Serving delicacies to discerning patrons since 1618, the Kameel is a gourmet temple and a place to see and be seen

At most top restaurants, the bar is a catchment area, but little more. Not so at zum Schwarzen Kameel on Bognergasse, where it’s the center of the action – as it has been for over a century. Guests have been carousing there for far longer – since 1618, when Herr Cameel set up his spice trading business at this address, plying patrons with food and drink.

Today, it’s in the middle of Vienna’s glitzy new shopping section the Goldenes Quartier, right across from Prada, Louis Vuitton and other credit-crunching establishments. The present Lokal dates from 1901, but sedate Old Vienna this is not. Walk into the buzzing hum: Most are standing or sitting squeezed into irregular niches with that casual air of people at home: a core of media males in well cut jeans, busy women with etched faces and chic coiffures, and a smattering of bright young things. Unobtrusive waiters snake their way with your drinks… Veterans of Anglo-drinks parties feel right at home.

Some graze happily in the bar with wine and thickly-spread Brötchen, but for real food, move on to the restaurant
Some graze happily in the bar with wine and thickly spread Brötchen, but for real food, move on to the restaurant

Maître d’ Johann Georg Gensbichler knows his regulars; he has a thousand names in his smart phone and faces memorized to greet on entry. “Wien ist ein Dorf” (Vienna’s a village) and this is where one meets. Even when the house is fully booked, Herr Gensbichler always has a table for the Stammgäste. Some graze happily in the bar with wine and thickly spread Brötchen, but for real food, move on to the restaurant, spacious, with small tables and restrained Jugendstil wall paneling. The menu is reassuringly manageable, short listings suggest everything is good and fresh. The quick solution is to choose one of the Menüs, typically paté or the house’s own cured ham, a soup, two entrées and a classical Viennese dessert (about €65 to €90). This is not diet-of-the-month-club territory.

We scoured the à la carte: The Rote Rüben Cremesuppe (beet soup) was served with panache: to a dish of frothy coconut and ginger cream a swirl of red beet was added. Despite the theatricals, it was delicate and subtle. My companion chose the marinated Schwarzwurzeln (black salsify, a staple in Austrian and south German cooking, largely ignored elsewhere), pleasantly al dente, served with peas and kohlrabi mousse.

A gem in the mosaic of Vienna life.

The Zander Rostbraten (grilled pikeperch) with coriander carrots and dollops of mascarpone-creamed spinach was a finely-tuned ensemble, almost too understated. Totally delicious was the Bries (little heart-shaped sweetbreads) and filet of veal with creamy balls of puréed Jerusalem artichoke and parsley, set off with black morels (they look like funky prunes, taste like creamy mushrooms). The veal was temptingly pink, like forbidden fruit. Also impressive was the list of wines by-the-glass, mostly Austrian, with a sprinkling of the usual European suspects (prices mainly €5 to €8).

This is somewhere to linger. As the restaurant slowed the bar was still lively, just the place for a Flugachtel (“one for the road”) before sauntering off into the night. A gem in the mosaic of Vienna life.

Zum Schwarzen Kameel
1., Bognergasse 5
Daily, 08:00-00:00
(01) 5338125