We’ve just visited Vienna where of course we sampled lots of cafes and were fascinated by the differences between Viennese cafes and those in London.
While we didn’t see a flat white, muffin, brownie or slice of lemon drizzle once during our five days in the city, we had a fantastic time and coffee and cake galore!
We noticed that while cafes in London continue to spring up all over the place, including outer London more and more, Vienna celebrates its established major players. Café Central (above), Café Landtmann and Demel (with branches in Salzburg and New York) have built up their names and reputations over decades, becoming national institutions and proud landmarks.
When we go to a cafe in London, it’s usual to order your coffee and cake at the counter. In Vienna, you’re met at the door of the cafe by a waiter or waitress and led to a table. Places also have full menus, are licensed and some, like Café Central, even have a pianist playing softly in the background.
The result to the café enthusiast is interesting. In Vienna, the boundary between cafe and restaurant is more blurred and the pace more leisurely – many have hat-stand after hat-stand as they expect you to stay. More than once, we found ourselves trying not to polish off our coffee and cake at ‘London speed,’ and noticed that someone who’d arrived before us hadn’t even started their cake by the time we’d finished ours.
The coffee and cake in Vienna is also very different from coffee and cake in London. Cakes in Vienna are a rich and elaborate creation involving different colours, sugars, flavours, creams, jellies and textures – Cafe Diglas even has a video-loop playing of their pastry chefs baking and shows you the artistry and skill behind what’s on your plate.
As for the coffee – we think the Viennese obsess more about their cakes whereas London new wave cafes obsess more about their coffee. There isn’t a flat white to be seen anywhere and while a cafe might have pages of different types of coffee – with alcohol or without, with whipped cream or without and in all different strengths and sizes – the coffee is a given. It’s not emphasized like it is in London, where it can be a café’s core product, but who knows what will happen once the World Barista Championships take place in Vienna between 12-15 June this year!
Some types of coffee include: the Schwarzer (espresso), the Brauner (espresso with a little hot milk), the Verkherter (like a latte), the Melange (espresso with milk and foam, like an Italian Cappucino), the Verlangerter (like an Americano), the Fiaker (coffee with rum and whipped cream) and the Austrian Cappucino, a stronger coffee made with whipped cream.
Prices are higher but this is no surprise given the fact most cafes are palatial and you can stay for hours even if you don’t have a three-course meal. Coffees are between 3-5 Euros each, as are cakes, and you only have to think of trying to recreate one of them to conclude they’re really worth it.
Whether it’s price or culture, there’s doesn’t seem to be much of a takeaway coffee culture in Vienna either. We didn’t see one person walking around with a cup in a sleeve. That said, there are eleven Starbucks in the capital, the first of which arrived in 2001. We couldn’t resist but have a look at the branch at 49 Kartner Strasse – it serves classic Starbuck’s-styled drinks with an occasional nod to Austrian tastes.
And there’s also a double-edged difference – the vast majority of Vienna’s cafes let you smoke; Austrian laws still allow smoking although there are non-smoking areas and some are smoke free.
Mentioned above, all time classic Demel (left) at 14 Kohlmarkt (Tel 00 43 1-5351 7170, U-Bahn Herrengasse, line 3) has stunning window displays and beautifully crafted cakes and chocolates. We had a fantastic ginger hot chocolate here and a dessert called Mohr Im Hemd. This is a light chocolate pudding, verging on a souffle, served with warm chocolate sauce and cream. It’s the sauce that makes it and we liked it so much, we’ve already made it at home thanks to a recipe from Vienna.Info, having bought our little bundt tins in Vienna from a cook shop on Wollzeile Strasse. Demel also sells confectionary, chocolate and cakes in a shop section and if you walk through to the back, you’ll see the pastry chefs creating their works of art.
Also brilliant is Oberlaa at 14 Karntner Gasse (Tel 00 43 1-512 4963, U-Bahn Stephansplatz, lines 1 & 3). We enjoyed a full lunch here but it’s particularly famous for its Lakronen, colourful and perfectly chewy macaroons, which you can have with coffee or a glass of champagne. There are more other branches around the city.
For somewhere more bohemian and laid back, go to Cafe Hawelka at 6 Dorotheerstrasse (Tel 00 43 1-512 8230), also very central. Hawelka serves coffees, a small selection of cakes, alcoholic drinks and the occasional savoury bite.
Just across the way from Cafe Hawelka is Trzesniewski open sandwich bar with its lovely dark breads and hearty spreads of chopped egg, herring or salmon, definitely more of a takeaway. Like Oberlaa, Trzesniewski has other branches around the city too.
Elegant and unmissable Cafe Central (right) is at the north end of Herrengasse (Tel 00 43 1-533 3763 ext 24 or 61, U-Bahn Herrengasse, line U3). This 130-year old establishment frequented by Trotski and Freud is where once again we indulged in coffee, cake and some fabulous Austrian white wine. It was one of the highlights of our stay and a jewel in Vienna’s cafe landscape.
For a pork Schnitzel that isn’t greasy but is so big that it hangs over your plate, go to Figlmuller at 5 Wollzeile (Tel 00 43 1-512 6177, U-Bahn Stephansplatz, line U1 or U3). Figlmuller is loved by tourists and visitors alike and our service there was excellent. We had one Schnitzel between the two of us with knock-out potatoes in a salad dressing that’s so good it has people online looking for the recipe (we haven’t found it yet, it must be secret). We also shared one of their Emmental Schnitzels too – lovely deep fried cheese coated in breadcrumbs. There’s another branch of Figlmuller at 6 Bäckerstr, just around the corner.
Cafe Landtmann is a slick and glamourous non-smoking establishment at 4 Dr Karl Lueger-Ring (Tel 00 43 1-2410 0100, U-Bahn Schottentor, line U2, or U-Bahn Herrengasse, line U3). Come here to feel pampered and luxurious. Landtmann has an attractive terrace area and a huge grand interior – and we mean huge. We had a selection of petit-fours here but there were plenty of Austrians polishing off big Schnitzel too.
Then there’s Zu den 3 Hacken at 28 Singerstrasse (Tel 00 43 1- 512 5895, U-Bahn Stephansplatz, lines 1 & 3). The name means ‘At the Three Axes. Offal is much more present on this menu but don’t let that put you it off. If you’re not sure what you’re ordering, just ask, one of the waitresses helped us out, thankfully pointing out we were confusing’Huhn’ which means ‘chicken’ with ‘Hirn’ which means brain! This is a special restaurant and reminded us a little of St John Restaurant in Clerkenwell, London.
Our all time favourite was Cafe Diglas at 10 Wollzeile Strasse (Tel 00 43 1 5125 7650, U-BahnStubentor, line 3, or U-Bahn Stephansplatz, lines 1 & 3). We went to Diglas three times during our five day visit. Highlights were their sensational creamy saffron and chicken risotto followed by a doughy apple cake topped with meringue and warm vanilla custard. Another time we had gnocchi with beautiful pork medallions each one topped with a prune wrapped in pancetta (we’ll be trying to recreate this). The toilets in Diglas are the zaniest we’ve even seen anywhere too; they’re see-through until locked and then a ‘no entry’ sign shines on the cubicle door.
Very near Diglas at 38 Wollzeile Strasse is Plachutta, famous for its Tafelspitz, traditional boiled beef (Reservations on 00 43 1-512 1577, dress code, smart).
While in Cafe Diglas, we got chatting to an English couple who visit Vienna several times a year and they recommended Cafe Sperl at 11 Gumpendorferstraße (U-Bahn Museumsquartier, line U2). Vast, old, grand and mellow, we had cheesecake and coffee here – and the tap in the ladies’ washroom (right) is like no other.
Our best restaurant highlight was Stomach (no website) at 26 Seegasse (Tel 00 43 1-310 2099, U-Bahn Rossauer Lande, line U4). Stomach feels wonderfully secret and local and is a true hidden gem. They serve food that’s traditionally Austrian at the core (meat, potatoes, salads and fish – although they can adapt dishes for vegetarians) and the place has a fresh, modern feel with fantastic presentation and impeccable service.
Finally, we have to mention London’s own Austrian cafe gem. We love authentic and charming Kipferl (below) which can be found at 20 Camden Passage, in Angel, north London (Tel 00 44 20 7704 1555). Like its Austrian sisters, Kipferl has a full menu and creates traditional dishes such as Strudel, Sachetorte and Schnitzel plus Austrian-styled coffee. As you look through the menu, you come across a coffee-colour chart so you can pick the coffee you want ‘by colour’ just like they did in nineteenth century Vienna. Kipferl has a fresh, modern stream-lined decor and is also featured in our App.
We also liked
While in Vienna, we went to Römertherme Spa in Baden, just outside Vienna. We really recommend this spa and sauna complex with sulphuric waters.
For art, you must to go to the fantastic Belvedere. From July 12, 2012, there’ll also be a Gustav Klimt exhibition to celebrate the fact Klimt would have been 150 this year. And then there’s Mumok, the Museum of Modern Art - worth visiting for the amazing building alone.
And finally, there’s stunning Schoenbrunn Palace although we prefer this from late spring to Autumn when you are more likely to be shown around by one of their inspirational guides.
Getting there and getting around
We travelled to Vienna by train. We took Eurostar from London to Brussels, then on the superfast ICE train to Cologne where a huge annual carnival was in full swing. In Cologne we had a four-hour dinner stop before taking the overnight sleeper to Vienna, where we were arrived thirteen hours later at 9am, showered and breakfasted. If you fancy a treat and bit more room, the first class upgrade on the ICE train to Cologne is good value in our opinion. The sleeper is certainly compact but it was fun. The journey, 4 star hotel K&K Hotel Maria Theresia and return flights were booked through RailBookers whom we would happily recommend.
Once in Vienna, we bought a week’s tram/bus/underground pass for 14 Euros. The pass runs from Monday to Monday and is really worth it. If you arrive on a Tuesday you can still buy it, but you obviously lose a day.
On the way back we took the perfectly comfortable and hassle free airport transfer bus from Morzinplatz at the western end of Schwedenplatz, and then flew back to London.
It was a great trip.
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Written by London thru Cafes: the Coffee App and City Guide for London. 100+ fabulous independent cafes and 350+ great things to do nearby.