Obviously the captial of the former Austro-Hungarian empire is going to have heaps of great restaurants serving classic Austrian dishes. Reviewed below are three of the most venerable institutions, and the famous foods they serve (click on the links for more info). Please see my separate posts for Hotdogs, Bars and Cafes. You’ll find everywhere I mention, and more on my Google map.
Zum Schwarzen Kameel (High Intermediate B), Bognergasse, www.kameel.at
The Black Camel is a famous Viennese institution that has existed since the 17th century (in the same family since 1618), although the current décor is Art Deco (from 1902). It’s a formal restaurant, bar and pâtisserie as well as a delicatessen that sells their own-brand marmalade, chocolate, oil and pasta.
The menu offers Viennese and international cuisine and you can choose from more than 800 wines from national and international estates. I came on my first night in Vienna, so I went for the €69 five-course Wiener Menu which features several local classics.
First some handcut bone-in ham with freshly grated horseradish (very typical) and homemade bread.
Then ‘intense’ Rindsuppe beef soup with bone-in ham strudel. Strudel orignally an Austrian dish that became popular during the days of empire. The name means ‘whirlpool’ in German, referring to how the pastry is layered. The filo pastry and baking style hints at Near East origins with baklava being a relative. Usually a sweet dessert, this was a savoury version.
Then veal goulash with homemade Nockerl (flour dumplings) served with sour cream. Goulash is the national dish of Hungary, the former partner in empire, but in Vienna they have a local variety called Wiener Saftgulasch. It has more onions (at least two thirds of the weight of the meat) than other varieties but no tomatoes or other vegetables and is slow cooked for at least three hours to make a thick stew.
After this, Viennese Schnitzel made from Austrian veal filet and served with Erdäpfelsalat, a typical potato salad, made with vinegar, mustard, chives and red onion (B). Schnitzel is perhaps the most famous Viennese dish and it’s also the national dish of Austria. There is some debate as to whether it is derived from and predates Cotoletta alla Milanese (also breaded veal but bone in) but literary evidence seems to date it to the nineteenth century whereas the Italians had been eating their version at least as early as 1134.
For dessert, apricot Palatschinken pancakes served with a stewed apricot sauce and an apricot sorbet.
With this, a glass of their in-house dessert wine made from Scheurebe grapes.
Although the service was very good I wasn’t that impressed by the food. It was fine (all B/B-) but I know there is better to be had. I definitely need to go back though just to have a drink on the terrace.
Figlmüller Bäckerstraße (Intermediate B), 6 Bäckerstraße, www.figlmueller.at
Another Viennese institution, Figlmüller is very popular with both locals and tourists so I strongly advise you reserve, or expect a wait.
I began with the breaded and fried sweetbreads which were just okay (B).
Customers usually come here for the classic Wiener Schnitzel, made with pan-fried breaded veal, or alternatively the house special, Figlmüller Schnitzel, which is the same but made with pork. For a change I went with the Figlmüller Schnitzel which was very good (B+). Again, as always. served with Erdäpfelsalat. With a couple of glasses of Austrian lager the total cost came to €41.
Everything was fine but having ticked it off the list, I probably wouldn’t return as it’s quite a busy and stressful environment due to its popularity. As Schnitzel is the national dish, just about every place in town serves a decent version, so there are plenty of alternatives.
Plachutta Wollzeile (High Intermediate B+), 38 Wollzeile, www.plachutta-wollzeile.at
Besides Schnitzel, another iconic must-try food experinece in Vienna is Tafelspitz; boiled beef or veal in a broth with root vegetables. It was first popularised by Emperor Franz Josef who declared it his favourite dish. It’s particularly heart-warming on a cold winter’s day.
In Vienna Plachutta Wollzeile is one of the most famous places that specialises in it and they offer ten variations using different cuts of beef. Popular versions are Schulterscherzel (shoulder of beef) or Beinfleisch (shank of beef), but if you’re in doubt which to choose, the waiters will help you out.
The dish is eaten in three stages. First some of the broth is poured into a bowl of noodles and is eaten as a soup. I think this was also Rindsuppe, like the one above, but with noodles which is more typical.
Next, the marrowbone is removed from the pot and the jelly spread on a piece of toasted black bread. After this you eat the beef along with some side dishes such as spinach and potato rosti, and sauces such as a mixture of applesauce and horseradish, accompanied with a good Austrian red or white wine. Other Viennese staples like goulash soup, calf’s liver, and braised pork with cabbage are also on the menu.
There was definitely no room for dessert after this little lot! However for digestive purposes, I did manage an excellent Zwetschke Schnapps from the Tirol which, along with three glasses of a good red, took the bill to just under €60.
Although Plachutta Wollzeile is a historic institution that needs to be ticked off the list, I don’t think I’d go back as I found the environment to be quite stressful with prospective diners blocking the isles and waiters frantically running around with huge trays that I’m sure must have ended up on someone’s head at some point. Fortunately my chap was very cool headed and efficient but if I were you I’d reserve (pretty essential anyway) a place on the indoor terrace which seems less frenetic than the main dining room. Personally, next time I’ll try somewhere like Ofenloch or Lugeck where you can also eat Tafelspitz, but hopefully in a more relaxing atmosphere.
These were three institutions that need to be ticked off any tourist’s list but there are probably many other places where you can eat just as well, if not better. For a great schnitzel or goulash in everyday surroundings, I recommend no-frills Café Anzengruber (please see my Wieden post).
More Vienesse classics in the cafes, coming next…!