Tag Archives: Vienna

Plachutaas: big, beefy but just a wee bit bizarre

Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper: Walfischgasse, Vienna, Austria

It has the feel of somewhere more contemporary, more modern than its Viennese surroundings of pale painted houses and narrow streets. Outside, a mix of Americans, Austrians and Germans sit under heated parasols in a Summery al-fresco setting while inside, diners relax in a cream and pale grey interior and staff seem to appear and vanish noiselessly in an already peaceful room.

I often complain of the noise in restaurants, of tables being too close together and the light either being too harsh or too low. Here, while the tables were pitched cheek by jowl, the chatter didn’t seem to travel; perhaps the Austrians are quieter than my fellow English foodies. The lights extended from the walls over your table so you could not only adjust where the light fell but it always fell straight onto the table, where you need it, while the rest of the room remained in tranquil duskiness.

The staff were adept at seating you and bringing drinks – the atmosphere of a pre-theatre restaurant slapped all over the clean white walls. It was a little distant but with that professionalism so you don’t mind so much and the staff were far from unfriendly too. Bread was already on the table in a neat little bag; the salted variety proved a little overpowering but definitely something I’d like to eat more of. To start we shared a tomato and onion salad along with cucumber in soured cream. The first was over-salted but the red onion delivered a jab of welcome spice to the tomatoes while the latter dish was refreshing and great piled high on morsels of the tasty Viennese bread.

The mains took an awful long time to arrive. The restaurant hadn’t gotten any busier so we had a tough time understanding what the problem was. When they did eventually arrive, it was all a bit of a shock. Fried calves liver was a vast demon of battered meat that spanned the plate, the half-lemon like a speck of colour beside it. The meat, however, was cooked perfectly and was of a superb quality. The potato salad accompanying it was rather bland and a little bright in its yellow colouring. Calves’ liver having the richness that it does, this dish was just too big.

Beef goulash with dumplings was also hearty but beefy too. Hunks of shoulder hid under the tomato sauce, creamy in consistency but without the tartness that tomatoes can sometimes have. The dumplings, more like potato cakes in England, could have been browned a little more to add some colour but the texture was fine. The beef was sweet and tender though some slivers of fat and gristle sneaking around weren’t exactly welcome surprises.

The sirloin steak with chanterelles was served on the edge of medium, slightly underdone but none the worse for it. It was thick slab of meat, the creamy sauce with the chanterelle mushrooms just right and the potato dumplings cooked and coloured well.

The desserts were pricey, knocking around the €7 mark and we opted for peach tartare with homemade sorbet and pistachios. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t laugh out loud when it arrived. It looked like someone had been sick on our plate, smoothed it into a circle, topped it with a scoop of pale pink sorbet and dropped a leaf on top. We tried to forget first impressions as we got stuck in. The diced peach topped with pistachios was sweet, almost like a chunky compote, though the pistachios were getting soggy in the moistness of it all and going soft. The sorbet, a weak raspberry flavour, was creamy and soft, not at all icy, and complimented the sweetness of the peaches well. All I can say is that it wasn’t worth €7.90.

The menu seemed to be traditional Viennese (schnitzel, goulash, boiled beef, cabbage pasta) though it felt simplified, perhaps for tourists, and when served lacked finesse or elegance, or even accompanients such as vegetables or salads and looked brash, comical even, in the stylish surroundings. The big portions cover the inconsistencies of the menu and it’s disappointing that the food doesn’t live up to the expectations when you are first whisked in by attentive waiters that soon decide you are secondary now that you are seated.

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Bellaria: where time stands till but cake goes quick

Bellaria: Bellariastrasse, Vienna, Austria

First open in 1870, Bellaria can boast of its Austrian heritage and Viennese traditions. You can tell too. The interior is dark wood panelling hugging plush window seats of red faux-velvet while dainty chairs cluster around small circular tables; art-decor would be an understatement.

The staff were typically brusque in a not unfriendly way, determined to point us in the correct direction of what cake to choose. “Apfelstrudel, fresh. This one caramel coffee, very nice. This, torte, also very good.” I’m not surprised we ended up trying two. The apfelstrudel (fresh, by the way) was surprisingly moist, wet almost, nothing like I had seen before. It wasn’t soggy and held together though, strong flavours of cinnamon pushing through the apple and raisin. It was served in the traditional oblong slice sprinkled with icing sugar and, devoid of ice cream or any other interfering accompanient, the strudel could certainly fight its own corner. Yes, I think a crispier pastry would have been better, and more in line with the national-dish style; it would have also looked a little more appetising.

We followed our hosts’ advice again, this time opting for the cardinal slice. Served in a thick cuboid slice the colours of the sponge and egg whites when mixed form the colours of the Catholic Church – yellow and white. Ours was true to tradition; a genoise-like cake underneath which was a layer of white meringue mixture which had been hardened until just chewy. Running through the middle was a rich layer of espresso-flavoured cream. This was wonderfully strong without the bitterness of a straight espresso and the smoothness of the cream matched the sticky meringue beautifully. Very different to the strudel in taste and texture but with a lovely fluffiness not usually found in creamy cakes.

And while you sample these decadent sweets served straight from the deli counter to your island of forgotten Austria, you are transported to a place where time stands still and where haste and immediacy have no meaning: the land of Viennese coffee culture. Any traditional coffee shop will have you landing there in no time, only allowing you to take off back to the raging world of modern day when you have downed the last of your dark, slightly bitter coffee, paid your bill and forced yourself from your chair. But if you want to do it in style, comfort and just outside the magnificent classical Parliament building and gothic-style town hall, then do it in Bellaria.

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Oberlaa: Make room for macaroons!

Oberlaa: Babenbergerstrasse, Vienna, Austria

If you have a sweet tooth then this is the place for you. Vienna is known for its sachertorte, apple strudel and chocolates but Oberlaa takes it to the next level both in terms of presentation and taste. Sure, it’s expensive (a box of Grand Marnier truffles will set you back €12 for 9 chocolates) but what can you expect from a cafe so close to the popular MuseumsQuartier? The display is staggering. There are chocolate cakes, strudels (apple and quark cheese), nut tortes, macaroons coloured blue, green, brown and a bright bubblegum pink and not to mention every variety of truffle under the Austrian sun. It’s a shame we stopped by just for lunch, really…

The cafe itself is simple and inviting with a pale wooden and orange interior. The service was very quick and friendly, the food arriving with no fuss and although in very little time, not too quickly for comfort either.

A ham roll finely garnished turned out to be a medley of peas, sweetcorn and carrot trussed in mayonnaise and wrapped in two slices of thin ham. Beside it was a crunchy leaf salad, baby corn and gherkins both welcome additions. Sesame bread and the classic soft Vienna bread filled out the salad. Oberlaa toast was a cheese and ham toastie served with a dish of sweet tomato sauce. The toastie was nothing special unfortunately and the sauce was a little too lumpy and thick in consistency. Still, nothing inedible and it was declared enjoyable. Finally was the Austrian veal sausage which, in no disparaging way, looks rather like a Frankfurter hotdog. The veal added a slightly meatier taste and the mustard was French-style; tasty. Grated horseradish was an interesting addition and worked well. It was decided that the sausage was a bit too Frankfurter-like when we matched the taste and appearance but the tag attaching the two long sausages together assured us it was all Viennese.

Lunch here is hit and miss but they do have a daily specials menu from 11-1pm that includes more substantial Viennese dishes so choose wisely and keep room for a slice of cake. Or, hand choose a selection of their lovely chocolates and stuff yourself silly.

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Sowieso: Value in Vienna

Sowieso: Das Wienen Restaurant, Fleischmarkt, Vienna, Austria

Set in a quiet street just outside central Vienna, Sowieso is laid-back, friendly and fantastic value for money. They serve a mix of traditional Austrian dishes including cream soups, veal goulash, schnitzel and apricot dumplings.

We sat outside, the Summer heat wave still inciting scores of residents and tourists to take to the streets in search of food, drink and in general, a good time. Sowieso was busy but the service, conducted by a friendly couple who spoke competent English, was fast and not at all intrusive. They made every effort to enable us to enjoy our experience, including offering advice on the menu and taking the hint that we needed more time to choose. And boy was it hard to.

Aside from the nine set menus that deliver three courses for anywhere between €15 and €20, there is a monthly menu and also an a la carte. To start, we opted for Austrian Tapas to share. A delightful platter arrived with taster versions of the restaurant’s most prized main dishes. Veal goulash was mouth-wateringly tender in a steamy tomato sauce; cream of parsnip soup had just a hint of nutmeg and spice to add that touch of warmth while crispy croutons floated near the top; a cold beef salad topped with slivers of red onion was shredded beef offset by the sharpness of balsamic vinegar and the nuttiness of the truffle oil, delicious! Finally breaded chicken and potato salad fell apart between your teeth, the choice of dark meat a good one to add that extra meaty flavour. Dainty pieces of baguette were useful for mopping up the juices.

A main of chanterelle mushrooms in cream sauce with potato dumplings from the August menu was a sure hit. The sauce was rich but not overpowering, the mushrooms with a full and nutty taste – even meat-lovers would be satisfied. The dryness of the potato dumplings was perfect to compliment to sauce – a real traditional treat we were told. I can’t disagree. Also from the August menu was fried Styrian chicken – Styrian being an area of Austria – the chicken was actually deep fried in a crispy dark breadcrumb batter served beside a potato salad with pumpkin oil. The batter held to the chicken well, though the breast was a little tasteless. The thigh and wing meat was tastier, as expected, though nothing outstanding here. The salad was better; the pumpkin oil delivering just a hint of the vegetable’s sweetness though the amount made it all a bit greasy and tart.

Finally came a minute steak with crispy onions and fried potatoes. The steak was cooked to be tender and the onions, rings so thin and delicate they were like ribbons of dew, were wonderfully light and crunchy. The potatoes were a bit too salty though and could have had less time cooking. The gravy serving was rather generous but, as we quickly saw here, portion size means nothing.

For dessert there was a typical creme brulee for those who can’t go without their caramel and cream. For the more culture-lovers, be sure to sample the warm apricot dumpling; made from semolina and topped with a sprinkling of icing sugar, this chewy, doughy dumpling has nothing of the doughnut texture that you might assume. Far from being rubbery or overly sweet, it has a great bite to it and inside hides a full apricot. Finished off by a dollop of apricot compote and crumbs of crystallised sugar, this dessert was the star of the show. It’s also available as two smaller dumplings stuffed with Austrian ice cream – apparently just as popular!

Sowieso is not fine dining but that’s not what you’re paying for; what you are paying for is attentive and relaxed service, generous helpings of good quality Austrian cuisine and an altogether pleasant evening. And here, you get what you pay for too.

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