Finkh: a Culinary Workshop for Understated Gourmets
A small eatery in Mariahilf dishes out grand flavours, with an aquired taste for minimalist interior design
In my travels, I have always enjoyed stumbling upon restaurants installed into unlikely places. My list includes churches, petrol stations, windmills, abandoned train cars, and auto repair shops. In fact, it seems that the stranger the predecessor, the greater the allure.
The interior of Finkh in a side street off Gumpendorferstraße may seem bleak at first until you notice a large mechanical pulley hanging overhead. Along with the long iron I-beam stretching across the ceiling, the rigging reveals the purpose of the space in its earlier life: a mechanical workshop for theatres.
Nowadays, owner Fridolin Finkh and co-founder Isamu Hohenegger raise the curtain instead on their culinary creations that bring character to the space designed by architectural firm ten.two (10.2), nominees of the 2007 Adolf Loos Staatspreis für Design for the Kaffeeküche eatery in the Schottentor Passage.
"It’s gastronomy floating in the working space of a machine workshop," as Hohenegger puts it.
Indeed, the black plywood walls and concealed lighting directed at the ceiling create a blank canvas for the food and clientele to enliven. Although the tables are monotone, all the chairs are different, like the individuals who dine here.
Inspired by original chef Elias Zenzmaier, the former sous-chef to renowned Austrian Jörg Wörther, the cuisine focuses on a revolving door of regional and seasonal offerings with a few staples mixed in, always maximizing the fresh ingredients when they’re in season.
On this autumn evening, items like succulent Weinbergschnecken (vineyard snails), spinach sheep’s cheese Knödel (dumpling) with nutty butter, Parmesan flakes and leafy salad, and tomato and leek quiche with sheep’s cheese and olives tempted my taste buds. I even considered digging my teeth into a pan-tossed Wiener Schnitzel, served bursting at the breaded seams.
Instead, I made the refined choice: Blunzengröstl (blood sausage with fried potato). Hohenegger was quick to point out that it is the best in town, as the Meiringer family that produces it took first prize at last April’s Championnat du boudin (blood sausage championships) in France. Ok, it’s an unofficial contest held in the small Norman town of Mortagne-au-Perche, but the Meiringers beat out hundreds of other participants with their bloody delicacy.
When the typically Tyrolean dish came in less than ten minutes, I mistook it for a fancy hat at the racetrack or at a Royal Wedding. A pile of potato batons and strips of horseradish adorned the dish, as if the chef was playing pick-up-sticks in between orders.
Yet, underneath it all, the steaming chopped links unleashed a meaty bouquet with fennel and cumin accents. A potato-and-onion scramble accompanied each moist bite, and the side salad featured more than enough vinegar to cleanse the palate.
My comrade opted for one of the many fish selections: the carp goulash. Like the décor, it didn’t look like much, but the flavours did the talking. Don’t expect a meaty Hungarian stew, but rather a rich tomato sauce with diced bell pepper, spicy paprika, a hint of thyme, and a dollop of cream melting in the middle. The crisp green beans and baby herb potatoes are great for dipping in the sauce. (Sorry, no pick-up-sticks on this one.)
The apple and pear strudel settled well but raised doubts about if it had been prepared that day. Next time, I’ll order Finkh’s most popular dessert, the dark chocolate gâteau, which takes 15 to 20 minutes to prepare and surely must be worth the wait.
By the end of our meal, Finkh’s 25 seats were filled with gregarious patrons, quite an accomplishment for a rainy Wednesday night. The social and culinary atmosphere had indeed permeated the otherwise nondescript interior, beckoning us to linger a while and surely look forward to another visit.
Note: During lunchtime hours in the business week, the chefs of Good Food rent the space and offer lighter fare based on the Slow Food Movement.
6., Esterhazygasse 12
(01) 913 8992