After a difficult year, a pre-Christmas trip to Vienna for some culture and shopping seemed like the perfect way to bring 2017 to a climax.
Food would, of course, feature and, in a perfect example of serendipity, just a few weeks before we flew out, a friend pointed out that Rick Stein’s recent series of food-oriented weekend breaks included the Austrian capital.
Thus, with the aid of iPlayer, we began the trip with culinary expectations that went beyond the iconic Wiener schnitzel and the apple strudel to include such delights as Viennese goulash and tafelspitz – the latter being but one among the many versions of boiled beef in Germanic cuisine.
In the event, our first meal – lunch on a grey, drizzly afternoon, in a café on the legendary Naschmarkt – saw The Other Half try the goulash, while I opted for sliced liver that came in a big, rich gravy and was utterly scrummy.
Goulash followed again during the trip, giving evidence (were it needed) that like so many other dishes, there are as many variations on the way it can be made as there are people who make it. Varying amounts of paprika and little or lots of onion are just two of the possible variables.
But just as we’d settled into such hearty, down-to-earth eating, The Other Half spotted an interesting-looking establishment not far from our hotel.
Ludwig van, we were to learn, only opened its doors in January this year, but it’s already essential to book.
Presumably, our looking genuinely upset at there being no tables available, our instantly asking if we could make a reservation for the following evening (and trying this in German) produced sympathy – and with amazing good fortune, a table in the bar area.
It’s a snug space in an old, old building, with dark wood everywhere and a feeling of being an inn.
Host Oliver Jauk found us a corner and guided us through the menu.
Such was the briefness of what was listed – with so much that tempted – that we both decided to go down the route of the tasting menu.
After gorgeous bread, with the best butter I’ve ever tasted and wafer thin slices of a sausage from a 10-year-old “calf” that were packed with flavor but still tender, our taste buds were further tickled by a tiny dish of kimchee-style vegetables, accompanied by a local wine infused with herbs.
The first of our ‘proper’ courses was salsify, with butternut, parsley and hazelnut. Lovely tastes – the parsley, for instance, was a perfect illustration of being so much more than a garnish, while fresh tomato shot through a light-as-silk sauce.
The bar was set high.
Next up was trout with cauliflower, grapefruit and chervil.
Then a dish of oatmeal ‘risotto’, with chanterelle mushrooms, that called up the autumn forest as though by sourcery rather than saucery.
Pike-perch (zander) from Lake Neusiedl followed, perched atop red cabbage, followed by a noisette of calf, with a rich gravy and spinach leaves that burst with flavour.
To finish, we were served ‘Elvis van’ – a dessert that combined banana, a peanut mousse and bacon wafers and somehow worked.
This was simply fabulous food: rich, yet light, with great textures and astounding flavour. Head chef Walter Leidenfrost and sous chef Julia Pimingstorfer are reinventing traditional Austrian cuisine in a thrilling way.
Ludwig van’s ethos means that drinks are sourced from smaller producers who might well be less-known producers and as locally as possible. We enjoyed a variety of white wines – all of which were exemplary, but which displayed an astonishing variety of tastes.
At the end, with most other diners having finished and left, Oliver offered us a choice of schnapps from unlabelled bottles.
We both chose one flavoured with pine: it was a smooth delight – and continued that underlying sense of the forest.
Ludwig van is far from cheap – but it was worth every cent. This place is going to win awards and I wouldn’t hesitate to dine there again – though I’d certainly book well in advance!