Shopping in the Lap of Luxury
Julius Meinl am Graben in this month's Treasure Hunt
Sliding along the icy streets of Vienna’s 1st District battling a snowstorm, the warm, comforting embrace of Meinl am Graben was a relief on a frigid afternoon in February. Meinl is renowned in Vienna, the flagship store of what was once a leading chain of gourmet groceries; like Fortnum and Mason in London, it was and is the place for select Austrian specialties and exotic imports.
Stepping inside this famous haven of luxury, the pungent smells of a delicatessen are seductive, and the imagination is ready for a feast of sensory pleasures. So the bland foyer seemed a bit of a shock: a rather simple takeaway Hütte – more mountain than town, and not the grand entrance you might expect.
Following the aroma of fresh ground coffee beans to the downstairs café, everything is the height of luxury, from the leather-handled shopping trolleys – complete with a grand-segnieur magnifying glass (for the hi-octane octogenerians) – to the wood-panelled bottle-deposit machine. But then, Meinl am Graben is an emporium for the well heeled. On offer that day was a Kaffee und Kipferl for €5.30, which seemed steep. Fortunately, a page farther along, by some impenitrable logic, was hidden a Kleiner Brauner and a Krapfen for only €3.60.
For Anglo-expats, it is comforting to see the "western" sights of Oreo and McVitie biscuits, amidst Walkers crisps and wasabi peanuts. The choice of preserves, glass water bottles and ice cream is a challenge. And the indispensible egg cosy shaped like a Meinl fez.
The abundance continues in the wine section, offering a global selection from floor to ceiling, and a sleek wine bar below, whose shelves of decorative bottles, modern furnishings and chill music are not quite in sync with the theatrics in the grocery section upstairs. Here, the fresh fragrances and rich colours are what draw shoppers to this store. Next to the "do-it-yourself" orange juice presser, a cornucopia farm cart holds nuts and dried fruit in unnecessary, but pleasing opulence.
Up the grand carpeted staircase – complete with the Meinl fez-capped boy on the banister – the decadence continues: squid ink pasta before an alluring mountain of marzipan, and a spinning bottle of Austria Gold – a reasonably priced sekt with floating gold flakes (0.75l = €13.90) boxed in a gold brick.
Then there’s a fish-market plus sushi bar, everything from red snapper to catfish, and succulent prepared salads averaging €2 per 100g. For carnivores, the charcuterie has over 30 different cures of ham, and the butcher offers beef cut to measure – including T-bone and rump steaks unknown on Austrian menues. The stash of loose teas is tucked away behind the 500 varieties of domestic and imported cheese.
All in all, it’s sensory overdose. You collapse on an orange suede banquette in the upper floor restaurant, gazing happily out over the Graben. Enthroned, I spoon up a divine, clear tomato soup, complete with amuse bouche:
Expensive? Perhaps. But in this establishment, quality outweighs cost.
Julius Meinl am Graben GmbH
1., Graben 19
(01) 532 33 34