Restaurant Hebenstreit: Dining for Intellectuals

Where left-wing politics meets first-rate Austrian cuisine; founded after Waldheim, now as topical and tasty as ever

“Let’s have coffee in the living room,” fellow students would often say as we left class at the University of Vienna some 20 years ago. My friends did not mean their own shared apartments or hostels, though. What they meant was a small, cosy (and smoky) little place called Café Hebenstreit, today a restaurant.

Hebenstreit is in fact located in a converted apartment with a separate entrance, with a small bar area at its centre, which has retained its informal, homey, student-type atmosphere, though now freshened up with crisp white walls.

It soon became a favourite haunt, and, located on Rockhgasse near the Juridicum off Schottentor, it was close by. So I would spend long afternoons, sitting on squeaky chairs at plain wooden tables, reading or scribbling down thoughts and ideas over a Melange or the perfectly grilled chicken breast salad with a delicate French dressing and parmesan as a meal in between, my all-time favourite (today at €7.90). Just on the edge of healthy, it was the ultimate choice of a soon-to-be intellectual in Vienna.

 

Intellectual debates & business lunches

Dining under palm trees after sunset | Photo: Matthias Wurz

Dining under palm trees after sunset | Photo: Matthias Wurz

Hebenstreit has long been a venue for left-wing and liberal debate. Peter Kreisky, the son of the legendary Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, founded the “Republikanischer Club – Neues Österreich” here, where it is still based, and its public events are held at the adjacent backroom: an intellectual forum of critical thought founded in response to the controversial Waldheim debate of 1986.

In the early 1990s, the rise of the far-right FPÖ under Jörg Haider was the hot topic. The moving Lichtermeer protest against the FPÖ’s anti-immigrant referendum of 1993 was born here as well.

Today, the Restaurant Hebenstreit is an insider’s tip for informal business lunches. Despite its modest wooden interior, clean white tablecloths now cover the squeaky furniture, and brightly coloured paintings and drawings by contemporary local artists (sometimes for sale) give the space the unpretentious urbanism of SoHo or the Left Bank. The restaurant has bowed to the no-smoking law of 2010, and smoking is now banned. It’s a venue too small to divide; to some a loss of intellectual allure.

What has not changed is the á la carte menu – a mixture of Mediterranean and traditional Austrian cuisine, along with a relatively modest price range. But it’s the daily special that attracts the managerial types: An exclusive main course Glacierte Kalbsleber – glazed veal liver with mashed potatoes, for example – and either a soup to start or a dessert to finish for just €7.80, great value for the 1st District.

Every day, there is a different set of seasonally inspired dishes, and the friendly staff will gladly assist with suggestions. Full details are also handwritten on blackboards or online.

 

Viennese cuisine and Mediterranean flair

In the summer though, Restaurant Hebenstreit has a charming Schanigarten on the car park in front of the restaurant, decorated with large palm trees and hedge-like shade plants. As the sun sets, you dine in a green oasis hidden in the historic city.

Today, the team surrounding chef Petra    Pandurevic deliver culinary delights worthy of a five-star restaurant – particularly the traditional Austrian dishes, where indeed skill meets the imagination. For example, the Tiroler Gröstl, in fact a simple fry-up dish, made of boiled potatoes and boiled beef, cut in small cubes, all together fried in a pan with onions and herbs. This is what is called in Austria a Restlessen – the name for a quick meal made of leftovers.

Dining under palm trees, with the delicious Topfenknödel dessert after sunset | Photo: Matthias Wurz

Dining under palm trees, with the delicious Topfenknödel dessert after sunset | Photo: Matthias Wurz

The beef used is often of cheaper quality as it is used for making the traditional Rindssuppe – the hearty beef stock for most clear soups. But the texture of the meat served was neither fibrous nor chunky, but very tender and of exceptional flavour, enhanced by the spices – covered fresh parsley – with a fried egg on top.

There are two classic soups on offer, flavourful thanks to the beef: Grießnockerl (semolina dumplings) and Fritattensuppe (pancake strips), served in traditional white porcelain pots, for     €3.10 and €2.90 respectively, rich in flavour.

But I recommend trying out the soup of the day – €3 if ordered á la carte – which might be pumpkin cream or a tomato cream or any other vegetable cream soup, smooth and a good blend of vegetable flavour and added herbs, topped with a drop of rich cream.

By dessert time, the sun had set, and I treated myself to two Topfenknödel (curd cheese dumplings) with a fruity and moderately sweetened strawberry sauce (€6.40) – blending very well with a Grüner Veltliner (1/8 for €2.70) of the Weingut Netzl in Göttlesbrunn in the Carnuntum area.

But be warned: Hebenstreit is only open on weekdays, from 11.30 to 24:00, and closes early on summer Fridays at 16:00. Also: it’s cash only. There had to be something.

 

Restaurant Hebenstreit

Mon.-Fri. 11:30 – 24:00

In summer, Fri. 11:30 – 16:00

1., Rockhgasse 1, (01) 533 76 87

www.restaurant-hebenstreit.at

 

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