I remember the stress of it like it was yesterday. It was day three of our Austrian adventure, and through the thick winter snow we piled back into our lodge restaurant. I looked down at the plate of chicken and chips in front of me.
“Excuse me, I’m vegetarian.”
The waiter looked momentarily puzzled, before he proclaimed: “Yes, we have this vegetarian for you,” and sauntered off.
It was the third day in a row I had been given chicken and chips, and the third time I had slid off the chicken and ate whichever remaining fries weren’t covered in some kind of meat juice with a sullen expression.
This was the first and full extent of my Austrian cuisine experience, until this month. Disappointment, exasperation, hangrily shovelling chips into my mouth (for those unfamiliar with the term hangry, it’s when an unpleasant rage is induced as a result of mounting hunger), unimpressed sighing – and repeat.
Austria for a vegetarian is about the architecture, skiing, classical music, but it sure as hell is not about food.
And so understandably so, I have low expectations for Austrian café Kipferl.
It is small, cosy and pleasantly typical of London’s cafes - by that I mean there are low hanging bulbs everywhere. There’s people eating supper alone and reading newspapers. On other tables, there’s of friends laughing and drinking together. How very transitional, coffee house-come-restaurant.
As we take up our window seat for two, we’re surrounded by Austrian and German voices, which my companion takes to be a good sign (“Amita, it means the real deal with sausages”) and leads me to fear the worst.
I share my woes with our jolly looking waiter as he heads out in his apron to light a cigarette.
“Yes, there are a lot of Austrian and Germanic people living in the Ladbroke Grove area.
“But a lot of people in London are vegetarians too, we have lots on the menu to cater for those as well.”
Well this is Ausgezeichnet news (no, that’s German I’m told). There’s an Austrian tapas section (isn’t that Spanish? This is very confusing) and after getting a good mix of starters to share, our first few dishes arrive.
One bite in and there’s no room for confusion. This isn’t Spanish tapas, it is clearly homemade Austrian goodness. We have the spinach knodel dumplings, a large flavoursome parcel topped with organic blue cheese, packed with unusual and delicious tastes, and a side salad. There’s also the grilled goatscheese which oozes out onto the plate and melts in the mouth and fried potatoes which were crisp at first bite and fluffy inside.
My carnivorous companion chooses the Berner Saubrker and pickles for mains and I the Kaesespaetzle.
Mine comes in the sizzling pan it was fried in, a large spread of homemade egg noodles with more organic cheese, crispy fried onion curls topping the steaming pile along with a green salad. It is upgraded mac n cheese. It’s a divine version of all cheesy goodness, deliciously creamy and wholesome.
Between my bites, I ask my companion how her sausage is. We’re two glasses into the crisp, refreshing bottle of Austrian white wine. She asks if it’s rude to say “she’s reviewing sausage”, but I tell her let’s not forget about context, right now it’s all about whether Londoners can get the real sausage deal here instead of at Bavarian markets once a year.
I’m told it’s the right amount of cheesy, it oozes out and is every bit the reminder of excellent sausages eaten abroad. Tick, tick, tick.
Halfway through our mains, we give up trying to conquer the portions, they insist we take the remainder with us (for which I will be eternally grateful for as it tasted just as good for lunch the following day) and we skip desert so as not to spoil the perfection of the meal - we’ll be back to try the juicy looking cakes and coffee.
Kipferl has succeeded in replacing the chicken and chips memory - no easy feat. Skiing is great, and Vienna is beautiful, and finally with real Austrian cuisine right here in west London, the final jigsaw in my Bavarian dream is complete.