Eating at Eight
When one is accustomed to Vienna’s high-end hotel restaurants, the eatery in "The Ring" seems underdressed, almost a cafeteria. Vienna’s new "casual luxury" hotel combines naked "Zeprano" (zebra) wood furnishings with asparagus-colored upholstery and awkward photos of nuts and greens lining the walls. Perhaps an attempt at Mediterranean flair.
The establishment is otherwise comfy, however, and pleasant; even an avid smoker is not perturbed by the no smoking policy. Also, the view of the traffic on the Ringstrasse whizzing by accentuates the peace inside.
The menu is very well executed. Inventive, seasonal aperitifs like organic ginger lemon syrup with Bründelmayer Sparkling wine with the (hot) bread, thyme-butter and essential oils, which change every few days. An entrée of creamy minced chervil-salmon, truffled leak, poached quail egg and sautéed chicory seems straightforward enough, but after the first bite the unworthy setting dissolves, allowing the culinary design to take over.
Chefs Roman Pichler and Thomas Seifried, formerly at Le Ciel in the Grand Hotel across the street, know their way around the Austrian palette and manage to combine strong scents and nuances without force. Dishes like sole rolls with green peas, wonderfully gooey mushroom risotto and mint vegetables or scampi with noodles and back bacon, spiced with lemon rind and nutmeg appeal effortlessly. The dishes are prepared with essential oils, creating a familiar but unique taste sensation. (One guest commented that the oil served with the bread tasted like a sauna.)
To accompany the meal, the beverages ascend from a cellar boasting 770 bottles of "the best" Austrian and international wines and champagnes. The most amusing accessory was the "Ringwasser" served to accompany the wine. Now many Viennese are proud of the high quality of Vienna’s tap water, but never before has it been "micro filtered" and sold for 3 Euros a bottle. A small note accompanies the bottle explaining the in-house filtering system and ecological benefits of tapping the immediate source (saved transportation routes etc.).
The philosophy of the establishment revolves around seasonal ingredients and local treasures, wrapping its weekly menu in handcrafted paper with bits of dried fruits and spices, which give off their own aroma, whetting the appetite.
The apple-chestnut dumplings with mulled wine yoghurt topped off our November evening and the wonderfully attentive waiter brings hot chocolate spiced with lavender and accompanied by dark chocolate filled with apricot.
While the design leaves much to be desired, the delicious and uncomplicated food and unassuming service may do justice to the term "casual luxury."
Bellies full, we made a visit to the bar across the lobby (where smoking is permitted), where an extensive cocktail list boasts over 30 brands of vodka. Again, the decoration, although convincingly defended by the staff, was too sterile to be casual and too simple to be luxurious.
All in all, a visit to this new emporium guarantees good treatment and will leave your taste buds happy, and the "local product" philosophy of At Eight is timely and desirable – an unassuming establishment with delectable, modern and season-sensitive cuisine.
Restaurant At Eight
Tel: (01) 221 22-3830