A weekend in Vienna
As I was preparing to move to Basel a year-and-a-half ago a friend remarked that there were "some good German restaurants in Basel". This struck me as a strange thing to say - had I thought about it I might have run screaming to Paris, where I could have entertained you with reams of restaurant reviews, and long articles about what a bunch of arseholes Parisians are. But I didn't.
The point is, you see, "good restaurants" and "German" are not words one would expect to find in close proximity. It's not that there's anything wrong with German food, it just that it's, well, boring. Except, of course, when you compare it with Swiss food...
Austria, a close neighbour of Germany both geographically and spiritually, is not a country I would have expected to enjoy from a culinary standpoint, but I was delighted with what I found in Vienna.
It is said that the rest of Austria looks upon its capital as a very different, more bohemian relic of its country's past, and perhaps that's why the local cuisine is so un-Germanic. Hungarian influences are everywhere, and the use of fresh herbs and spices is anything but German.
Close to the Opera, in Walfischgasse, lies the historic Paulusstube, a traditional wine-tavern type restaurant with live piano and violin accompaniment. At first sight this looks like a horrible tourist trap; every second guest enters holding a street map, but the reality is that this establishment offers a varied menu of excellent traditional food, and is frequented by savvy Wieners as well as tourists
The cautious diner can try the delicious goulash dishes, for the more adventurous there are such delicacies as black pudding. The atmosphere is marvellous, and service is hectic but friendly. With main courses costing around ATS200 this rates as excellent value.
Close by in Mahlerstrasse is the Korso, one of the more famous restaurants that caters for the Opera goers. Don't turn up as we did without a reservation, as this place is very popular, and fills up at about ten, which is chucking out time at the Opera. This restaurant offers reputedly excellent fare at around ATS350 for a main course, and is worth a visit just to admire the spectacular interior. Avoid torn jeans here.
If you take the No 38 tram to Grinzing in the North of the city you will find the Grinzinger Hof, a wonderful traditional three star hotel-restaurant away from the bustle of the centre. The hospitality we found here was never bettered, and the food, though simple, was delicious. In the summer the garden restaurant is a refreshing stop for those journeying on to the popular vista at Cobenzl.
There is a German expression; "Wiener Schmäh und Lieblichkeit", roughly translated - "Viennese charm and wit". I'm happy to say that this is exactly what we found.