Geeky Gourmet: A Tasting Menu by Tablet
From pan-fried croc to mousse with fireworks, choosing by touchscreen at the novel eatery Viereck is fun and affordable
Perching on a white-upholstered bench in a low ceilinged and cosily lit modern eatery, I was tucking hungrily into a dish of crocodile wrapped in bacon. Yet the exotic dishes on offer are not the oddest aspect of eating at Viereck on Johannesgasse in Vienna’s 1st District.
More unusual was the fact that, bravely resisting the urge to shout out "and bring it snappy", I’d ordered the pan-fried croc by stabbing an icon next to the picture of the dish on the electronic tablet that serves as the menu.
Each table, in fact, gets a Samsung tablet. A gimmick? Well actually using tablets instead of paper menus has a lot of advantages.
The first is efficiency: There is a charming wait-staff to bring and clear dishes and to explain to the less-technically adept how an electronic tablet works, but the order is beamed directly to the kitchen and comes remarkably quickly. You order course by course and the food is freshly prepared as you order.
The second advantage for me, a chatterbox, is that it remedies my harassed customer syndrome. When I sit down to dinner with a friend I tend to natter away, forgetting to look at the menu. Then when the waiter comes I feel suddenly flustered and order the safest, most conservative item on the menu.
With a tablet, my friend and I scrolled down at our leisure, poking and stroking the pad until we had examined full size pictures of all the dishes, read about all the ingredients, discussed them in detail, and then, without fear of mispronouncing them, ordered them in our own time. It was relaxed and fun!
Young and dynamic
Celebrating its 1st birthday this month, Viereck was opened by four young students at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, the oldest of whom, Stephan Beyer, has only just turned 23. Beyer explained that he and his friends wanted to prove you could "breathe some life and dynamism" into the gastronomy sector.
Stephan and his friends Bastian Rüther, Markus Müller and Richard Pöttinger had followed the development of tablet restaurants in the U.S. and other parts of Europe, and decided it was time to bring the concept to Austria, which Stephan describes as "a conservative market".
"At first, some customers were a little sceptical," says Beyer, but although most diners are between 25-40 years old, he has enjoyed watching ladies in their 70s trying out the new system.
"It’s the novelty – dining here is an experience, sometimes the older customers seem to have more fun than the younger ones." The system "supports" rather than replaces the waiters he says and as a diner you feel empowered.
I was certainly enjoying the power at my fingertips. You can click, or digit-stab, on icons that determine how the food is to be prepared. My national pride was hurt, though, when I discovered I could choose whether my meat should be cooked "well done", "medium" or "English" (meaning very rare).
We ordered a selection of desserts and saw the option "with a firework". Well for less than €2, what did I have to lose? Turns out I got an erupting sparkler in my chocolate mousse and the whole restaurant sang Happy Birthday. I decided to go along with it, hoping I wasn’t expected to buy a round of drinks.
Viereck is now using its second generation of tablets.
"When we opened we had a tight budget and the tablets weren’t the best quality," admits Stephan. Day after day of food-sticky fingers and the odd spilled drink took their toll. But he says the new devices, which are washed and disinfected before each meal, survive everything the modern diner can throw at them.
With dishes affordably priced, typically between €3 and €7, we went for bust, ordering as much as we could and sharing everything.
The portions are small, says Stephan, to encourage experimentation. Why have one large main course when you can have two small ones? I chose a creamy ginger and coconut soup for starters – a saucily sweet beginning to the meal – while my friend had sheep’s cheese wrapped in bacon.
Before the infamous croc, we tried a dish of raw tuna steak in a sesame seed crust and a potato purée mixed with wasabi. It was delicious. We then ordered enough desserts to feed an entire football team (well, everyone did think it was my birthday) and when we finally stabbed the icon for the bill it was, including drinks, little over €50 for two.
It was another nice surprise on a memorable evening in a remarkable place.
1., Johannesgasse 16
Mon. – Thu., 11:30 – 23:00,
Fri., 11:30 – 1:00, Sat., 17:00 – 1:00
(01) 9744788, www.4eck.at