Chinese Cuisine is Rei-magined in an Avant-garde Atmosphere
People love to give other people advice, where to go on holiday, where to shop, and very often where to eat. Several friends of mine had been urging me for months to try the Chinese restaurant Goldene Zeiten, which had relocated from Floridsdorf to Vienna’s 1st District. For some reason, I kept forgetting about it until a few weeks ago.
I arrived early because of a very well situated parking space that had just opened close to the restaurant on Dr. Karl-Lueger Ring. House No. 5 is a clean, white neo-classical building with an arched entranceway that fuses with the adjacent typical Viennese architecture. I almost missed the entrance, expecting some form of cliché Chinese decoration to guide me. Instead there are two modern red signs with a minimalist design reading Goldene Zeiten next to a Chinese symbol.
As I pushed open the grand wood and glass door, I seemed to step through a magical wardrobe, ending up in another world. The single room that makes up the restaurant is spacious yet warm, the golden walls gently gleaming in the carefully dimmed light. The high ceilings are blinded by enormous circular constructions, each one wrapped by a blood red ruffled fabric that additionally softens the light.
Right in front of the entrance is a wood and glass front desk behind which a busy Chinese lady rustled receipts and hacks into her keyboard. Still, she managed to welcome me, graciously asking for the name on my reservation and let me choose between two small tables.
In order to have the entire restaurant in view, I decided on a corner by the window. The long wall is filled with six two-person tables, making it quite crowded. Squeezing past the neighbouring table, I set off a cascade of apologies with two woman in mid meal, each of us feeling as if we were invading the others’ personal space. Luckily a waitress arrived and offered me an aperitif, and my neighbours continued their conversation, of which of course I could hear every word. This is definitely not the place to bring your lover and talk about killing your husband.
Apart from our small tables, there were several large round ones in the centre of the restaurant, each filled by an eclectic group of diners. The decoration is kept simple, with white linen and polished silver cutlery; colors include dark red, the gold of the walls and the warm mahogany of the wooden floors harmonise perfectly, creating a modern yet very Asian picture.
My aperitif is served in a Martini glass, consisting of a wild mixture of mango, mint and prosecco and is sprinkled with chopped cilantro - an explosion of taste! My friend arrives, and we are handed two menu booklets, fresh water and a wine list. The menu is considerable and before we have even considered half of it, a complimentary dish was rushed to our table by a very brisk Chinese waitress. The portion is huge, offering toasted dark bread with spiced cream cheese and trout caviar, yellow curry cabbage and two crispy fried samosa with meat filling.
We decide to order several small dishes in order to enjoy as many different tastes as possible, in combination with an Austrian wine by Ott, from the wine district by Carnuntum east of Vienna. The atmosphere is bustling yet relaxed and the six female waitresses seem to be highly organised and very efficient.
After what seems like only minutes, our first dishes begin to arrive. Four raw tuna sashimi in sesame crust with too little sauce but very fresh are followed by miniature crispy rolls of pork with cucumbers and spicy garlic. Our "in-between" consists of two superb puff pastries filled with warm salad and cheese as well as soft-boiled samosas full of aromatic mincemeat and chopped spring onions, served with a sweet chilli sauce. The dishes arrive easily, one after the other in what seems like perfectly calculated intervals, and we soon find ourselves in a bit of a drunken state not so much from the excellent wine as from the varieties, tastes and exquisite presentation of the different courses.
After another fine combination of fillet steak and fresh vegetables, we finish our meal with an atypical espresso coffee, which tastes very Italian, strong and creamy. The owner Mingming Fang then suddenly appears at our table to ask about our meal and tells us in a proud voice that the Goldene Zeiten has been considered to be the best Chinese restaurant in Austria for more than ten years now, by gourmets and critics alike.
But is it really pure Chinese cuisine?
"It is a mixture," she tells us, "of Shanghainese and Sichuan kitchen combined with the personal creativity of our chef de cuisine Jian Zhao."
Considering their reputation and number of awards, prices are surprisingly modest, ranging between €5,90 and €19,90. They also offer a special menu consisting of the traditionally prepared Peking Duck which needs to be ordered at least one day in advance, made for a minimum of four people and costing €48 per person.
Leaving the restaurant with its affectionate personnel and easy atmosphere, we step outside into reality full and content -- having had a truly golden time.