This review of a Vienna restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
The Sacher Hotel is perhaps the most famous of Vienna’s grand and opulent hotels if only for one thing – the Sachertorte. This chocolate sponge cake has a layer of apricot jam in the middle and the entire thing is then coated in dark chocolate and served with whipped cream. Despite its iconic status, it’s a fairly divisive cake with both its fans and its detractors. The Sacher Hotel has other culinary tricks up its sleeve though – the Anna Sacher, the hotel’s resident restaurant, is an attraction in its own right.
If you somehow didn’t already know that the Anna Sacher was one of Vienna’s more expensive restaurants then you would know it the second you walked in – the luxuriously decorated dining room is decked out in rich woods, glittering chandeliers and lots of velvety-looking green wallpaper. The service was unsurprisingly gold-plated – the English-speaking staff were not only impeccably polite and efficient, but also warm and friendly too.
Anna Sacher has two menus which change frequently – a traditional Austrian one and a more innovative, modernist menu and I opted for the latter. One can choose from four, five or six courses, with or without the wine pairing, and I plumped for the full six courses. Without the wine of course – I’m a teetotaller.
The bread selection was overshadowed by the colourful array of butters, but they were almost entirely unremarkable despite their multihued appearance. The exceptions were the block of butter that tasted remarkably like balsamic vinegar and another that tasted like pork pate.
Apparently the namesake of the restaurant, the original Anna Sacher, was a snooty cow.
I was also disappointed with the amuse bouche of breaded, fried goat’s cheese served with beef carpaccio and celery purée. Apart from the bold, sharp taste of celery, this amuse bouche was incredibly unamusing with its dreary, all-too-familiar flavours and textures.
Fermez votre bouche.
Things improved a bit, but only a bit, with the next course of lobster served with black salsify and citrus. The chilly slivers of lobster left me a little cold which is a shame as the sweet and sour grapefruit-like taste of the citrus jelly would’ve gone beautifully with some moist lobster meat. The salsify made up for this to a certain extent with its nutty, almost creamy taste, but not enough to rescue this dish from overall disappointment.
This lobster has lost its way.
Deer, red cabbage and Perigord truffle may sound rather heavy, but Anna Sacher’s version is small and light. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely successful though – the deer meat takes the form of a pate which was coarse but also surprisingly bland. The tart shavings of red cabbage provided a pleasing contrast to the butteriness of the truffled cream, but the latter lacked the earthy richness that I was expecting. Although there are some interesting elements in this dish, none of them come together successfully as a coherent whole.
Truffles not triffids.
Pumpernickel, a German rye bread, doesn’t appear on restaurant menus very often which is a shame, if only because it’s an inherently funny word. Here, it’s been paired with an oyster and cauliflower and doused in a foam I wasn’t able to identify. This dish was more about texture than taste as most of the joy came from the contrast between the rich, creamy oyster, the coarse pumpernickel and the slightly crunchy cauliflower. An interesting, if flawed, experiment of a dish.
Pumpernickel. Another inherently funny word.
Oddly, the savoury dishes were punctuated by the (scheduled) appearance of a coconut sorbet with a bottom layer of coconut bits and rum-soaked raisins and then topped with a dried slice of pineapple. Despite this fairly elaborate construction, the flavours were all far too understated to make much of an impact. I neglected to ask why the sorbet was served in between two savoury courses, but at a guess the sorbet may have been meant to cut through the intended richness of the preceding dish – which was entirely unnecessary given the muted flavours of the oyster, pumpernickel and cauliflower.
When is a dessert not really a dessert? When it comes wedged in between two savoury courses.
The appearance of the sorbet wasn’t as much as an intrusion as it might have been as the final course before the dessert proper combined sweet tangerines with the savoury elements of anglerfish and blood sausage. The tangerine segments were carefully placed in the mixture of vegetables that form the bottom rung of this layered dish. Above it, the rich, tangy and meaty blood sausage had been encased inside a firm and juicy fish dumpling. It was all topped off by a lighter chunk of anglerfish covered in a crisp batter that was thankfully not too oily. The savoury elements were all very satisfying, but the addition of tangerines felt out of place.
Really rather good.
The most unusual looking dish of the evening was the dessert, simply and enigmatically described on the menu as ‘peanut, dark chocolate and exotic fruits’ but looks artfully abstract in the flesh. The rich and layered dark chocolate bar was gooey and satisfying, especially when paired with the surprisingly straightforward and unaltered taste of the viscous peanut butter dollop which was all too small. Not all of the accompanying ice creams successfully complimented the rich chocolate and peanut flavours though. The sharpness of the banana ice cream was an obvious choice and worked well, but the muted mango ice cream just didn’t work and the third ice cream was so bland as to be unidentifiable.
Ice cream can take many forms.
Disappointingly for a restaurant in Vienna, the spiritual home of the European coffee house, the coffee included with my six courses was nothing to write home about. This was also the case with the petit fours, with the exception of the tart and gooey lemon fudge.
Although there were occasional glimpses of brilliance, the version of Anna Sacher’s Innovative menu that I had was just too inconsistent in terms of quality – none of the dishes I had were complete successes and some were just downright disappointing. Even so, if pricing had been lower then the excellent service and plush surroundings would have been enough to salvage a conditional recommendation. However, at these prices I would expect far higher levels of culinary achievement, so even those pluses just aren’t enough to compensate for the kitchen’s ambition overreaching its ability. In other words, it’s just poor value.
If you want to be treated like a king in regal surroundings, then Anna Sacher fits the bill, but real royalty dines elsewhere in Vienna.
Name: Anna Sacher
Address: Hotel Sacher, Philharmonikerstraße 4, A-1010, Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43 (0)1 – 51 456 840
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Sunday noon-15:00 and 18:00-00:00 (last orders at 23.30). Closed Mondays.
Total cost for one person: Innovative menu without wine pairing – four courses €64, five courses €76 and six courses €86 (£53, £63 and £71 respectively at the time of writing)