’s a lusciousness to their torten that only dedicated home cooks ever achieve.
The Naschmarkt was once a box that every
tourist had to tick. It stretches along in a thin ribbon for some 1.5km through the 6th District. Restaurants have displaced many of the original food stalls and those that remain often sell edible souvenirs, though there are a few wunderbar (wonderful) exceptions. Käseland stocks wheels of aged alpine cheese and produces its own Liptauer, a spreadable fresh cheese prepared from brimsen (ewe’s milk curd). Flavoured with chopped capers, onion and paprika, it’s pungent, creamy and somewhat addictive. Beisls (bistros) often serve it – maybe because it encourages diners to drink more.
However, vinegars and oils from Erwin Gegenbauer are the stars. Dressed like an extra in a Miami Vice episode, he’s a multimillionaire and nuts about creating aromas to titillate palates. There’s method to his madness. He’ll ask himself, he says, what kind of vinegar would go best in a hollandaise sauce designed to accompany asparagus. Answer: asparagus. So that’s what he will brew. Plum, saffron, paprika, herb, sour cherry, single varietal apples and a stack of other flavoured vinegars pack his shelves. The cellars of his brewery resemble a true alchemist’s trove.
‘To make elderberry vinegar, we press the berries to extract the juice, fermenting it into a wine and then convert it to vinegar so it retains its natural acidity,’ he says.
And his imagination doesn’t stop there. He turns raspberry juice to vinegar but crushes the seeds to produce oil. Still not content, he feeds the leftover pulp to the chickens he keeps above his factory.
He also recognises the changing mood in the capital. ‘What we watched in London or New York ten years ago is coming here,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of tradition in the city but the young people are combining it with the modern. They are opening shops outside the centre – everything from food to clothes – because rents there are crazy. Brands such as Prada or Gucci damage the market. They are only placements. Nobody goes in them to buy.’
He could have cited Joseph Weghaupt as an example. He’s the butcher-turned-baker whose bread is served up at Steirereck, Austria’s finest and grandest restaurant. His shop close to Landstrasser U-Bahn doubles as a café-bar. Five minutes up the Hauptstrasse, he supplies restaurateur Johannes Lingenhel. Two years ago, Johannes sold his deli in the Naschmarkt and set about renovating a 200-year-old townhouse. He describes food and wine as ‘the new art’. To this end, he acquired a herd of buffalo and has taught himself to make the mozzarella
for his restaurant and shop. Johannes makes soft cheese too, all from buffalo milk: one is plump like Camembert, another is a thin disc and the third is wrapped in vine leaves. They don’t have names yet so he simply calls them 1, 2 and 3.
Andreas Gugumuk, another newcomer, farms snails on the fringe of Favoriten, the 10th District. He’s reviving a lost cottage industry. Up to the end of the 19th century, Austria was a strict Catholic country. The church proscribed eating meat 150 days a year. Snails, though, slipped through the net and, incredibly, were more popular here than they were in Paris. At any one time Andreas has 20,000 to 40,000 corralled on his smallholding.
His gastropods are on Grand Ferdinand’s menu, where they’re served chunky and unadorned in garlic butter, while Spanish chef Juan Amador creates a masterpiece featuring scallops and with a chive sauce and speck (ham).
His restaurant Amador’s Wirtshaus und Greisslerei translates as pub and grocer though it’s anything but. The dining room under a vaulted brick canopy could be the nave of a Romanesque church. It only opens in the evenings. At lunchtime, a long glass table set above a wooden beam in the front of the building acts as a beisl. The goulash, made with big blocks of gelatinous veal cheek and a paprika, vinegar and caraway sauce, is irrefutably unbeatable.
So what would the diners here, or those who tuck into a tafelspitz (boiled beef with an apple and horseradish sauce) at the iconic Plachutta restaurant think of Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant Tian? Its £86 six-course menu bombards the taste buds. Pastry chef Thomas Scheiblhofer has been Austria’s top patissier for the past two years, so his chocolate dessert deserves precedence. The surface of Sweet Underground looks like a tilth of freshly dug soil, decorated with a wormcast and a Japanese enoki mushroom. A layer of mousse-ganache coats the sides of the bowl. In the middle sits a strawberry and elderflower sorbet egg.
Head chef Paul Ivic’s Hops And Malt is no less complex: beads of barley tartare under a malt pâte à brick (pastry) dome, surrounded by blanched hop shoots. The restaurant has only been open for three years. What do the conventional Viennese make of it? Waitress Claudia tells me: ‘Austrians are slow on the uptake, however, once they get it, they like it.’
Diners at Konstantin Filippou’s eponymous restaurant face another kind of challenge. Its narrow rectangular
space looks like an Armani-inspired classroom. At one end, part pass and part theatre, two chefs add the finishing touches to dishes emerging from a kitchen that can be glimpsed through a window. The cooking doesn’t have to rely on the ambience for effect: a saffron-tinted brandade of char, asparagus and zander (pike perch) with consommé or quail breast stuffed with mushroom duxelles served with a confit of the leg speak for themselves.
At the Imperial’s Opus restaurant, the sommelier refills my glass. There’s no such thing as a typical gemischter satz, he explains. It’s white. It’s dry. It’s on Michelin-starred wine lists and in family owned heurigers, the taverns that dot the suburbs of the city’s greenbelt in Grinzing, Stammersdorf, Mauer, Nussdorf and Neustift am Wald. A bottle may cost about £5 at the winery or as much as £35. In less than two decades it’s grown from a historical relic to preeminence.
Vienna is the only capital in the world that produces significant quantities of wine within its boundaries. Its vineyards act as buffers against urban sprawl. In Nussberg, winemaker Fritz Wieninger describes how gemischter satz changed from a mish-mash of grape varieties grown on single vineyards into a closely controlled quality wine. ‘Each vineyard has to be planted with a minimum of three varieties and they are all harvested together,’ he says.
It’s trickier than other winemaking, he explains. ‘The wine is a symbiosis of grapes at different stages of maturity because some varieties are a little under-ripe and some are a little over but they are all harvested at the same time,’ he says.
Thinking back, he admits it took a lot of persuading for him to accept it. ‘Gemischter satz was a dirty word and many of my older colleagues had to convince me about it,’ he says. ‘Today it’s the number one wine in Vienna and everybody loves it.’
Since 1999, when he started experimenting with it, his estate has grown from 8ha to 45ha. Each of his four gemischter satz wines has its own terroir and specificity. ‘A friend told me that a varietal wine is like an instrument but my blends are like an orchestra,’ he says. If that’s the case, his entry-level wine, which includes 11 grape varieties, really does fit the bill, whereas his top-of-the-range rosengartl is more of a string quartet.
Fritz has a heuriger in the middle of his vines. Here, with a view of the capital, a glass of wine produced from vines that grow all the way up to the tables costs £2.60. Washed down with a platter of cold cuts, sweet mustard, horseradish and rye bread, it’s a delicious reminder that while a new age may be dawning for Vienna, the best of its traditions will always be around.
Michael Raffael and William Shaw travelled to Vienna courtesy of the Vienna Tourist Board. vienna.info
Opposite page, from top left; coffee at Supersense; ornate chandeliers at Grand Imperial hotel; the homely interior at Vollpension. This page: chef Konstantin Filippou
Left: a brightly coloured dish of scallops and snails with chive sauce at Amador’s Wirtshaus und Greisslerei This page, from left: gastropods feature on many Viennese menus; snail farmer Andreas Gugumuk. Opposite page, clockwise from top left: an early...
Vineyards clamber up the hills surrounding the city
Clockwise from top left: Konstantin Filippou’s muted colour scheme; entry to Opus restaurant; a delicate quail dish at Konstantin Filippou; reflections in the window at café Heuer; traffic lights reflect a city of progress
This page, from left: Opus chef Rupert Schnait; an impressive cutlery collection; views from Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom. Opposite page: the modern-meetsancient city skyline
This page, clockwise from top left: old and new sit side by side; vivid mural at 25hours hotel; a building is adorned with a floral pattern. Opposite page, clockwise from top left: jars of pickles; sausages sizzle at Naschmarkt; trams are the most...