Viewpoints on Food: “We've come a long way from Vienna's ubiquitous hot-dog stalls...”
Oliver Thring on why eating in Vienna is no longer just schnitzels and strudelFeatured May 17 Words by Oliver Thring / Illustration Eleanor Shakespeare
Earlier this year, Michelin published its annual Main Cities of Europe guide, which is like the Oscars of the food world, honouring the very best restaurants in 44 cities across 20 countries. One chef who came in for a special mention is Juan Amador, whose Viennese restaurant Amador's was awarded an almost unprecedented two stars in its opening year and even dubbed “the perfect representative of Europe” by Michael Ellis, the international director of the Michelin guides.
Vienna, in fact, has a richer food history than almost any other European city. Many literary classics have been penned in its famous coffee houses and one of its restaurants, Kameel, has been going for 400 years. It's one of the only cities that's managed to develop its own eponymous cuisine, Wiener Küche: mitteleuropean classics with a Viennese whirl. Think pork, cabbage, boiled beef, schnitzels, strudels and sausages.
However, in recent years, a neue Wiener Küche (new Viennese cuisine) has begun to update these rich old glories into lighter, more modern, sustainable dishes. Heinz Reitbauer's Steirereck restaurant, for instance - now ranked among the world's top 20 places to eat - sources many of its vegetables from its own farm and Reitbauer has said that producers are increasingly the heroes of any restaurant.
Blue Mustard opened in the city last summer, with a converted Airstream and glorious carved gothic windows. Its menu is an inventive synthesis of classic dishes and modern, playful bar snacks. Then there's the highly innovative and environmentally conscious Labstelle, a pioneer in Austria's burgeoning farm-to-table movement, serving dishes such as crayfish ravioli with homemade black pudding, and carrots with smoked sheep's cheese and a devilishly tasty cream curiously made from sunflower seeds.
Asian-influenced openings of the past few months have seen highly regarded Shoyu Ramen and Bep Viet serve crispy wonton and bún bò to ravernous diners. And, in this most carnivorous corner of the continent, few might have suspected that a vegetarian restaurant, Tian, could become such a highly respected place to eat in the city. Preparing high-class and taste-bud tingling meat-free food, its main goal is to ensure that organic and sustainably produced food is no longer just an indulgence of the elite, but the natural way of eating for us all.
We've come a long way from Vienna's ubiquitous Würstelstände (hot-dog stalls), a fixture on the streets here for as long as I can remember, but I suspect that this meshing of old world and new will define dear Vienna for years to come.