There’s so many layers to the freshly opened (so fresh the sign out front isn’t even up yet) Otto Bauer café’s personality, we don’t know where to start. For while the delicious edible art being whipped up in the kitchen, and the original handcrafted and haphazardly curated design of the restaurant/café earns a visit and a stamp of brave originality on its own, when you head a few metres below the restaurant floor, things get really fucking (and we use this word sparingly) interesting. It’s then that you realise you’re in the presence of a pioneer in Vienna’s restaurant scene.
As part of a hardcore sustainable, green business focus at Otto Bauer, all of the herbs and micro greens used in the kitchen are sourced from the subterranean garden setup in their cellar, alongside the workshop where many of the restaurant’s unique features are cobbled together.
Meanwhile, above ground, a roguishly handsome restaurant is growing just as organically, fertilised by ideas from the two very creative minds of its young owners, Julian and Andreas.
“It’s just happening,” Andreas tells me while shrugging (as if he has had nothing to do with it) after I ask him about the restaurant’s concept. “There is no concept – it’s a work in progress and is developing naturally and spontaneously from a whole bunch of ideas.”
There was definitely no planning on behalf of Andreas and Julian when their 81-year-old neighbour, the lovely Lilly, signed up to be their hostess over a coffee in her apartment one day. Lilly’s already become a beloved character of the place amongst guests. You can’t conceptualise such personality.
While the unique character of the place is growing out front under the vintage lamps and amidst the retro furniture, the kitchen is Otto Bauer’s pulse, according to Andreas.
You’ll never see an ordinary dish coming out of the kitchen, where Julian transfers his imagination and creative artist’s eye to the plate. For Julian, paintbrushes are easily interchangeable for kitchen knives and his background in art has a lasting effect on the way he cooks, with the aesthetics of the dishes revered just as much as the taste and quality of every dish.
From the black beef burger (a beef burger served in a black bun, alongside purple fries), the octopus burger, the range of homemade pastas, risottos and Knödel – they are all looking so outrageous, they make us want to Instagram the fuck (once again, we use this word consciously) out of them.
“Julian studied art, but he grew up in his parent’s restaurant in Südtirol (South Tyrol) where he learnt how to cook,” Andreas tells us. This explains the select Italian/South Tyrolean dishes lined up with the international dishes in the brief, and regularly changing, menu.
My dinner date and I are constantly swapping our dishes unable to work out which is better. The homemade mezzelune filled with calamari, lardo and cream, has some wicked banter happening with the fresh spring onions and parmesan it’s topped with. While the radicchio risotto with chicken has been excitedly approved by Italians that have already visited the place, with whom we’re in agreeance.
There is no pattern or theme in the menu except the fanatical attention to combining fresh, organic and hyper-healthy ingredients in all of the dishes. And according to Andreas, this focus on small scale, fresh production in the kitchen leads to every dish being a limited edition every day of the week:
“Some nights you’ll come here at 9pm to find there’s only 4 dishes left on the menu of 9 as we’ve run out of the ingredients to prepare all of them – this is because we serve up such a diverse range of dishes with fresh ingredients – and also because we didn’t expect it to go so well in the first weeks,” says Andreas with a laugh.
“We really put an emphasis on sourcing our ingredients from local producers as part of the bigger sustainable and organic living picture we have here. But don’t worry, there’s always something to eat and customers seem to like the idea.”
The high-ceilinged place is scattered with vintage furniture, some of which has been left over from Andreas’ father’s vintage furniture store that lived here before. The paintings on the wall create bold distractions from table conversation. While we’re there, Julian, the artist cook’s paintings are up on the wall, but there are plans to exhibit other young local art talent, along with vernissage events.
While the food firmly defines this place as a restaurant, it humbly claims to be a café. And we don’t deny that it can act as such, with plenty of room if you want to be alone with a coffee and cake in the afternoon, or sit at one of the big tables with friends over a drink in the evening.
There may be no official concept to Otto Bauer, but the relentless drive of two young creative guys determined to serve food which you’ve never seen the likes of, and create something different, is leading to original things happening above, and below, ground on Otto-Bauer-Gasse.
Oh, and one more thing – there’s corn growing in the bar!