Pretty much the first thing I did in Vienna when I arrived was visit the Naschmarkt, a big open air market in the center city that sells all manner of food with a smattering of cafes thrown in selling mostly Asian and Middle Eastern food, like the falafel salad I had a few days later for lunch with my friend Georg.
But on this first day, with my local hosts Emily and Thomas, we hit up a small wine shop and ordered Sturm.
Sturm is wine before it fully ferments. It’s cloudy, smells like yeast and tastes like a cross between juice and wine, which pretty much it is. The pink one in the photo below is from the Schilcher grape, which is a varietal grown in Western Styria, and whose resulting rosé is surprisingly pale compared to the deep berry hue seen here, and is rarely found outside Austria.
Dinner at Plachutta
After a walking tour of the center city around St Stephen’s Dom, the Hofburg palace, Museumsquartier and the Parliament, we sat down to a much deserved dinner at Plachutta.
When Emily had asked me what I wanted to do in Vienna, the thing at the top of my list, and let’s face it, the thing that is always top of my list when traveling, was to eat lots of good local food. I had the usual suspects on there – Sacher Torte, Wiener Schnitzel – but at Plachutta I was initiated into Austrian boiled beef.
I will admit, boiled beef is not a dish that brings delicious things to mind – in fact when Emily suggested it, what came to mind was the height of stereotypical, overcooked, leathery English beef. However, she and Thomas told me it was a Viennese special so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and was very pleasantly surprised.
We all ordered Tafelspitz, which is beef shoulder (there is a handy diagram in the menu that shows you all the different cuts you can have). The waiter brought two large heated silver trivets to the table first, then arrived with a large copper pot full of beef, broth and veggies; two smaller pots with potatoes and super creamy spinach; and two sauce boats with a chive-cream sauce and horseradish spiked apple sauce.
First we were served the broth and vegetables over crispy, thinly sliced noodles that Emily described as chopped up crepes.
I then fished out a piece of bone marrow from the pot and ate it with salt and pepper on rye toast.
When the soup and marrow were finished, our waiter returned and served us the main course from the copper pots. We were so hungry and it was so good, that I didnt get to take a picture, so you will have to use your imaginations.
The beef was super tender and flavorful – fantastic with the horseradish apple sauce. And the spinach, one of my favorite foods, was almost a purée it was so creamy. The potatoes were “rösti” – shredded and pan fried – YUM.
After this feast we couldn’t quite face dessert yet so took a short walk to the tram and, feeling somewhat refreshed, had coffee, sweets and another Austrian specialty, Marillenbrand (apricot schnapps), at home.
Lunch at Österreicher im MAK
That morning, After a few hours checking out the rest of the old city, we rented some municipal bikes and worked up an appetite cycling around the Ringstrasse out to the Prater and back. Like the rest of Europe, it has been an unseasonably warm weekend in Vienna and we were glad of the Sommer Garten when we arrived, ready for lunch, at the museum.
This was the opportunity for Schnitzel. Classic veal, it came accompanied by the requisite potato salad.
Thomas explained that the mark of a good schnitzel is that the skin is all bubbly so that the meat, pounded thin, is almost floating in its crispy coating. This one passed with flying colors. The potato salad was also quite good – served with a tangy, egg based dressing and a few mâche leaves. I opted for the lingonberry sauce as well, which Thomas poo-pooed and said was not the Austrian way. In the end, I didn’t think it added much so it went largely untouched.
I washed the schnitzel down with white Gemischter Satz – yet another local item made from grapes where different varietals are grown and harvested together. It was light and refreshing with an acidity and young taste – not a very high end wine experience, but lovely for lunch on a warm fall day.
As one might expect at a design museum, the bathrooms were very cool. Pink for the women, blue for the men, each stall was oval shaped with a luminous ceiling and the sink consisted of an open grate where a stream of water sprayed up from underneath for you to wash you hands.
The interior cafe is also very nice, lots of dark wood paneling, green leather banquettes and a very neat chandelier made of glass bottles. The museum shop also stocks a range of fun design items and gadgets.
Coffee and Cake at Demel’s
You should not leave Vienna without having coffee and cake at Demel’s, an institution in the heart of the Innere Stadt, or old city.
Inside the mood is frenetic and the service is some of the most typical Viennese you’ll find – that means mostly unpleasant, unhelpful and slow. But it’s all part of the charm.
We were seated at a small sofa in a long salon in the upper floor. The walls were painted bright, cheery yellow with white figures on them, each named after a confection. For example the Contesse de l’Eclair was wearing what looked like a giant eclair dress. The Baroness Von Kipferl had the giant crescent shaped cookies in her hat, her dress and even around her neck.
I ordered an Einspänner – espresso topped with whipped cream.
And we ordered a few cakes – including the requisite Sacher Torte – to share.
Added bonus: When you walk up the stairs you pass by the glassed in kitchen where all the delicacies are made.
Street Sausages & Cocktails
After an evening of high culture at the Wiener Staatsoper, there’s nothing quite like some bratwurst to round things off. So after seeing a production of Handel’s Alcina, I headed across the street to this unassuming stand:
Thomas quickly ordered some Semmel rolls plus two sausages – one veal and one with cheese inside, both served on paper plates with small plastic toothpick-forks.
We scarfed down the sausages and went in search of some quality cocktails at Dino’s American Bar, where they were playing jazz and mixing me up a nice Rye Sazerac. Not very Viennese per se, but an excellent way to end the night.
My last morning in Vienna I was determined to sample a classic Viennese Breakfast, so I headed over to Café Schwarzenberg on the Ringstrasse.
In my halting German I ordered the Schwarzenberg Frühstück – a Semmel roll with butter, two soft boiled eggs, peeled and served in a glass, orange juice and a “mélange” (coffee with milk) – plus a side of Bavarian ham for good measure.
There is something very satisfying about sitting in the sun on a weekday morning, eating a luxurious breakfast at a leisurely pace at an institution like Café Schwarzenberg. Makes one feel rather sophisticated, and provides just the right motivation and sustenance to start a day of sight seeing – especially with the Belevedere Museum, located a short 20 minute walk away, which houses an impressive collection of Klimts, including The Kiss, a contemporary art space, as well as beautiful gardens and a stunning view of Vienna.