While Austria undoubtedly has a lock on gorgeous alpine scenery as well as prime meat, dairy and produce in abundance, the one sore point is a marked lack of fresh seafood. While not surprising for a landlocked country, it is nonetheless trying for those who grew up in coastal climates, driving even long-term expats to nostalgia and, all-too-often, a bit of the cherished Viennese pastime of Raunzerei (complaining). For everyone who falls under this category, the Icelandic flag proudly waving just across from the Altes AKH should be a welcome sight, as the newly opened Home Café aims to fill that gap with Nordic charm and a living room atmosphere.
You’re welcomed by a well-worn bar right by the entrance – like a fine wine, its white tiles and dark wooden panels have clearly been ageing for decades. To the left, an
antique closet displays non-edibles for sale like Icelandic knitting yarn. A chalkboard lists the day’s specials, reminding visitors that everything is homemade. Cofounder and recent émigré Steff Hilty Henrysdóttir elaborates: “We start with a delivery of five liters of cream, from which we churn butter, make skyr (an Icelandic dairy product similar to Greek yoghurt) and ice cream, and we use the leftover whey as well.” In fact, they go even farther: “When I’m baking I’ll use some of the buttermilk we made or freshly tapped beer for the bread; I really love to use everything!”
Straight outta Ísafjörður
As I sit down, my chair creeks slightly, revealing its age. Like the bar, Home Café’s furniture comes from a different generation, and would be prized as heirloom quality at an antique bazaar. The back is covered with bookshelves, with the tables and chairs giving way to cozy, dimly lit corners with couches and desk lamps. The music varies between Icelandic folk music and rap (who knew?), giving out a cabin-near-Reykjavík vibe. I order the pan-fried arctic char, with a side of salad and Bärlauch (wild garlic) mayo (€12.90) and a bottle of Einstök, an Icelandic pale ale (€5.90). Their fish, fresh and dried, arrives weekly from Steff’s previous hometown Ísafjörður, a town of (nearly) 3,000 on a fjord on the north shore of Iceland. I’m just a few sips into my beer when my meal arrives, the char fried to a lovely bronze, garnished with a wedge of lemon. The salad is topped with a light vinaigrette and fresh dill; a few slices of freshly baked bread round out the ensemble. The simplicity allowed the fish’s subtle, fresh taste take center stage, contrasted only by with the slight acidity of the salad and the seasonal wild garlic. Happy with my refreshing, light and hoppy brew I cleaned my plate and sat back satisfied. I finished with a light desert – a small portion of skyr topped with some rhubarb jam (€3.50). Creamy and not too sweet with just a hint of sour, it was a great note to end a light supper on.
Originally meant as a laid-back café serving lunch to hungry students and passersby, Home Café’s food has caught on, convincing Henrysdóttir to keep the kitchen open till late. “And I’m really surprised and happy that people love the dried fish as well!” I look forward to trying that out for myself soon.
9., Spitalgasse 3
Mon–Wed 9:00–22:00, Thu–Sat 9:00–23:45
(01) 402 4365