Filled with images of Mozart, opera houses, Sachertorte and hot chocolate I booked a few days’ trip to Vienna with my boyfriend. I was a little underwhelmed by the Spanish riding school (as we watched a practice rather than a performance but it turned out to be just exercise for the horses) and the boat trip we went on, but really enjoyed walking around the city centre, standing on the top of one of the cathedral towers and visiting Schonbrunn Palace and the zoo. At Schonbrunn I watched an apple strudel demonstration which will be a blog post for another day!
We ate in some very good restaurants but at the same time found it difficult to choose places to eat. Vienna doesn’t seem to have chain restaurants of the kind we have here – I don’t mean fast food, of which it has the usual suspects of McDonalds and so on, but the mid-market chains we have here like Ask or Zizzi. I think on the whole that’s a good thing but we felt we had little choice between hotel restaurants or random establishments advertising Wiener Schnitzel (all claiming to have the best one in town, funnily enough) and an awful lot of sausage-based dishes, and if you haven't looked at reviews on TripAdvisor in advance you have no idea which ones are good or bad. I saw a few restaurants from other cultures such as Chinese and Thai (neither of which my boyfriend likes) but again, comparing the town centre of Vienna to the centre of London with its myriad of restaurants was very different
Schubertring 7, Vienna
The day we arrived in Vienna was the four-year anniversary of the day my boyfriend and I met (all together now – awww). I wanted to go somewhere special for dinner so looked at the top rankings on TripAdvisor and chose Dstrkt, a steak restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel. It was absolutely the right choice fantastic food, great service and the sort of experience you want for a special occasion.
The Ritz-Carlton is near the Stadtpark and was only a ten minute walk from our hotel. We went in the hotel’s main entrance rather than the restaurant entrance and were politely directed to where we needed to go – in perfect English. This was one notable factor of our trip – everyone in Vienna spoke perfect English. I speak near-fluent (but a bit rusty now) German but my boyfriend doesn’t, so I often spoke to people in restaurants, ticket offices and so on in English so he would understand – and I was amazed at the command of English I heard everywhere. In Bratislava in Slovakia on the other hand, the only woman working in the train station spoke neither English nor German!
We were greeted at the restaurant in the sort of way you would expect a high end business traveller would be – not two slightly bedraggled tourists as we were. I had contacted the restaurant in advance by email to ask if there was a dress code as I was a bit worried we were only bringing casual clothes to Vienna and they replied right away and assured me that was no problem. As it was, I managed to pack a nice frock but my boyfriend was wearing trainers and nobody batted an eyelid. As we were shown to our table near the window my only complaint was that the subdued lighting was so subdued that I needed to use the torch on my mobile phone to read the menu!
There were several cuts of steak available, mostly in 300g portions, or 600g for two to share, but the filet also came in a 180g portion. I ordered the 300g and wished afterwards there had been something in between – 225g or 250g perhaps – as 300g was a bit much but I don’t think 180g would have been enough! There are several other main courses such as a burger, lamb, veal cutlet, perch and trout, and two vegetarian options- butternut pumpkin risotto and vegetable gratin. The restaurant does advertise itself as a steakhouse so it probably wasn’t ever going to have the biggest choice for vegetarians.
I was impressed at the variety of side orders on offer; my boyfriend had fries and béarnaise sauce and I went for spaetzle, a sort of pasta half way between a noodle and a dumpling – it tastes a bit like gnocchi. I used to eat it a lot when I lived in Germany many years ago and loved it. It came in a separate small bowl in a cheese sauce and was so filling I had to leave half of it.
I didn’t particularly want dessert but my boyfriend has a very sweet tooth and wanted the chocolate fondant, so I ordered sorbet. We were told his fondant would take 10-15 minutes to make and it was perfectly gooey in the middle. The restaurant didn’t have a huge selection of desserts and the special was cheesecake (plain) – I was warned it was a large portion and when I saw it arrive to someone else’s table I was glad I hadn’t ordered it! The pear sorbet was particularly good in terms of both flavour and texture though the mango was good but didn’t stand out. My boyfriend’s only complaint was that his chocolate fondant was too small!
Wine by the glass is served in 0.1 litre measures which is 100ml – very strange compared to the 175ml or 250ml I am used to getting at home. It feels like you have just a few sips in the bottom of a glass and does last longer than you expect – I was savouring a very good red – but invariably you have to order another to even feel like you’ve had a proper drink! This was the case in most of the restaurants we went to so I imagine this is typical of Vienna, but I was quite surprised initially and thought perhaps this was a wine tasting menu!
Overall we had a wonderful experience at Dstrikt. The bill came to about 150 euros so it is something to be saved for a special occasion, but I would not hesitate to go back.
Philharmonikerstrasse 4, Vienna
I couldn’t go to Vienna and not have Sachertorte. It’s a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam and covered in chocolate ganache, decorated with a chocolate seal bearing the name of the Sacher hotel, or the word Sacher piped in chocolate across the top. It was invented by Franz Sacher in Vienna in 1832 for a member of the royal family, and there is even a National Sachertorte Day in Austria – December 5.
The Café Sacher is part of the Sacher hotel, the hotel established by the son of Franz Sacher which has trademarked the name of the cake as the original. The café has a separate entrance to the hotel and when we arrived at midday on a Friday, it wasn’t at all busy. We were shown to our seats- bar stools at a high table, which I never like due to being quite short! We ordered two pieces of Sachertorte and two hot chocolates and our order arrived within just a couple of minutes – I imagine most people here order the same thing! We had wanted to eat lunch here but there were only a few savoury dishes on the menu so we decided to get a snack later somewhere else.
I was disappointed by the cake – it was a little dry, and I actually preferred the Sachertorte I’ve made myself before! It was great to taste the cake in its original setting though I drew the line at paying 30 euros to buy a whole cake to take home when I know I can make it myself!
After cake at the Café Sacher and treating ourselves to a star to go on top of our Christmas tree at the flagship Swarovski crystal store, I decided I was still a little hungry and wanted something savoury after all. Luckily my boyfriend wasn’t hungry which gave me the perfect excuse to go somewhere he wouldn’t like- Nordsee. Nordsee is a fast food café and takeaway with one key difference to the likes of McDonalds – they only serve seafood. You can eat in and enjoy fish and chips or a fried fish sandwich, or choose a box of prawns to take away.
When I lived in Germany more than ten years ago, I was a junior reporter for a news agency and usually helped myself to bread, ham and cheese from the free staff kitchen for lunch, but loved to go out and pick up something from Nordsee as the occasional treat. My favourite was always the box of breaded prawns and potato wedges, with seafood (cocktail) sauce on the side, and I was glad to find that more than a decade later they still offered the same thing, for less than 5 euros. They didn’t seem to have anything that wasn’t fish so it’s lucky my boyfriend didn’t want anything to eat at the time!
While the recipe for Wiener Schnitzel is believed to originate from Italy, it has been fully claimed by Austria as their national dish. A schnitzel is a piece of thin meat in breadcrumbs and deep fried – pretty simple, but very tasty. A Wiener Schnitzel has to be made from veal, but pork is commonly used as it is cheaper – though in that case, it can’t strictly be called a Wiener Schnitzel.
Figlmuller has been serving Wiener Schnitzel for over 100 years, and is said to be both the oldest and best Schnitzel restaurant in Vienna. For that reason I was keen to try it. I asked at our hotel reception one evening if we would need to book, and the concierge said they didn’t take reservations we should be OK as it was already 8pm. The restaurant on Wollzeile was only a ten minute walk but we were turned away as it was full. Instead, the woman at the door suggested we try the sister restaurant around the corner- which was opened in 2001, so it doesn’t have the same history, but at least it is the same recipe. Unfortunately, there was a long queue outside so we gave up and went somewhere else.
The next night we decided to try again, but at the much earlier time of 6.30. Again, the Wollzeile restaurant was full – we heard the woman at the door tell a pair of tourists that they were booked for the next three days. Booked? I thought Figlmuller didn’t take bookings? Obviously the information given to us by our hotel concierge was wrong (shame on you, Hilton!) – there is even an online booking button on the restaurant’s website. By that point we really wanted to eat here, and had trouble finding somewhere else to eat the night before and didn’t want to do that again, so joined the queue outside the Baeckerstrasse restaurant around the corner.
My boyfriend really wasn’t happy – he hates to queue for anything, and dislikes restaurants that don’t take bookings (it was lucky he wasn’t with me the time I queued for nearly three hours in the early days of Meatliquor!), and he had never eaten Schnitzel before and didn’t even really know what it was. Oh, and it was raining. Luckily, as he hadn’t seen anywhere else he wanted to eat on our previous walks around town, and I shot down his idea of returning to Dstrikt due to the price, he begrudgingly agreed to queue. Thankfully, we only had to wait 20 minutes for a table, though in that time several groups came past and sat down who had obviously had a reservation (once again, thanks Hilton!).
I ordered the Figlmueller Schnitzel, which was pork, rather than the more traditional but more expensive Wiener Schnitzel; the main reason was that I understood it to be their speciality because of the name. The Schnitzel was absolutely huge – it covered my entire dinner plate and hung off the edges! My boyfriend ordered the chicken Schnitzel which was almost as big. He chose fried potatoes from the list of sides and I had the traditional boiled potatoes with parsley, which were delicious. The Schnitzel was very tasty and my boyfriend is definitely a convert; mine was so large that I couldn’t eat half of it though which was a real shame. I think it would be good if they offered a smaller portion!
The meals are well priced – around 11 euros for the Figlmueller Schnitzel and 19 for the veal. Our total bill came to about 45 euros with one glass of wine and a soft drink and tip. This is certainly Vienna’s oldest Schnitzel; whether it’s the best I really couldn’t say, as I didn’t eat it again while I was there, but it was very good and it was worth queuing to get in. I would phone ahead and make a reservation next time though!
Sightseeing is tiring, and combined with the fact that we visited Vienna in November when it got dark at about 4.30, it’s no wonder that we retired to our hotel room most days around 5pm for a rest (and usually a nap) before going out to dinner. One day I slept so long – partly as a result of having had toothache in the afternoon and taking painkillers that made me drowsy – that it was nearly 8pm by the time I woke up. It felt too late to go out for dinner and remembering the amazing meal we had at a hotel in Amsterdam, my boyfriend suggested we order room service.
The menu seemed quite sparse – which wasn’t really the case, but I didn’t fancy steak or burger or Schnitzel. I really wanted pasta but wasn’t keen on the way that option was presented on the menu. It listed four types of pasta – spaghetti, penne etc – and then said ‘and choose your sauce’, or words to that effect, and had neapolitan, pesto, and two other options I can’t recall. What I really wanted was ravioli with a delicious filling and penne with pesto wasn’t really doing it for me. Instead I turned to the fish, but again it was quite plainly presented – I chose salmon, without knowing if anything had been done to it or if it would literally be a plain piece of fish (which is probably something restaurants should offer, for people on a diet!). In case it needed something more I chose two side orders, of parmesan risotto and seasonal vegetables. I think this was the first time in several days I had so much as seen veg!
For that reason it was a bit disappointing that the portion of vegetables was so small, but I can’t fault the presentation. Our meals – my boyfriend unsurprisingly ordered the burger, with a chocolate brownie to follow – was wheeled in on a trolley and the metal domes that were keeping our plates warm lifted off with a flourish. Rather than have two side dishes as I was expecting, the salmon had been placed on a bed of risotto with the vegetables carefully placed on top. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure what half of them were! There was one small carrot on the top, some tiny root veg that were a pale purple in colour and some that looked like baby onions but tasted nothing like onions. Very odd! The risotto was a little underdone with too much bite in places but other parts were excellent and the salmon was beautifully cooked.
My boyfriend said his burger was good but didn’t blow him away but he was most disappointed by the chocolate brownie, as it contained large pieces of nuts. He doesn’t like nuts and was surprised the menu didn’t mention it- I suppose people with nut allergies would ask before they ordered anything, but there are plenty of people who just don’t like nuts and would order it then find they didn’t want to eat it. So I had no problem polishing it off even though my boyfriend had been the one to order it! Don’t feel too sorry for him though – we had quite a haul of Ritter Sport and Milka in the room we had bought to take home!
We had breakfast in the hotel every day as it was included in the room rate. My boyfriend had a cooked breakfast some days – though he wasn’t that keen on the sausages which I think were veal, and he didn’t realise the ‘roasted potatoes’ were actually hash browns so he missed out on those. I prefer continental style breakfast and was pleased to see they had German Wurst and cheeses on offer, as well as various pastries. There was a cereal station with yogurts and fruit, and also an Asian breakfast area with dim sum and miso soup and so on, though I didn’t try any of it. What we were most excited about was the station where a chef was cooking waffles.
The first day my boyfriend queued for us both, and the chef asked the 6 people in the queue what they wanted all at once, then cooked everything, but forgot my boyfriend until he was the only person left in the queue (even though he had been third of 6) and then said 'sorry,. what did you want again'? and only then started cooking ours. According to my boyfriend he also burnt someone’s pancake so had to make it again, which held up the process. The second time we had breakfast it was a lot better but I only realised when I was waiting that the man in front was having fried eggs that there was another option as I could only see the waffle maker. And when I left the breakfast room I saw someone eating French toast which I assume must have come from the same place, so I think they could advertise better what the freshly cooked options are. The waffles and pancakes were very good; I’m not sure what the hotel charges for breakfast and it I had to pay for it I would probably go to Starbucks, but since it was included we ate breakfast in the hotel every day and I thought it was good.
The hotel's location is perfect - just across the road from the Wien Mitte/Landstrasse U and S bahn station and where you can also take the direct train to the airport in 16 minutes. Also the hotel is only a ten minute walk from the cathedral and historic centre of Vienna. This was overall a very good hotel, and I would stay here again.
Restorante Enoteca Firenze
Singerstraße 3, Vienna
The night that we couldn't get into Figlmueller was pouring with rain so after deciding not to queue for the restaurant we headed into the centre of town towards the cathedral. We perused a few restaurant menus on the way, but as my boyfriend is very fussy, and I didn't want Schnitzel as I planned to have that the next day in Figlmueller, we were struggling to choose somewhere to eat. We also didn't come across a huge number of restaurants despite this being the tourist centre of the capital city - rather like walking between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus in London, but there you would find dozens of restaurants and it didn't seem to be the case in Vienna.
Finally we saw a sign for an Italian and ducked in, shaking our wet umbrellas on the doorstep. We almost didn't take in our surroundings until we were seated. The restaurant is part of a hotel, though I didn't realise that at the time. It was very quiet - it was 9pm on a rainy weeknight - and the décor was interesting, with frescos on the walls and a statue in the middle. I later learnt from the website that it's designed to resemble a renaissance palace.
We didn't get off to the best start, as we waited about ten minutes for a menu then heard the couple behind us - who had already been seated when we arrived - ask the waiter for a menu with some degree of annoyance. He brought them a menu, and not us, and when I caught his eye he was all 'oh, would you like a menu as well'?
Luckily things picked up from there. We were brought a bread basket - actually, a wooden box - and the food was excellent. My boyfriend only ever orders pizza in Italian restaurants and was disappointed to find there were no pizzas on this menu - it was posh Italian. He didn't know what to order, but I'd made us spaghetti carbonara a few weeks before - literally the first time he had ever eaten it - and he enjoyed it, so he ordered that. He said it was very good and the portion was very filling.
I had cappelletti pasta (like ravioli), filled with ricotta cheese in a creamy sauce with parma ham rolled up and placed on top. It was delicious but not a big portion; I didn't want a big meal at that time of the evening and we declined the dessert menu but I would think normally eating here I would want two courses.
Having stumbled across the restaurant we had no assumptions that it would be any good but the food was excellent and on the way out, we noticed a wall full of photos of people who had dined here - presumably famous people, though I didn't recognise any of the names apart from Jose Carrera. I guess a sign that this place serves high quality authentic Italian food.
Kulinariat, Vienna airport
We had a late lunch before getting our flight home and decided to have a more substantial meal than just a sandwich. The breadth of the menu here appealed; my boyfriend was able to have a burger (as usual) whereas I had bratwurst with sauerkraut. It came with a few boiled potatoes so was a fairly plain dish but still nicely presented, and it tasted very good - a real taste of Austria.