From schnitzel to strudel there’s much to enjoy at a Viennese dinner table
The earliest recipe for Wiener Schnitzel is in a 19th-Century cookbook, which gives instructions for preparing a very thin, breaded and pan-fried cutlet. Today, few tourists come to Vienna without sampling this dish. Many try it first in a Figlmüller restaurant.
The first, Figlmüller Wollzeile, opened in 1905 in the city centre. It’s still there but now it has three branches, one in Grinzing and the other two within steps of the original in the inner city. Figlmüller Bäckerstrasse, and Lugeck. On my most recent visit I tried Lugeck, where the decor is ‘modern’ – tile and beechwood as opposed to dark wood. I very much missed the cosy atmosphere of the other Figlmüllers, but the schnitzel with its classic potato salad accompaniment was just as good.
Figl in Grinzing is the newest in the group, run by the fourth generation of the family. It’s casual, fun and about 15 minutes by taxi from Reed. Beer drinkers can choose between seven beers from the barrel and a dozen exclusive bottled beers. Viennese Schnitzel, spare ribs or the Figls Burger taste as good in winter next to a log fire as in summer under the chestnut trees.
A point to note; the classic ‘Viennese’ wiener schnitzel – a term protected by law – must be made with veal. It’s on the menu in three of the four Figl restaurants. The flagship Wollzeile offers only its own version, the Figl-schnitzel, made from pork. Even so, Figlmüller Wollzeile is the most popular restaurant of the group. Best to book a few days in advance: contact this or any Figlmüller restaurant through http://www.figlmuller.at/
Restaurant 1070 is a self-declared ‘schnitzel-free zone’. It’s also menu free. The owner/cook/hostess first asks if you have any food dislikes or allergies, and after that what comes out in course after course is up to her and the kitchen.
Portions are small, but are offered in a sequence starting with a minimum of three courses. Hungry diners can go for as many as seven. My companion had four. I had three, and two of them I didn’t recognise. They turned out to be (as I learned on enquiring afterwards) dishes I would not remotely have considered ordering had I known in advance what they were. But I enjoyed them and that was even more of a surprise. Perfectly paired wines are available.
It’s a small, candlelit room, an artful setting for an out-of-the-ordinary evening. Vegetarian, coeliac and vegan requirements can be accommodated. The restaurant is on a cobbled backstreet – Gutenberggasse 28, Vienna 1070. (The zip code is the restaurant’s name.) To reserve a table: +43 676 5661774 or through https://www.quandoo.at
Experience the perfect strudel
One of the world’s most beloved pastries is the apple strudel, and Vienna is its home. The authentic Austrian strudel consists of layers of very thin pastry swirled around a filling of tart apples, raisins, breadcrumbs, sugar and cinnamon. ‘Strudel’ means ‘whirlpool’ and refers to its appearance when baked and sliced. The earliest recipe, dating from 1689, is preserved in Vienna’s town hall. Where to experience the perfect strudel in Vienna? One great choice is the Café Mozart, which has been a centre of Viennese society life since 1794. “Can’t we meet at Café Mozart” is a line in the film The Third Man; the author, Graham Greene, was a frequent guest. Café Mozart, Albertinaplatz 2.
The apprentice who became a master
In 1832 – in what must rank as one of the most successful achievements of any pastry apprentice ever – the 16-year-old Franz Sacher created the Sacher torte. Instructed by Prince von Metternich, Chancellor of the Austrian Empire, to devise a cake that would impress the Prince’s guests, Franz came up with the combination of chocolate cake and apricot jam that has been impressing cake fanciers ever since. Years later, the apprentice’s son opened Vienna’s Sacher Hotel, where the authentic and original Sacher torte is still served. Packaged Sacher tortes of various sizes from mini to mega are also available for sale in the hotel or through their online shop, and make a tasty souvenir of Vienna. Sacher Hotel, Philharmoniker Str. 4; https://www.sacher.com/
Pancakes like you’ve never seen before
A challenge to any sweet tooth, the Kaiserschmarrn is another Viennese speciality. Shredded pancakes, served warm with fruit compote, it’s a dessert to enjoy with a cup of coffee. The name combines the world for emperor, in this case Franz Joseph I, whose favourite this was, with schmarrn meaning ‘mess’ or ‘nonsense’. While there are many tall tales around the origin, it is probably an upmarket version of a simple peasant dish. An excellent place to try Kaiserschmarrn is Café Central. Their fluffy version is served piping hot with a tart fruit sauce. The café, which has preserved its elegant 1876 atmosphere, is in itself worth seeing. Café Central, Herrengasse 14.