‘Tempel’ to Fine Dining
Walking the line between a classy eatery and a neighborhood tavern where you go to pass a pleasant hour with friends
First impressions can tell volumes about a restaurant. Upon walking through the narrow doorway of Tempel on a Friday night, brightness and vivacity embrace your entry from the quiet of an inner courtyard. Surprisingly small, it could be called intimate if it weren’t so cheerful and well lit – a lively gathering point rather than a place for a romantic dinner. Although this second district restaurant could probably swing both ways. It seemed to elegantly walk the line between a haughty high-end eatery and the kind of a place where the owner might sit at your table for a round of Schnapps.
But this was just the first impression. As it turns out the owner is no stranger to his guests; he had been at our table twice in the first 10 minutes, once for first drink orders and again to accommodate an addition to our reservation, taking what was likely to be the last free chair in the house. He and two loyal waitresses handled the house that night, making it all the more cozy.
Amid the pristine white table clothes and walls, vivid abstract paintings splash the room with color: one to our right, of a lanky busker in broad strokes of reds and oranges, another opposite the room of an elegant female figure immersed in a red dress and equally intense hair. More elongated human figures garnished canvases on walls that clearly held a double function as a gallery space.
Set on a fish-filled evening, I started with white wine, first a gelber Muskateller as an aperitif, which had a hint of the Muskat essence but none of the typical syrupy sweetness. Aperitifs were definitely a good idea: The welcome page of Tempel’s menu promised fresh, seasonal meals that took care and time to prepare, and they weren’t kidding. After a good half hour and a second glass of Muskateller, the owner graciously brought a nibble to hold us over: a tender chicken morsel stuffed with shrimp accompanied by a crispy bugle-shaped corn chip.
Fifteen more minutes and another round later, the appetizers finally arrived. As the opener of my five-course fixed menu, I had a variation of fresh water fish, perch and char, the latter coated with a crusty pumpkin coat, the former so soft in texture it would have seemed processed if it weren’t for the skin. My companions went for the grilled scallops, caramelized in orange with zucchini cream. Seared on the outside, tender and fleshy on the inside, we were at last off to a good start.
The wait for the next course wasn’t nearly as long. A red beet consommé, which tasted exactly as it sounds: Red beets in their own juice, and little else, aside from more sugar. Disappointing might go too far, but it seemed out of place and too heavy given the rest of the meal. Luckily I had a glass of Welschriesling that made up for it, a delectable white from south Styria that gave a refreshing bite after the intense soup. My companions had started on a Zweigelt from south Burgenland, which was particularly velvety and spicy. It’s surprising how good wine, and a good vibe, can distract one from a long wait.
The next course: grilled sea bream with a honey garlic glaze and spinach flan. This was the third type of fish of the evening and the creativity was remarkable, especially for an Austrian restaurant. It again had a flawlessly crunchy shell made from harmonizing herbs and essences, though a bit too salty. And we certainly weren’t going to leave hungry. There was a heap of spinach on the side that was pleasantly filling. I might go as far to say that, even after waiting so long for the first substantial dish, I was getting full.
But our main courses arrived soon after so there wasn’t much time to think about it. Mine was venison in a pastry with morel cream, to my left a wild boar with ham-wrapped plums and celery puree, and in front duck breast with caramelized apple cabbage and Dalken, small cornbread pastries. They were equally beautifully prepared, and the meats – though rather different – were cooked to nearly the exact same pinkish-red tenderness. A pastry-covered meat was almost too filling at this point but hard to resist, especially with the subtle morels.
The dessert was still to come: chocolate fudge with raspberry sorbet. It was one of the moments where I wished that I was more of a dessert aficionado. But even lacking a sweet tooth wouldn’t make one disregard the precision of this dish. The fudge, almost brownie-like, melted upon contact while the sorbet and decorative fig and mandarin oranges gave a tart contrast to the sweetness.
Another round of gelber Muskateller and a brief chat with the owner and we were ready to go. As we donned our coats to head back out into the autumn chill, I took a last look around the restaurant. By 23:30, the commotion had subsided; a last table of guests laughed over a round of Schnapps, while the others were neatly set for the next day. The owner waved us goodbye and then hurried to focus his final energy on those that remained.
2., Praterstraße 56
(01) 214 0179