Having spent four or five days in Vienna nearly every year around New Year for seven or eight years, with several visits further in the past, I was surprised when I found out recently that there was supposed to be this famous, long-standing, traditional restaurant just a few steps away from St. Stephen’s that had escaped my culinary net so far: To the White Chimneysweep, or: Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer.
I can only presume that one of my local contacts must have pointed me away from it. But why… was it that unfortunate Sissy joke I had made a few years ago? Or that argument about who does the best strudel, Bavaria or Vienna…? Note to self: keep mouth shut more frequently.
One thing that is certain, is that the restaurant, founded in 1848, has an exceptionally proud history. Perhaps best known is the fact that it was the first restaurant owned by Franz Sacher, the inventor of the famous Sachertorte.
But of course the question on everyone’s mind is: how did this place get its unusual name. There are several, admittedly all very good, stories circulating and held in equal regard, but my favourite one is the following.
In the 19th Century the establishment was one of the guild taverns of the Viennese chimneysweeps.
It is believed that one of the young and better-looking chimneysweeps one day fell in love with the beautiful baker in the patisserie next to the restaurant. Naturally he regularly ended up covered in flour after passionate rendez-vous’ on the kneading table. Having spent a lot of energy, he usually was in dire need of replenishments after those sessions. He ended up at the restaurant most nights. The locals, known for their quirky sense of humour, started calling the place “To The White Chimney Sweep”.
Today’s décor and atmosphere largely stem from the 1920s, when painters, singers, and actors made the venue their preferred hang-out. Among many others, Bernstein and Visconti spent their evenings here during the time their Viennese Falstaff performance made headlines worldwide in the 1960s.
Despite being surrounded by all the tourist attractions of central Vienna and coming with a recommendation of the Michelin Guide, the restaurant clearly still attracts a very large percentage of locals, many of whom are regulars. Without making any effort to overhear the conversation, I couldn’t avoid getting bits of the conversations at the only other occupied table in my vicinity (it was late afternoon, normally it is busier). The patrons, a well-off Viennese family, were celebrating the promotion of the son. There were bits about economic theory, references to Freud’s oevre, cocks and fannies and all, and lengthy elaborations about Wittgenstein’s theory of knowledge. Fair game.
The variety of liquors and especially local schnaps is impressive and the shelves displaying them add to the atmosphere. The wine cellar is equally ambitious. Wherever possible, top quality local produce is being used and there is a lot of regard for sustainability and animal welfare. There is a lot on offer for our vegetarian and even vegan friends, too. Enormous attention was paid to detail, wherever you look, such as with the ceramic mini-statue of a white chimneysweep on the table.
Should you have a sweet tooth, then we’ve heard from several sources the thing to do is to order the Salzburger Nockerl (a sweet souffle) together with the other courses (they take about 40mins to arrive).
After short deliberation I ordered beef broth with pancake, liver dumpling, and seminola dumpling (Rindsuppe, €6.90), pork schnitzel Viennese style with deep-fried parsley and mayonnaise potato salad (€17.90), a bottle of mineral water (0.75l, €6.50), and a 1/8 Zweigelt Esterhazy Estoras from 2017 (€4.50).
Five minutes after I had ordered, the water and wine arrived together with salty pumpkin seeds, a basket with four different types of bread (the one with speck/bacon was my favourite), two different types of butter, and absolutely delicious cold cuts of salami, speck, ham, greaves, and some pickles. The Zweigelt turned out to be just the way I like it, full-bodied, strong, dry, and smooth, with a slight hint of cherry.
Before I had finished, a soup bowl with liver dumpling, seminola dumpling, slices of pancake, some chopped parsley, and cubes of carrot, parsnip, and celeriac arrived and the beef broth was poured on top of it at the table, a nice touch: “Beef broth with meaning” (“Rinderkraftsuppe mit Sinn”).
I had absolutely no issue with €1 of the price of the soup going to a charity, even though I am not a huge fan of this type of set-up. I think it should always be up to the customer if they want to give.
The pork schnitzel arrived soon after the empty soup bowl had been picked up. While I did not quite get the attraction of deep-fried parsley (neither in terms of presentation nor in terms of taste or texture), the schnitzel itself was very nicely done. Thinly beaten. Not too oily or buttery, quite light and appealing. The menu was open about the potato salad being prepared with mayonnaise, so I knew what I had ordered and no complaints from my side. Generally speaking, I believe a relatively oily dish like schnitzel really goes best without mayonnaise and just a bit of vinegary plain potato salad and lamb’s lettuce.
I had initially had my eyes on the dessert menu, which offered a number of attractive options, but when I had finished my schnitzel I realised that there was no way I would eat more food. I ordered an Averna (4cl, €5.50) as digestivo and it came with more pumpkin seeds, of the sweet variety in this case, and again very tasty.
Out of all the restaurants I visited in Vienna during my recent 4-week stay, Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer was one of the absolute highlights. 5 out of 5 in my book. I will definitely be back again during the next visit, hopefully that time together with Ms B.