Maître de Vincent
Fine dining in a reimagined traditional setting, where great wine accompanies eye-catching arrangements
Looking for a different aesthetic, my literary dining companion Dorothy Parker and I followed a tip and headed for Restaurant Vincent at Große Pfarrgasse 7 in Vienna’s 2nd District. Once a 70’s hangout for student philosophers (in vino veritas, etc), the place has since been transformed into a decidedly up-market venue for fine food in a dramatic setting of post-modern interior design.
Owner Frank Gruber – a student of philosophy himself back in the early days – opened Vincent in 1973 to gather artists and philosophers together in comfort and familiarity. In 1980 he added another two rooms and recently a very stylish winter garden at the rear. Thus, the former student Beisl has become a stylish restaurant, in bold visual strokes, just offbeat enough to stay interesting.
Though inconspicuous from the outside with its ordinary yellow facade, the Vincent reveals a visual impact from the moment you enter. Literary Companion and I were given a table in the main room of the four-room restaurant accessible through an archway, in the style of Roman houses of antiquity.
"What a striking place," Ms. Parker whispered, taking in the challenging potpourri of design and detail – brown wallpaper and curtains, gathered up in reminiscence of 19th century Parisian salons, in bizarre, yet somehow successful harmony with giant photographs of the aesthetics of wine, lips nipping luxuriously at misted glasses, tinted liquids splashing into glistening crystal. Beautiful for one, a source of bewilderment and restlessness for another – inundated by this style-mix, we needed some splashes of our own to absorb the whole.
But, once adjusted and seated cosily in the small wood chairs at the Lucite-marble table in the glimmer of burning candles, it seemed to make sense – just like a Picasso still life, when at a closer look a guitar, violin and pencil emerge and put the whole into perspective.
Equally demanding in its variety was the menu. With Grieg’s Peer Gynt in the background and an Aperol Spritzer – Aperol, white wine, a touch of lemon and dangerously delicious – at hand, we were intrigued by a tasty portfolio of extravagant compositions offered by chef de cuisine Harald Riedl.
Among these – tuna mille-feuille seasoned with sesame marinade, duck-liver parfait subtly sweetened with Madeira adorned by apple-port purée and duck-consommé with dumplings as appetizers followed by rose pigeon with caramelised comfrey and gnocchi or Waller-filet (a fish native in Austria’s various creeks and lakes like the Wörthersee in Carinthia) with beans and bacon.
Our choice – glazed rabbit with crisp polenta and shallots for Ms. Parker and poached pike-perch nestling on leek-purée for me – lavishly draped on Villeroy & Boch was still appreciated with glee despite some flaws on the rabbit’s side. Being slightly overcooked, it ran a little dry and lost some of its juice on the way. The taste, however, was unquestionably delicious, and the arrangement eye-catching – the well-spiced fish on a bed of leek-purée had a pastel-like complexion that contrasted tunefully with the colourful Tuscan (or was it French?) villa motif on my plate.
Also considerable credit is due to our pick of beverages. On recommendation of maître d’hôtel Frank Gruber, in person, we enjoyed a sample of Riesling Edition Vincent, Birgit Eichinger Kamptal, 2007, to go with the fish and the red Cuvée Blaufränkisch Cabernet, 2004, for the rabbit.
"The wine is my special concern," Gruber told us. "I visit the vineyards myself to ensure top quality!" (His concern, our pleasure, I thought, taking another sip.) With pride he described the extensive list of premium reds and whites, amongst which we found Edition Vincent Grüner Veltliner and Riesling Knoll, Loiben, located in the famous Wachau wine region of Lower Austria, as well as Bründlmayer, Langenlois or Pinot Noir and Cuvée, Heinrich Gesellmann and Ing. Lang – not to forget the range of Italian (mainly Friaul, Piemont and Tuscany), and French (Bordeaux and Burgundy) wines. We were charmed.
A very attentive host; although maybe a trifle too much, I wondered, as he repeatedly came to our table to lure us with various offerings – a voucher for a main course and a dessert or dessert wine for us, friends and colleagues at The Vienna Review. Wait a minute… knowing that I will write a review, he hoped for favorable publicity! So, a doubtful attentiveness altogether? Well, everyone should judge for themselves.
Anyway, before hurrying to the kitchen, Frank Gruber promised to round off our Lucullian entertainment with an ensemble of various sweet flavors. At ease and in anticipation of the grande finale my eyes wandered about the room. There were several couples, as well as larger groups; conversation was animated and Gruber stopped often to chat with guests, many of whom seemed to know him. With all the finery, the sense of at-home-ness seemed to have survived, a place for a pleasurable and relaxed evening with friends and family. One wonders only at the prices, which at €120 for two are a challenge for ordinary mortals, on all but the most special occasions.
Suddenly the music interrupted, what was it? Dvorak? Just as we had settled on Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, the dessert was served and we indulged in a lusciously creamy cake of passion fruits crowned with spiced oranges and a Griessflammerie (a kind of semolina pudding) covered with elder jam.
With the taste of passion fruits still lingering on the tongue, bewilderment was gone: For this evening, extravagance had won.
2., Große Pfarrgasse 7
(01) 214 15 16
Mon.-Sat. from 16:00