The second stage of our trip was Salzburg, followed by Munich: both beautiful – if very different – cities. Architecturally and culturally different, at any rate. The onslaught of sausage, beer, and related pork products remained both relentless and delicious.
So much so, that we cooked for ourselves for two nights in Salzburg – simple vegetable stews to restore much needed vitamins and general gastric balance. Seriously, I don’t know which dark gods look after dietary fibre, but there must be a story behind why they have so savagely forsaken Austria and Germany.
Oh, and if you’re ever in Salzburg, I most heartily recommend the ABC Altstadt Apartments. The kitchen is tiny and basic, but comes with an espresso machine and coffee. More importantly, it’s lovely, and as central as you can get without pitching a tent in the main square.
Sandwiched between my two ad-hoc veg stews was a trip to a tavern that states its mission as “to cook the best fried chicken in Austria”. That sounded like fun.
By fried chicken, they mean a whole one, or a half if you don’t want to share. Reader, we balked. Although in hindsight what arrived wasn’t all that much less food.
I opted for a Leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup) followed by a pork selection: pork, smoked ham, and sausage served in a rich gravy with sauerkraut and a bread dumpling the size of a portly child. I did not need the soup first.
The pork was stewed and roast pork, it was done well enough, but doesn’t need much discussion. The leberknödel soup is one of the dishes (along with the käsespätzle) that I’ll be researching and replicating when I get home. It’s a thick bread dumpling, worked through with fine-chopped liver,and a little herb, floating in a (slightly too salty) beef consomme. The liver isn’t overwhelming, and mainly adds richness. The dumpling is dense, there’s no avoiding that. But it didn’t feel oppressively huge or over stodgy. Well, not until another arrived, sans liver and three times the size with the main. Austria does not fuck about with portion sizes.
Zwickl is a speciality meatball joint with a terrifying alpine-themed bathroom. What? Yeah, that’s what we thought, and yet it’s bloody brilliant. Although I could have done without the head-height love-heart shaped window cut through the pillar supporting the two facing urinals.
The restaurant is set just off the Viktualienmarkt, and we sat outside in the square, as much to avoid the heat as the (actually quite tasteful) alpine motif. The meatball selection was sizeable, starting with their “house” meatball of basic pork, and running through chicken, beef, veal, fish, king prawn, and a couple of vegetarian analogues. If you fancied, you could pick three courses of meatballs, for a fairly modest set charge.
Meatballs came with tubs of curry mustard and rich, sweet tomato mustard – a fantastic idea to give a sharp edge. Mine – the pork and beef – had a splash of jus, and sat next to a “potato salad” that seemed to be a heap of rich cream mash with occasional chunks, shot through with a little vinegar, fried red onions and spring onions. Essentially a timbale of offbeat colcannon, and frankly delicious. The meatballs were moist and surprisingly light, with plenty of flavour. Kit’s – the chicken – were basically fancy chicken nuggets, and although I probably wouldn’t order them myself, they were too well executed to be sniffy about.
Oh, and the staff were lovely about his lactose intolerance. Zwickl gets a solid recommendation.
More meat. But bloody hell, what meat. Haxenbauer was a guide book tip off, and I’m always wary of those. There’s a tendency to pad prices, rest on laurels, or generally get a bit shabby over time. Haxenbauer probably did a touch of the first, but if it’s done the others, it’s slipping from a decent standard.
This is a “do one thing and do it well” place, and I love those. Better yet, the one thing is pork knuckles.
Haxenbauer has been slow roasting seasoned pork knuckles on an alarming wrought-iron charcoal brazier and throwing them at people with mugs of beer since fourteen-lots, and they’ve definitely learned to do it well in the time. The half knuckle was huge, and the more adventurous could buy whole ones by weight. When they arrived, they had fantastic crispy-gooey crackling and fall-apart tender flesh. Perfect. A little light spicing or glazing make the exterior more exciting, and the meat remains succulent.
True to the no-nonsense theme, sides were minimal. Kit’s was a light cucumber salad – pleasingly fresh next to his roasted pork and veal selection. Mine, with the half knuckle was a “coleslaw” of tender but not quite cooked cabbage, dressed simply with a little oil and (cider?) vinegar, and shot through with fennel and caraway seeds. Strike two for things I’ll be looking up to cook at home. I have a powerful love of cabbage already, but dressed lightly with fennel it’s an absolute keeper. The crunch and hint of acid really work with that kilo or so of rich, rich pork, too.
Haxnbauer is definitely touristy, there’s no getting around that. But is there some better way of getting a giant crispy-rich pork knuckle in Munich? Answers in the comments if there is, and I’ll make another trip especially.
I also saw someone having a salad. If by some small chance that’s you, think long and hard about your life choices.
After six nights of Austrian/German cuisine with only the most cursory vegetable respite in between, something had to give. That something was my inability to go more than a fortnight without gorging myself on pizza. Sure, it’s no healthier than all the pig bits and dumplings, but it was welcome variety, and Grano has a lovely (if perhaps studied) retro bistro vibe.
It’s not far from the Viktualienmarkt, or Munich’s sort-of gay district. Guide books and websites will assure you the area is packed with trendy hipster bars, up and coming restaurants, and funky little boutiques. If that counts for Grano, then the scarf-toting scenesters were clearly having a night off, as all we found was a pleasant busy atmosphere in a small pizzeria with a simple menu and eclectic/archaic but not overbearing decor.
Old campari posters, mismatched chairs, the odd shared table – you get the idea.
And the food? Good. Quality pizza, thin, crisp, and not over-topped. I haven’t eaten pizza in Italy, but this was up there with the pizza I’ve eaten in the UK and felt to be of quality. Mine was topped with a scattering of peppers and strips of lardo: the ham described by Mario Batali as “the best song sung in the key of pig”, and by someone I can’t remember and couldn’t google for as “bacon’s pure soul”.
Which is to say it’s thin strips of the fat from well-cured prosciutto, with the barest seasoning of actual meat. It’s creamy and insanely rich, and half the quantity would have flavoured the pizza. This was just the thing after a day of tramping about town, even if it was still pork.
The Viktualienmarkt, much like Vienna’s Naschmarkt is a sprawling slightly tourist-optimised food market. Although this one had far more produce and fewer touting restaurants. There is a special circle of hell reserved for the restaurant tout – it’s much like their everyday lives, but each and every time they must make a decision, they have a quarter of the time they need, the instructions are in Norse runes, and there’s some arsehole bellowing at them throughout.
Munich was broadly free of them, and it’s also splendid. Food-wise, the pick of the bunch is clearly Zwickl. Quite apart from being relatively inexpensive it was also hands-down the most interesting of the places we tried.