After dinner on our first night in Vienna, we went for a little stroll in the centre, making the most of the long summer day. When it started to get too dark, we went off in search of Café Hawelka; in hindsight, this was probably my main objective for the night! After a bit of a search (I had accidentally mixed up Dorotheerstrasse with Dorotheergasse), we made it and settled into our table in this lovely, bohemian-looking café close to 10pm.
The very short menu is scratched onto a tiny chalkboard on the wall. We skipped the caffeine so late at night and instead had an Almdudler and an apfelschorle (apple juice and sparkling water – it’s very refreshing). We ordered a slice of apfelstrudel and their famous buchteln; our waiter told us that it would be about 5 minutes till the buchteln would be ready and we munched on the delicious strudel with its crispy pastry while we waited.
At about 5 past 10, the waiters rushed out from the back with numerous plates balanced on their arms, plates piled high with buchteln dusted with powdered sugar, looking like snow topped hills. They were hot from the oven and it took restraint to not bite immediately through the crisp buttery crust into the soft, brioche-like interior and spill the molten hot powidl (a plum conserve) filling onto your chin. We stayed and lingered – the place is open until 2am most days – and so ended our first night in Vienna.
And that started our love affair with the Viennese café – this first experience coupled with the not-so-hot weather during our visit had us cancel plans to visit any palaces and instead make time for even more cafés!
I’ve put the photos from Café Sacher at the Sacher Hotel here as it is technically a cafe, albeit a very touristy one. Saturday morning we were there, of course, for the Original Sacher-Torte, with its two layers of apricot jam, a chocolate sponge and thick layer of chocolate icing; it’s a little dry on its own and so needs that side of whipped cream. But first a bit of something savoury as it was near lunchtime; we chose to have our lunches in cafés too. We shared a pair of Sacherwürstel served with mustard and freshly grated horseradish; there’s only one in the photo as the other is kept warm for you and the eagle-eyed waiter whisks it over when he sees that you’re about to finish your first.
I also had an einspänner (literally a one person carriage), the name for a large coffee with whipped cream – turns out I love whipped cream with coffee. I think Blai had another Almdudler.
It’s certainly very touristy but it’s still a lovely café and is the place to try a slice of Sacher-Torte.
Café Sperl, which we visited on Saturday afternoon after seeing Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze at the Secession, was probably my favourite of the traditional Kaffeehäuser we visited, with its friendly host, stern waitresses and gorgeous room. There are newspapers to browse and billiard tables at which to play.
It’s larger than Café Hawelka and had a larger menu to match – it’s possible to have a full meal here. We were here for just coffee and cake – a hot chocolate for Blai and a melange (similar to a cappuccino) for me and I went up to their little display of cakes to choose our sweet. One particular slice was moving quickly and I pointed at that one; it turned out I’d chosen what must have been one of their specials – the Sperlschnitte, a slice of thin hazelnut sponge covered in a chocolate ganache.
On Saturday night (yes, Saturday was a very café heavy day), we headed for Café Mozart but didn’t linger long there. Their Mozarttorte was fine though nothing spectacular and though the room is very pretty, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was quite touristy. The café is run by the Querfeld family, who also run a number of cafés in Vienna, including the famed Café Landtmann and Café Museum.
And finally a modern cafe – Café Leopold at the Leopold Museum in the MuseumsQuartier. We had just come out of the Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente on Sunday afternoon and we were starting to flag. A couple of juices and a Toast mit schinken und käse, pikante paradeissauce (toast with ham and cheese with a spicy paradise sauce, which was tomato based) here gave us enough energy to visit the museum. It doesn’t feel like one to linger at though as space is quite tight but we were never rushed.
A summary? I wish we had time to visit all Vienna’s cafés! If you’re wondering about prices, well, coffees and cakes don’t come cheap (each café visit cost us between €10-20) but consider that you’re paying for your seat and no one would ever think of rushing you from your table. Take your time, read a newspaper, relax…