Friday, 2 March 2012

Return to Vienna (4)

(Vicus, dear friend, you may prefer not to read this)

Shortly before we left for Vienna Carlotta, a Swiss friend, told me that the best Wiener Schnitzel - literally 'Viennese Slice', thin slices of boned and steak-hammered veal fried in a coating of breadcrumbs - was to be had at a restaurant called Oswald und Kalb, 14 B├Ąckerstrasse, Vienna. If O und K's was OK, if their Wiener Schnitzel was the best in Vienna, it had presumably to be the best in the world. We found the restaurant, a tiny place with room for about 15 people, and booked in for supper on my birthday.

That evening we were shown to a table for two by Herr O. (or maybe Herr K.) beside the bar. In the window there was a sign saying - I can't remember the exact German - that here was served the best schnitzel in Vienna. I asked Herr O. (or perhaps Herr K.) if this was true: Yes, he said, it is very true. Very, very true. He retired behind the bar to pour himself a generous glass of white wine, and I was astounded to see him light up a cigarette. We've become so used to smoking being banned in public places, even where we live in individualistic France, that we considered leaving in disgust. But we'd placed our order, we respect Carlotta's opinion, and if the best Wiener Schnitzel in the world was on its way to us, maybe it would be better to overcome our dislike of tobacco smoke and make the best of it.

Both J. and I are former smokers (I used to smoke a pipe until about 25 years ago) and it's notorious that there are no more fanatical anti-smokers than those that have given up.

Our schnitzels arrived, golden, beaming, lovingly prepared and served with pride. The first mouthful reminded me of a superb flavour and texture I hadn't experienced for 50 years. I wish I could describe it to you, but unfortunately I'd hardly eaten a tenth of this glorious offering when some of Herr O's (or possibly Herr K's) pals came in, leant against the bar not two feet from our table, ordered themselves drinks and lit up their vile gaspers, filling our end of the restaurant with noisome smoke. My eyes started to water, my throat to sting, the superb dish was ruined and I couldn't wait to leave. J. was practically apopleptic. I've nothing more to tell except that I honestly don't know whether we'd been served the best schnitzel in the world, and that the walk back to our hotel through the frosty air of the old city of Vienna on a Saturday night was a privilege after the desperate miasmatic stench of Herr O's and Herr K's.

I thought Europe was virtually smoke-free. Stringent anti-smoking laws have been made in France, a country notorious for individuals noisily asserting their inalienable right to do whatever they want whenever they want, yet the no-smoking regulations are pretty scrupulously observed. It's the same in Italy, apparently. In my experience things may be a bit more lax in Spain, but I'd always counted Austrians as being fairly ready to toe the line in such things. Clearly not.

I mentioned this to Carlotta when we got back. Yes, of course, she said, and added she was very sorry, she just hadn't thought to tell us. But then she's a smoker.


Vicus Scurra said...

I took your advice and skimmed through this piece. It seemed to concern two unsavoury and anti-social habits - smoking and the burning of flesh. I expect that you are feeling ashamed.
Try lentils. You will feel better all round.

Z said...

Your schnitzels were beaming? I'll eat pretty well anything, but food that smiles at me is a bit hard to swallow.
Sorry to hear about the smoke. Never having been a smoker, it probably wouldn't have bothered me much. But, with an eye to you, I'd have wheezed and given every appearance of having an asthma attack so that the vile smokers would have retreated in confusion and alarm and we could all have eaten in peace. Not that I'm suggesting that you and J should invite me along on the offchance, of course.

mig bardsley said...

Just popping out for a quick fag.

I don't know how long we've had the smoking ban here but it's been a lot longer than that since I've been able to smoke in a confined public space. Even if people say 'do smoke we don't mind at all' I just can't bring myself to do it.
It's a good way to get to see people's gardens though.

Christopher said...

It was noble of you to read to the end, Vicus. I think you deserve an extra helping of lentils as a reward.

Z: In my concept of the nature of time it would be difficult to invite you to something that's already happened. You could maybe consult Vicus if you're feeling a bit under the weather with wheezes and asthma - he's good with pulses.

Mig: So you must be a connoisseur of Nicotiana?

Rog said...

Kalb in German means Calf, so it must be a tradition in his family. Like Mr Nuggets or Captain BirdsEye over here I suppose.
I too am a lapsed smoker and fervently anti. I would have threatened them with a schmammer. Might have produced a calf injury.

Christopher said...

Or a wiener injury, I suppose, come to that?

(Captain Birdseye over here is known as Capitaine Niglo. Mr Nuggets would come out as Monsieur P├ępites. So far he hasn't made an appearance...)