Walter Bauer’s restaurant, Bauer, and Josef Weghaupt’s bakery and bistro, Joseph, are no more than a kilometre apart in the heart of Vienna and appear very different.
One is named after the restaurateur’s surname, the other after the founder’s Christian name. Bauer is 57 and has been in his restaurant for the past 25 years while Weghaupt is 33 and worked in marketing before turning to baking bread professionally only in 2009. Bauer’s interior is dark and cosy, its walls covered in prints and the numerous awards its has justifiably garnered over the years, while the bistro, which opened in a former clothes store six months ago, is white, light, bright and airy.
Yet despite these marked physical differences, one factor underlines the appeal of these two places: each embodies the style, personality and taste of the individual who has created them.
However, as we walked along Sonnenfelsgasse to Bauer, I felt somewhat reluctant to join my friends inside. The city seemed to be glowing in the early evening sunshine with all the pavement tables packed with happy diners, including one occupied by Werner Faymann, the Chancellor of Austria, on the terrace of Ella’s, a restaurant that faces on to Rachel Whiteread’s remarkably moving sculpture in the Judenplatz.
Once inside, it became immediately obvious that we were in the most professional of hands as we were shown to a corner table of a restaurant whose card, I could not help but notice, boasts a fax number but no website.
Bauer himself is soberly dressed, complete with tie and tiepin, and tall, an asset that allows him to stand by the balustrade between the 15 tables in his restaurant and the corridor to the kitchen and survey his domain. He exemplified throughout the evening a trait common to the best restaurateurs, who loiter with intent, anticipating his customers’ needs but never interfering unnecessarily.
As seems to be increasingly common now in Vienna, Bauer’s menu is brief, half a dozen starters and main courses, with the unusual variation on a four-course set menu at €69 euros of not including a fixed dessert. This has to be ordered separately, thereby allowing his Viennese customers to indulge their personal penchant for all things sweet.
Although our first course was goose liver with medlars, we were promptly served a small appetiser of excellent liver sausage with mustard to reinforce the Austrian connection. Two of the next three courses were excellent: a fillet of char, a popular freshwater fish, with dumplings, mussels and peas, and a fillet of venison with chanterelles. Both were more than the sum of their parts, something that could not be said of an intermediary course of a courgette flower stuffed with what seemed to be mashed potato and topped with a chicken brochette.
Bauer’s appeal lies also in its wide-ranging wine list, a thick book invitingly labelled ‘Unsere Weine’ or Our Wines. Our search for Austrian wines with a bit of age on them led us to a Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner and a half bottle of Wieninger Pinot Noir, both 2007s. We then raided Bauer’s sweet wine section for one of his 15 different bottlings from the incomparable Alois Kracher, a half of Scheurebe at €89 euros that was fresh, heady and luscious.
But a great part of the pleasure of eating here is the atmosphere Bauer has created. There is an almost collegiate feel in the room as his customers begin the evening by saying hello to one another and end it by picking up their glasses, and in certain instances, their bottles of wine, and going to sit down next to friends they may only just have met.
My introduction to Joseph‘s bread came in a very different setting, over a table under the stars in the Clementine bistro of the Palais Coburg, the city’s ambitious hotel with an even more stellar wine collection than that of Bauer.
We had just been handed the menu when our friend exclaimed, ‘Great, they have Joseph’s bread.’ My interest was piqued, as was my appetite once we were served baskets of dark brown bread that combined a deliciously chewy crust with a dough that had just the right acidity to keep me helping myself to more.
Over an enjoyable dinner of a salad of warm cauliflower, madeira and raisins, a barbecued leg of lamb with baked sweet potato andSterz, a dessert of sheep’s yoghurt, clementines and malt, Joseph’s story was revealed. The success of his initial bakery was followed by a string of restaurant customers, including the Clementine, only too keen to credit him. Finally, and most intriguingly, I was told about his second bakery with the bistro attached.
Weghaupt has very stylishly created what could be a blueprint for the Viennese café of the future. The menu encompasses several old favourites – open sandwiches, omelettes and bowls of liptauer, the spicy goats’ cheese – all served with style by a young team in grey flat caps. The juxtaposition of the kitchen and the bakery ensures that the baking aromas are all-pervasive, which resulted in my purchase of two large rye loaves that on my journey back to London made my suitcase considerably heavier but far sweeter smelling.
Restaurant Walter Bauer Sonnenfelsgasse 17, 1010 Vienna; tel +43 1 512 9871
Clementine im Glashaus Palais Coburg, Coburgbastei 4, 1010 Vienna; tel +43 1 51818-818
Joseph Bäckerei Landstrasser Haupstrasse 4, 1030 Vienna
The photo is taken from the Joseph website.