O’Connor’s: Pub Grub For the Refined Palate
On Rennweg in Vienna’s 3rd District: a nod to the beer culture of the Emerald Isle with hidden hints of Austria
The unassuming bar area gives no hint that the kitchen produces what might just be the best fish ‘n’ chips in Vienna | Photos: David Reali
The O’Connor’s Fish and Chips
What are the things you associate with a typical Irish bar? A selection of quality beers on tap, including Murphy’s and London Pride? Check. A range of single malt whiskies behind the bar? Check. A friendly staff and a welcoming atmosphere? Check.
But when you’ve also got a kitchen turning out restaurant-grade food, you know you’ve stumbled onto something out of the ordinary. But that’s O’Connor’s for you.
Nestling on the corner of Rennweg and Landstraßer Hauptstraße in the 3rd District, O’Connor’s was in operation for over 15 years as the “Old Oak”. The Austrian founder, Peter Orfhandl, is a man with as much love for the Emerald Isle as the average 10th-generation Bostonian and still pops in for a pint on a regular basis.
The pub mentality
“I think he was thrilled to be able to pass on this bar to a pair of real Irishmen” says James O’Connor (a.k.a. Joc), one of the two brothers now running the establishment. Peter’s legacy? “The best Guinness in town,” says Joc. “I know that’s what every Irish bar says, but in this case I’d stake my reputation on it.” (The secret, apparently, is having the shortest possible pipe length separating the barrel from the tap and situating the cooler right under the bar).
“Peter is a man who really cares about his beer,” affirms Steve, one of the barmen. “And he took care to get that absolutely right.”
Caring about beer is one thing, but caring about food is quite another, and it’s the kitchen at O’Connor’s that’s really been turning heads of late among the scientists and staffers from the research campus and T-Mobile building nearby. Credit for that goes to Gaz Smith, who trained in London and was responsible for galvanising the food selection at Charlie P’s on the other side of town.
“We’re aiming to offer a good meal at a reasonable price – a gastro-pub sort of feel,” says Joc. Gaz disagrees instantly. “I wouldn’t say we’ve ever called ourselves a gastro-pub. We’re never going to try to do fancy stuff, just good honest grub, homemade and tasty.”
“Tasty” is something of an understatement. Starters vary from a wholesome soup of the day with O’Connor’s own soda bread (€3.90), to a mouth-watering beef filet carpaccio (€11.50) that comes out almost indecently luxuriating in horseradish aioli, black pepper olive oil and parmesan on a slice of crusty bread.
But the kaleidoscope of colours, textures, and flavours on offer moves dizzyingly beyond conventional pub food: beetroot and feta salad with confit tomato basking under fresh orange segments (€7.90); an open smoked salmon sandwich, drizzled with dill mayo (€10.50); chicken liver and foie gras paté with buttered toast and fruit compote (€6.90). Then there’s the real heavyweight contenders like the barbeque beef brisket wrap (€10.00). Throughout, the menu conforms to the team’s vision of staying true to a pub ethos with restaurant-quality food – chunky chips and onion rings brazenly sit alongside more highbrow culinary fare. The chips also feature on Gaz’s signature dish: “Best fish ‘n’ chips in Vienna!” (€12.90) chorus the voices from behind the bar. Looking at the tender white flakes of cod encased in a crispy batter, bedded on mushy peas and accompanied by a surprisingly playful lime tartar sauce, it’s not hard to agree. O’Connor’s only uses fresh fish, the Stiegl batter is homemade, the chips are hand chopped, and they get recognition for that.
Besides the fixed menu items, O’Connor’s has a seasonal menu and offers daily specials. The two-course lunch, of soup or dessert with a main course item for only €7.50 total, is proving wildly popular. Friday steak nights and Sunday roasts are underway as well, but Gaz’s ambitions don’t end there. “We’ll be doing some kitchen upgrades soon that’ll let me increase the menu,” he gloats, eyes gleaming with enthusiasm, “so then we can add my speciality slow-cooked meats, like a 24-hour-braised whole lamb shoulder!”
Go for the food, stay for the service
For all the attention being paid to the kitchen, there’s widespread agreement that the food is only part of the experience. The small staff – with over 50 years’ experience among them – interact in an unforced and friendly manner.
“It’s obvious to the customers that there’s no boss-staff mentality here,” says one of the regulars, “You can see that they’ve known each other for years and enjoy themselves, and that comes over.”