Vi­en­nese twirl

Meet the cof­fee lovers shak­ing up the Aus­trian cap­i­tal’s favourite pas­time

Food and Travel (UK) - - Contents - 78

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...

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