Cosmopolitan Chez François

A Franco-Canadian chef brings gourmands from all over the city to a most unlikely corner of Vienna’s 14th District

People who say “the journey is the reward” have clearly never been to François im Vierzehnten (François in the 14th). While the trek through this part of the 14th District – characterised by discount supermarkets and cheap cell phone stores – is charmless, the destination is the real deal.

Still few would expect Franco-Canadian chef François Laliberté, former private chef of the Canadian ambassador in Vienna, to have opened his doors so far from the inner city’s business and cultural life.

The big windows of this classic restaurant – with dark floors, white table cloths and candles on the tables – invite passers-by to stop and take a look at what’s happening inside. When you see the chef at
work in the kitchen, with the fire blazing and the wood stacked up behind glass, it’s only natural to want to step in.

After he had taken over the “dying restaurant” in spring, Laliberté would tell us later, many neighbours, who had passed the restaurant by for decades, changed their minds and stepped inside. Now quite a few have become regulars.

Chic but warm, the interior invites for romatic dinners or sharing finger food | Photo: Veronika Zoidl

Chic but warm, the interior invites for romatic dinners or sharing finger food | Photo: Veronika Zoidl

 

Un rendezvous romantique

Even on weeknights, many of the tables are reserved (“…for unique Mediterranean meals and selected wines from all over the world”, as the stand-up cards on the table will tell you) and those that aren’t, quickly fill up. Fortunately, we had called ahead.

“It’s ladies’ night”, the waiter noted as he led us to our table (an important soccer game was on that night). Still, while two young women were having dinner at the table next to us, most of the other guests were couples. It was easy to understand: The serenity, the perfect lightning and the mezze – a selection of small dishes served in the Middle East that are made to be shared – create the perfect atmosphere for a romantic rendezvous.

The menu chez François is small – always a good sign – and influenced by European, northern African and Middle Eastern cuisine. Many of the dishes (like hummus and pumpkin soup) were familiar, but there were some we had never heard of, like Tunesian brik (€15.50).

Fortunately, the waiter was hovering nearby to help us, explaining that a brik was a pastry, in this case, filled with tuna, potatoes, onions, olives, and some spicy harissa. The couple at the table next to us was apparently too shy to ask for help; when their brik arrived, they laughed nervously, and seemed to have expected something different.

We ordered some of the “mezze” (€3.40 each): The hummus shawarma with lemon juice was delicious. Of course, we’ve all had plenty of hummus before, but here, however, everything tastes a little bit different.

My companion, a real gourmand, has since spent some sleepless nights puzzling over what herbs had created this unusual flavour – one that neither of us had tasted before. The other mezze were just as flavourful – especially the Kräuter Chakchouka and the Rote Rüben Salat mit Estragon, tasting “just like one in Israel,” my companion remarked. She’s not only a gourmand, but also a cosmopolitan one.

The main dish – beef tajine with plums “à la Marocaine” (€18.80) – was unlike anything I had ever eaten. The beef was crumbly, and the taste of cinnamon and cloves in combination with the flavourful plums served in a clay pot, was exceptional – a perfect dish for a cold fall day.

 

Laissez-faire

François is defined by its pleasantly calm atmosphere. The background music is jazzy and discrete, and the waiters are there for the guests, without intruding on the conversations.

After the plates of our main course were taken away, no waiter arrived to ask us if there was anything else, but waited until we were ready – and who isn’t ready for some dessert at such an exceptional restaurant?

The only fly in the ointment: The dessert that we were craving – roasted figs with pomegranate syrup, oranges and mascarpone (€7.80) – was out, so we settled for the warm chocolate cake with vanilla and banana ice cream (€7.30). Warm chocolate cakes have become quite a trend on dessert menus lately, and rightly so. The flavourful ice cream melting over the cake brought the evening to its close.

In the end, the trip back to the city centre from the 14th District wasn’t so bad. After all, if the belly is full of Mediterranean indulgence, the journey is definitely the reward.

 

François im Vierzehnten 

14., Reinlgasse 20 

(01) 985 51 03

reservierung@francois-14.at

www.francois-14.at

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