The Austrian capital of Vienna has a lot more to offer the gourmet than schnitzel, sausage stands and strudel - and the homegrown wine is as stupendous as the sophisticated cuisine
Everyone knows it has ballet-dancing horses, opera houses and concert-halls galore, baroque architecture and the great golden Kiss painting by Klimt. But what’s not so well-known is that there’s much more to Viennese cuisine than a wiener schnitzel. You can thank the Habsburgs, who once ruled far-off countries like Italy, Spain and Hungary and brought in all their influences when building Vienna as their capital. And beyond - Austria’s greatest national dish, its apple strudel, is said to have arrived in Vienna by way of Turkey and the Middle East.
A great place to try apple strudel or homegrown sachertorte, a rich chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with apricot jam, is in one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses. No waiter will ever chase you out of these comfortable institutions, where many locals linger for hours over a single cup of coffee - but you will inspire their ire if you don’t order properly. Specify a “melange” if you want a cappuccio, an “einspanner” if you want coffee topped with whipped cream and a “mocca” if your preference is for a short black (yes, Vienna’s coffee vocabulary is a tad confusing!).
The Cafe Central on Herrengasse may be the most elegant, the Cafe Sacher, home of the eponymous torte, the most touristy and Cafe Sperl the most notorious - this atmospheric coffee-house was Hitler’s favourite. This last is perfectly situated for a visit to nearby Naschmarkt, the city’s fabulous open-air food market. This is a good place to buy a pot of liptauer, soft mountain cheese mixed with spices to make a mouthwatering dip, or taste Austria’s phenomenal wines at the flagship branch of Wein & Co, a chain of off-licences-cum-trendy wine bars.
While it’s hard to beat a piece of bratwurst at the iconic sausage stand on Hoher Markt in the city centre, rustic foods like sausage, liptauer and young Austrian wines are best enjoyed on a summer’s evening in the outlying neighbourhood of Grinzing, served by tram from Vienna’s city centre. Those places with coaches parked outside can be unbearably touristy; try somewhere atmospheric but relatively unspoiled like Reinprecht. You’ll drink undistinguished white wine in these heuriger or country wine taverns; good homegrown choices to accompany fine food rather than snacks are gruner veltliner, a crisp, dry white, and blauerzweigelt, a rich, spicy red.
Back in town, you can enjoy good Austrian wines with both traditional food and modern takes on staple dishes in a variety of elegant settings. At Plachutta, the delicious dish of beef poached with vegetables and bone marrow known as tafelspitz has been elevated to a fine art. At Osterriech, in MAK, the fabulous Museum of Applied Arts, you can enjoy zweibelrostbraten - beef smothered with fried onions - and Hungarian-inspired goulasch or chicken paprika in this buzziest of eateries. Trendier still is Ein Wiener Salon, run by a former architect and fashion designer who decided their real passion was to cook.
All these restaurants are close to the Ring, Vienna’s famous inner ciity road, which circles the old city. The chic but casual boutique hotel of the same name is a great, briliantly-located place to stay in a city where too many hotels on the Ring are crustily overgilded and most boutique hotels too far off the beaten track.