Dining Like Royalty
Vestibül merges appearance and taste to create an elegant dining experience
Stepping through the grand archway at the Vestibül is a trip back in time: Tucked under the grand staircase on the south wing of the Burgtheater, the year is 1874, and Emperor Franz Joseph had just gifted Vienna with another of the great monuments to architectural history that graced his new Ringstraße. Here in a pastiche of style elements that was neo-Baroque, ceilings and alcoves are decorated in bas-relief, while marble columns, vaulted ceilings and sculpted pediments lend a classical setting for the ornate and florid atmosphere. This was theater intended for the enjoyments of royalty; today it’s for anyone who wants to dine like a king!
Once upon a time, this vestibule was the private entrance to the national theater for Franz Joseph and his wife Sisi. Post-modern architect Luigi Blau reinterpreted the covered carriageway by taking the historic elements and with a skillful, and unobtrusive overlay of modern, created a passageway that would lead restaurant patrons into an elegant and cosmopolitan dining experience.
And so it was that on a certain Friday evening, yearning for a little elegance and confronted with grumbling stomachs that refused to be ignored, we headed out for Vestibül! What had we heard…? "Delicious, and not too overwhelmingly expensive." Why not try it? Splurge just a little bit? And so it was decided.
Four of us set off on the quest for fine dining and sweeping through the giant glass doors, we were seated at a table at the far end of the bar area – the smoking section.
"May I bring you an aperitif?" Hmmm. I’ve always thought of these pre-dinner drinks as an unnecessary expense. Tonight, though, the word "unnecessary" didn’t seem to mean much.
"A Campari please." It had escaped my mouth before I even had time to think. In this fashion, my new philosophy on life was born. Well, at least for tonight. I settled in to prepare for the difficulty of choosing from a very seductive menu, leather bound, with elegantly printed inserts that change daily.
I put my napkin on my lap, covering my bare knees below the short hemline of my "little black dress." Chic enough, I supposed, but in these surroundings, I yearned for even cloths, something long and satin, with endless folds of fabric. It must have been a sight as the coaches arrived and frock coated gentlemen reached out a hand to bejeweled ladies sweeping in it a cloud of perfumed elegance. The interior façades have changed little; the rooms are still in their original dimensions, the paneling and marble as it was, or might have been. I suddenly feel out of place and wish I looked like that woman in the painting...
My companion smiled, and kissed my hair. "You look great," he whispered. Could he read my mind? But suddenly I relaxed and forgot all about it.
I finally opened the menu and had a quick scan. The food all sounded expensive, but quickly I realized you don’t have to be royalty to frequent this establishment. Yes, there are some rather costly items (€42 for lobster with creamy cabbage), but also some very reasonable ones.
And anyway, tonight I wanted to dine in luxury. I would eat what intrigued me. I decided on the three-course menu, complete with Roh marinierte Rinderfiletscheiben (raw, marinated beef filet), Zackelschaf Lamm (selected lamb) and blueberry Datschi, what I would later discover to be very different, but very tasty pancakes. The others had ordered an array of dishes: a vegetable bouillon with dumplings, Vitello Tonnato, and the classic Wiener Schnitzel.
Orders in, we were now free to relax. Oh, not yet; the wine. There were three reds that looked interesting, a Höflein, a Langenlois or a Gols.
"Which is more full-bodied?" we asked.
"That would be the Höflein," the waiter answered without hesitation. With a quick swivel, sniff and taste, we agreed that it would suit us just fine. And it got better as the evening wore on, aromatic and layered, blending with the meals. A fine dinner wine.
A selection of bread and dried capers on a bed of rock salt arrived to entertain our pallets while we waited for our meals. Dried capers are a Mediterranean delicacy new to me, and though I found them quite salty, the small portion was surprisingly appetizing.
At last our first course was served, it was hard not to be impressed with the perfection of presentation. Thinly sliced and tender portions of raw beef filet drizzled in a Venetian-style mustard sauce and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano was an immediate success. The sauce that might have been overwhelming turned out to blend the textures and tastes and almost melted in my mouth.
My friend had ordered the Garnelen and Krevetten im heißen Olivenöl (prawns and shrimp served in hot olive oil), seasoned with garlic, chili, thyme and rosemary, along with Aioli and flat bread. The prawns he liked; they stood well on their own in addition to blending nicely with the sauce. The shrimp however were bland without the Aioli, and slightly disappointing.
They were able to pull of the Viennese classic well. In fact, my other friend stated simply that it was one of the best Schnitzels he’d ever had. One-hundred percent organic veal; moist and tender with a potato-cucumber salad.
We learned from chef Christian Domschitz, that Vestibül prides itself on using local products. "Nearly all come from Austria, and are 90% organic," he told us. Except the seafood, that comes from the Atlantic, and is mainly caught wild. Domschitz himself trained in Vienna, but also spent six months in St. Tropez giving him a deeper insight into what fresh fish should really be.
It seemed as if we had just received our dishes, and suddenly our starters were being cleared away. We asked the waiter for another candle for our table and the ambiance became even more romantic. It struck me that the waiter’s unobtrusive refills may also have had something to do with this. Time seemed to pass more slowly and we melted into our elaborate surroundings, the beautiful people sharing this dining environment with us. I could tell by my almost-speechless friend whose gaze had been permanently drawn to a dark-haired woman in a black dress.
Soon our entrees were in front of us. Mine was not only beautiful, it tasted as good as it looked. Individual pieces of lamb rib, tenderloin and shoulder were arranged with portions of Moussaka, a sautéed eggplant and tomato dish of Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan origin. The flavor combination was simple; the tastes were not overwhelming, yet each bite had something new to offer.
My companion looked satisfied, but not amazed. He had ordered the Vitello Tonnato, a dish comprised of yellow fin tuna and veal sirloin accompanied by capers and celery and served on a fig leaf. "The preparation and presentation is beautiful and refreshing, and they’ve used Bratensauce as opposed to the traditional mayonnaise sauce," he pointed out. "But it’s nothing special."
Nothing special? It was gorgeous! "You should get what you pay for, and here you pay for presentation," he continued. And then I thought back to the arrival of our first course. It’s true. Before I had ever taken a bite, I had concentrated on the aesthetics of the meal. And thus my pallet had been influenced. But maybe that’s ok.
After clearing our places, our bellies full and our senses satisfied, we fell into a sort of reverie, waiting for our dessert. And we waited. And waited.
And waited some more.
"They must be making it all from scratch," my friend observed. "This is taking centuries!"
But after all, fine food is slow food. "In that way, the preparation allows the character to be obtained and the taste is intensified," Domschitz told us.
Another glass of wine and our final dishes appeared. One, the sorbets of the day (peach, strawberry and raspberry) were fruity and refreshing. Another, the Bourbon Vanilla "Pure" was sweet and heavy, and mine, well, mine was just different. A pancake with the consistency almost of dried fruit, served on a bed of sour cream and apple puree, accompanied by a blueberry sorbet. Something unique, and something satisfying – the blueberry Datschi.
In the end, we all decided that presentation and taste are equally essential. "The food has to appeal to the eye," Mr. Domschitz suggested, and we agreed. Vestibül was able to merge look and quality so that they complemented each other. We were in a setting for royalty, and we had eaten like kings and queens.
Mon. – Fri., 11:00 – 24:00
Sat., 18:00 – 24:00
1., Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 2
(01) 532 49 99