The Sweet Charms of Café und Kuchen
Cosmopolitan, elegant with just a whiff of intrigue, Vienna has long been known for its café culture and restaurants
Article by Oscar Udeshi
Vienna is a city I have visited at least once a year since I was born. Being half Austrian, but not Viennese, Vienna was always the big town we went to do our shopping and had a nice meal. We had a few favourite places we would go, but we had to find them ourselves, we didn’t go because of habit. The places below all have their merits and must satisfy my desire to dream about them when I am many thousands of miles away and have thoughts of the perfect pastry or the best schnitzel.
Bertolt Brecht said Vienna is that small town, with lots of coffee houses built around it, with its population inside reading the newspaper. The best coffeehouse in my book, and to see locals indulging in the finest torte and coffee, is Demel on Kohlmarkt. Yes, it is touristy, but infinitely less than the Sacher where there are lines of Asian tourist queuing to sit in a goldfish bowl to eat the Sachertorte. There is still controversy over who can call their torte the real Sachertorte, Demel or Sacher. In my book it is sadly the commercial Sacher, as it has two layers of apricot jam versus Demel’s one, so is moister. Cafe Central, Cafe Landtmann, Cafe Museum and a few other grand masters of the art of Cafe life, invented long before Starbucks was even a glimmer in Howard Schultz’s eye, are definitely worth seeking out, but in the morning before the throngs of tourists arrive with their wheelie cases in the afternoon – yes Vienna is suffering the same fate as Barcelona and Lisbon.
For “zwischendurch,” in between in English, or more accurately a pit stop, Trzesniewski (founded 1902), on Dorotheergaasse, a side street just of the Graben, serves little “Pfiffs“ of beer accompanied with mini sandwiches in all kinds of variations. Picture a meeting place where two gourmand Cold War spies would meet for an exchange of documents.
Also not to be missed are the “wurstelstand“ – sausage stands dotted on the streets that serve „frankfurters“ what the Germans and the rest of the world call “wieners” and the local favourite “Kasekrainer” that is a more aromatic sausage with melted cheese inside – probably one of the most missed foods by homesick Austrians the world over. Obviously washed down with a cold beer. Thanks to rigoursly enforced hygiene standards, eating at one of these shacks is perfectly safe – something that cannot be said about London.
Next on most people‘s list is a Wiener Schnitzel that traditionally, at least in my book is supposed to be veal, but exists in beef, pork, chicken, and vegetarian form for some reason. The meat is battered to within a quarter inch of its life and should be no thicker than half your pinkie finger if not less. Having it so thin makes frying it a matter of minutes and is a lot easier to eat. The best-known place in town is Figlmueller where the schnitzels are bigger than the plates they are served on. A decent schnitzel can be found though in most Viennese restaurants.
Another traditional Viennese specialty is Tafelspitz, similar to the French dish pot au feu; meat is used to make a bouillon, which is served with either a liver dumpling, noodles or shredded pancakes, and then the meat is served as the main course with hash browns and creamed spinach. This meal takes time to enjoy and one of my favourite places is Plachutta, as you can also choose which type of beef is used, be it more flavourful or leaner, whereas most other restaurants would only offer one cut of meat.
“Zu den 3 Hacken“ on Singerstrasse is an excellent upscale version of a traditional Viennese tavern in the centre of town, slightly off the beaten track with a loyal local following. Here you will find “Hausmannskost” the traditional food real people eat, as opposed to fancy sounding Instagram friendly dishes. If you need a fine dining Viennese restaurant where you might go with your potential in laws, “das Schwarze Kameel” the Black Camel has been around since 1618 where the local movers and shakers can be seen being served by the faultless and discrete service. An oasis of calm.
For drinks, one must head to Kärntner Durchgang and the American Bar, designed by Adolf Loos in 1908, this tiny 300 square foot art nouveau bar serves some of the best cocktails in town. Even if you don’t drink, the interior hasn’t really been touched since it opened 110 years ago. The owner can be found sitting discretely in the corner keeping an eye on proceedings.