The first vegetarian restaurants appeared in Vienna as early as the 1870s, which is truly amazing given the city’s fondness for Schnitzel and fried chicken. In traditional Viennese cuisine, vegetables have always tended to play something of a supporting role. The Viennese were real meat eaters back then. In 1877, Karl Ramharter opened the German-speaking world’s first vegetarian restaurant right here in Vienna. Its patrons included none other than the composer Gustav Mahler. But it wouldn't be Vienna if it didn't give center stage to Schnitzel – only in this case it was a meat-free version made from celery, green spelt or lentils.
Other vegetarian restaurants followed – and all of them bore the moniker "hygienic-vegetarian”, which presumably arose from the fact that vegetarian restaurants emerged from a trend toward "nature-based living." Going without meat was often accompanied by cutting out alcohol, tobacco, and white bread. In fact, the vegetarian restaurants of the time did not serve alcohol.
Vegetarian Scene Around 1900
1870 saw the birth of the first vegetarian societies, the best-known of them being the Friends of Natural Living (FNL), which was founded in 1881. People were motivated to go meat-free out of animal welfare and health considerations in equal measure. Meat and alcohol consumption were seen as the causes of numerous diseases. Members of the vegetarian community largely kept to themselves at that time: they exchanged information in their own restaurants about the benefits of a diet that was low in potential irritants, compared notes on various natural healing institutions and held nature aloft as a panacea. There was even a vegetarian congress in Vienna in 1886, which was widely mocked in newspaper caricatures at the time. Readers of Austrian daily broadsheet Die Presse could read about “spinach brothers” with green faces. While the middle class forewent meat consciously and voluntarily, the hard-pressed working classes were often simply unable to afford meat.
While the vegetarian cookbooks of the time had a distinct focus on Viennese cakes, pastries and desserts, today there is more of a focus on vegetables. Although soy found its way to the capital in 1873 thanks to the World's Fair, it would be some time before it would feature in the city’s kitchens. "Vegetarians of the strictest observance", as vegans were then called, were few and far between. The Second World War put an abrupt end to vegetarianism. But today, the capital’s vegetarian and vegan cuisine has hit the fine dining heights. And, fortunately, veggie Wiener Schnitzel is no longer the apotheosis of meat-free cuisine.
Veggie de Luxe
Vienna’s vegetarian and vegan cuisine is led by standard bearer TIAN. The holder of a coveted Guide Michelin star and four Gault Millau toques, it is one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world. Chef de cuisine Paul Ivić is constantly setting new standards: featuring rare, and sometimes almost forgotten varieties, the menu at TIAN reads like a walk through a vegetable garden, with locally sourced vegetables, fruits and grains all featuring. All produced to fair-trade standards and organic. And Ivić skillfully uses them to conjure up refined taste experiences and authentic textures. "It's important to me that I don't mimic the taste of meat with my cooking, but bring out the flavor of nature instead," the celebrity chef says. Ivić is also intensely passionate about sustainability. He aims to throw away as little as possible and makes as much use as possible of roots, leaves and peel. At TIAN, “From Root to Leaf” is an everyday reality rather than just a cynical advertising ploy.
Meat-Free Fine Dining
Vienna recently welcomed its first vegan-only fine dining restaurant, Jola, which is all about seasonal and regional products. Jola is a portmanteau derived from the first names of owners Jonathan Wittenbrink and his partner Larissa Andres. Wittenbrink previously worked under Paul Ivić at TIAN and was head chef at TIAN Bistro. And now he is showing what he can do at his own restaurant. At Jola, too, the chefs know how to transform ingredients into taste sensations. Anyone looking to try out something new can sample their way through a curated selection of non-alcoholic beverages including homemade kombucha and kvass made from pretzel sticks.
It only took a remarkably short time for &flora at Hotel Gilbert to establish itself as one of the go-to addresses for vegetarian cuisine in the city. After all, a green hotel calls for green cuisine, and this is where Parvin Razavi steps in. A chef with Persian roots, she focuses on sustainable and modern cuisine where vegetables take center stage. The focus at &flora is on vegetarian and vegan dishes and products, with meat playing only the most peripheral of roles. Prepared with characteristic refinement, the dishes reveal the chef's love for oriental spices. Razavi, who infuses the dishes with her personal signature, has a predominantly female kitchen team around her, which is another rarity.
The idea that vegetarian cuisine goes hand in hand with regional and seasonal produce is also demonstrated to impressive effect by Oliver Mohl at Hausbar in the Künstlerhaus, where great vegetarian and vegan cuisine occupy pride of place on the menu. While most vegetarian establishments tend to focus on natural wines, Hausbar serves cocktails with meals – and what cocktails they are, too!
Anyone who is looking for a vegan experience that goes beyond fine dining should check out The Lala. Building on the runaway success of their vegan ice-cream parlors, two sisters have now broken through into the restaurant business. Californian superfood cuisine provides the blueprint for The Lala. Creative bowls, salads and snacks made exclusively with vegan ingredients – as well as the restaurant's popping color scheme – serve up a great vibe.
Text: Susanne Kapeller
TIAN Restaurant ViennaHimmelpfortgasse 23
- We - Sa, 18:00 - 23:00
&flora Restaurant & BarBreite Gasse 9
- We - Sa, 07:00 - 00:00
- Su, 07:00 - 17:00
Hausbar at the KunstlerhausKarlsplatz 5
- Th - Sa, 19:00 - 00:00