A weekend in Vienna
It’s been a little quiet on the Nottingham front, I haven’t quite found the time to go to some of the restaurants on my hit list. What I have done is a little bit of travelling. Some friends and I decided to venture to Vienna for a long weekend – the idea was a central European city with some Christmas markets. After a straightforward journey we had some time to kill before checking it at our accommodation and stumbled across Demel. As it transpired Demel is a famous pastry café / restaurant that was established in 1786 in Vienna. I went against the grain and only had something savoury, a goulash soup. It was enjoyable though, warming and hearty. I did try some cake but I am not convinced that the British palate is ready for poppy seeds as a cake filling. Strudels on the other hand? Yes please.
After jettisoning our luggage, we hit the first of over 10 Christmas markets we visited. The city has almost 20 of varying sizes, despite their differences at their core certain elements always remained. Mulled wine (gluhwein) stalls are by far the most prevalent, closely followed purveyors of sausage (wurst) and braziers full with roasted chestnuts (marron). I could strongly recommend all of the above. Langos on the other hand I could happily go without. It is not that there is anything unpleasant about Hungarian deep fried bread with garlic butter, it is just that I could feel my cholesterol rising with every doughy, oily bite. On the plus side I may have discovered my new favourite drink – mulled cider with gin.
The next day a visit to Schonbrunn Palace was top of our agenda. It is a vast building of almost 1,500 rooms in the baroque style. I won’t bore you too much with history but it was at the centre of the Austria-Hungary empire and home to one of the most powerful family lines in history, the Habsburgs. We traversed 40 rooms on “The Grand Tour” and whilst Jeremy Clarkson didn’t arrive there was lots to see. A vast gallery room was not only impressive in décor it was the spot to host a meeting between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev, serious history. In the grounds there was yet another Christmas market, possibly one of the best and the biggest. A lunch of meatloaf (claimed to be boar but was indistinguishable), rye bread and mustard hit the spot along with an Austrian craft beer. We also had the opportunity to try some schnapps. It is unlikely we will be trying schnapps again.
The evening took us to Figlmuller, a schnitzel institution for more than 100 years. Wiener (Vienna) Schnitzel is traditionally veal and is the Austrian national dish, though the signature dish here is pork. We went for the house special and were not disappointed, the breaded pork spilling well over the edges of the plate. You get the impression that Figelmuller might be just for tourists but the food and history do enough to render it enjoyable. Having sought out a bar we did discover an quirk of Vienna that is unlikely to appeal. Austria has a partial smoking ban and many large establishments have gotten ahead of the curve but clouds of smoke in smaller venues are a shock to the system.
By the next day, I had already lost track of the number of Christmas markets ticked off. Apple strudel was for breakfast before a trip to the first of 2 galleries we visited. The Leopold had interesting collections, primarily focussing on Austrian artists – the Albertina by comparison has no permanent collection but has several exhibitions a year. On our visit the main attraction was various proponents of Pointillism. Our final dinner was a return to schnitzel at somewhere called Fromme Helene that had been thrown up by frantic googling. It was Weiner schnitzel this time and not quite as impressively vast. That said the crumb was maybe crispier and enjoyable… the only downside is that it was a little dry.
I enjoyed the food and was happy to eat traditionally but had I been there longer I’d have branched out from Viennese cuisine to the other good restaurants the city undoubtedly has to offer. I would recommend Austria to anyone, it is a city of almost 2m people but doesn’t seem too busy or crowded. It is a little more expensive than other central or Eastern European cities, worth it as you’re unlikely to bump into stag-dos here. The Christmas markets are distinctly better than any I have been to in the UK. You are constantly surrounded by culture, museums, palaces and galleries. So cast aside Copenhagen, give Munich a miss, forget Frankfurt and visit Vienna.*
*no money from Austrian tourist board changed hands in the writing of this article