We arrived to a grey and drizzly Vienna two Friday evenings ago but this couldn’t get our spirits down – we were finally in Vienna, the city that eluded us last Christmas, the city that I’ve been dreaming about for years, the city of coffee houses and cake. Oh yes, and the city of Wiener Schnitzel: we went through a lot of it. My plan for the trip, I mean apart from the sights, was to get as much Wiener Küche (Viennese cuisine) into us as possible. I already knew I’d love it!
By the time we made it to our hotel, it was already dinner time but I hadn’t booked anything in advance. A chat with the front desk confirmed what we anticipated – a walk down to try Figlmüller and their famed Wiener Schnitzel would probably result in our standing in a queue for a very long time. She instead recommended a gasthaus nearby and that’s how our first meal in Vienna came to be at Gasthaus Nestroy. This local restaurant served exactly what I was looking for – Wiener Küche.
It was surprising to see that Austria still clings on to its rights to smoke indoors but luckily, the smoking and non-smoking areas are well separated. We went with non-smoking and were given a short menu listing all manner of Viennese dishes (we later realised that this was the abridged menu probably for tourists – I was in a humph for a while upon learning this but then again, we still would have ordered exactly what we did and not steak tartare as the locals did).
A Wiener Schnitzel mit Petersilkartoffel und Preiselbeeren (veal schnitzel with parsleyed potatoes and cranberries) and a Tafelspitz mit Röstkartoffeln (Viennese boiled beef with roast potatoes) were what we ordered for our first meal in Vienna.
Our first Viennese schitzel in Vienna was excellent – greaseless and crisp and thin yet not dry. We found this to be the case of all the schnitzels we sampled; all were excellently cooked (yeah, we had three over our long weekend there). And they were always big too.
The Tafelspitz (boiled beef) was much tastier than it sounds – we greatly enjoyed this with its accompanying chive sauce (it reminded me of a tartare sauce) and apple-horseradish sauce. The roast potatoes were in a dumpling form – the cooked potatoes had been chopped up and bound together and tasted like the best hash browns ever.
Prices were certainly reasonable and we were the only tourists in the restaurant that night. It’s unlikely you’d go looking for it though unless you were in the area (north of the Danube, near Nestroyplatz station).
As we had a limited time in Vienna, we planned to have proper sit down meals in the evenings while trying as many different coffee houses during the day (uh…and night. But that’s a whole other post!). The next day, after a long and exhausting afternoon at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we headed to a beisl (guidebooks liken them to the Austrian version of the Italian trattoria) recommended by Ute at Hungry in London – Alt Wiener Beisl “zu den 2 Lieserln”.
We ordered yet another Wiener schnitzel (pretty sure it was still veal) and a fiakergulasch (coachman’s gulasch). The schnitzel arrived as three cutlets overlapping each other as well as the plate itself – it was a massive portion. It was delicious too as was the side dish of potato salad, all cold and tangy.
The fiakergulasch was a delicious paprika rich beef stew served with a fried frankfurter, a fried egg and pickles. I hadn’t expected to find gulasch everywhere in Vienna but then memories of history class and the Austro-Hungarian empire hit me and well, duh; the version in Vienna is supposed to be quite different from the kind you find in Hungary though. This gulasch’s thick sauce reminded me very much of a slow cooked curry.
Excellent food and excellent value for money too (with a couple of soft drinks, the bill was about €24). I’m not sure you can appreciate the size of the portions from this photo and so I present you with this one:
Alt Wiener Beisl
“zu den 2 Lieserln”
On our final night in Vienna, the heavens opened just as we came out of the Leopold Museum and my sandals were looking like a bad idea. That coupled with it being a Sunday night when many restaurants were closed meant that finding a good place to eat would prove to be a little more difficult. Again we tried Figlmüller and again we failed but ended up at another touristy spot – Griechenbeisl. While it was quite touristy (it being one of the oldest restaurants in Vienna, dating back to 1447), it was quite fun eating there as we were seated in the Mark Twain room, a room with its ceiling covered with the signatures of the famous dining in this establishment. Mozart! Beethoven! Mahler! Um…Johnny Cash? At first we were skeptical – really? Is that REALLY Mozart’s signature up there? But we haven’t found any evidence to the contrary online and so we’ve come to accept what we saw.
The food wasn’t too bad but it was certainly expensive. We had yet another Wiener Schnitzel vom Kalb mit Blattsalat (veal schnitzel with a leaf salad) and also a Koteletten vom Steirischen Lamm mit Rosmarinerdäpfel und Melanzanipürree (roasted Styrian lamb chops in herbs with rosemary potatoes and aubergine puree). A side of roast potatoes was ordered too. The schnitzel was again excellent, as I’ve come to expect anywhere in Vienna, but the lamb chops were perhaps a bit too rare. The aubergine puree was delicious.
We had our first and only proper Viennese dessert here – a Mohr im Hemd (the uh…not politically correct Moor in a Shirt). This steamed chocolate cake with a thick chocolate sauce and whipped cream went down a treat.
This restaurant with its history and obvious attraction to tourists was more expensive and just the food part of the bill came to €50. The food was fine but it’s the building one really comes for; if you’re not seated in the Mark Twain room, ask your waiter to see it – they’ve got this whole spiel where they point out the major signatures with a long stick.
All three restaurants are either in or not far from central Vienna (within the Ringstrasse). As anticipated, we loved Viennese cuisine and I even brought back a few ingredients to try to recreate some of it at home. Next up, the Kaffeehäuser!