Heavenly Understatement

In a quiet street in the 2nd, Das Engel is a Stammlokal in the making, with charm, swagger and a credo of no-nonsense

This cosy alcove in Leopoldstadt is for conversation... | Photo: Ali Rabbani

This cosy alcove in Leopoldstadt is for conversation… | Photo: Ali Rabbani

It was supposed to be “more of a bar, that also serves food”, co-owner Carsten Philippi explained. “People keep ordering starters and main courses, but that wasn’t the idea.” He and his culinary counterpart Una Abraham just go with the flow, and the guests do come for her famously delicious dishes. Philippi shrugged, “I don’t blame them.”

Abraham, from South Burgenland (by way of Rhode Island) and Philippi, from Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, really like being restaurateurs.

That was clear when they worked side-by-side at the Restaurant Una in the Architekturzentrum for four years. But the large size made it difficult to truly be hosts, and they decided to close. Then Abraham opened a new Una on Burggasse in the 7th, and Philippi went behind the bar at Café Engländer, helping make it the classy locale it is today.

At their new location, Das Engel, which opened in February, the mood is comfortably convivial, charming and uncomplicated.

 

Straight-forwardly seductive

...  and there’s great food too | Photo: Ali Rabbani

… and there’s great food too | Photo: Ali Rabbani

As one of the clueless diners, I came for the food. Soft light and smatters of conversation shed a warm glow onto the quiet Grosse Pfarrgasse. Guests sit at two small tables outside and two big tables inside with small glass bottles of wildflowers down the centre, as well as a hidden niche next to the kitchen.

As a menu you get a short novel, one of six, but with only some pages written on; as the menu changes, Philippi turns over a new page and writes out each menu by hand. You leaf through the meals you missed, to the last two pages with today’s offering.

Both the decor and the comestibles are Mediterranean without trying to be. The artichoke starter was angelic (€7). The soft leaves lay in a sauce that tasted like a better sort of mariniere for the moules you’d get in France. It’s said to be Una Abraham’s way, to impress with less. Even the tuna filet with orange butter and ginger vegetables (€21) changed my feelings for the fish.

The freshness of the ginger went well with the warmth of the orange zest. The ingredients are seasonal and often hail from Abraham’s native Burgenland. Other dishes on the last two pages were buttered veal schnitzel with mashed potatoes (€16), crayfish paired with avocado crème and baked zucchini blossoms (both €10).

“Una only cooks what she likes to eat herself,” Philippi noted. Up the few stairs behind the main room, Abraham and her team talk and laugh as they cook; not the usual scene in high-end kitchens. Now and then she saunters out to the bar to talk to Philippi, adding to the friendly and laid-back mood.

 

Designed with care

At the bar and at the big tables, two or three groups share a space. “The idea is for people to talk to each other,” Philippi explained. This doesn’t always work, and there have been a few complaints of lack of privacy. But as Philippi insists, what you see is what you get.

There is no trace of the dingy dive that used to occupy this space.

The space used to house Espresso Sonja, Philippi confided with a wink. A picture above the back table shows the rooms before the renovation: concrete walls, a sand floor, broken down, to say the least.

In this simple, but deliciously detailed setting, every design choice has a story. The light fixtures from New York, the funky stand-alone bar from the reception at Hotel Regina in Bad Gastein (and bought on willhaben.at), and the mural-like painting on the wall is by Hans Weigand (who was incidentally standing at the bar).The silk lampshades were spotted by chance while hunting for other decorations and even the ashtrays are made of Murano glass.

Philippi and Abraham’s style makes restaurant conventions suddenly seem overdone. “We have one wineglass for all wines and one water glass for everything else.” Again though, they don’t go too far. “We do have cloth napkins,” he said.

Judging by the frequent greetings, handshakes, hugs and occasional slow dance by the bar, Engel has succeeded in becoming a Stammlokal, where people come for a drink after work, and, maybe, have something to eat.

 

 

Das Engel

Mon.-Fri., 16:00-1:00, Sat., 10:00-15:00

2., Große Pfarrgasse 5

(01) 212 78 94

www.dasengel.at

 

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