Zum Schwarzen Kameel is a Viennese institution, located in the heart of the historic first district since the early 17th century. Over the years, the Kameel has spawned a deli, a coffee shop, a patisserie and a wine store, but its soul (hump perhaps?) is the tiled, wooden-paneled Art Nouveau dining room on Bognergasse. There are few more intimate places to dine.
The food here is rich, but stylish: traditional Austrian cuisine but with a twist that reflects its origins as a spice shop. This makes the choice of wine, or wines, especially important. The man who presides over the restaurant and its 700+ bin list is a flamboyant, mustachioed character called Johann Georg Gensbichler, who belongs in an Edwardian music hall.
Gensbichler is adept at food and wine matching — he even came up with a pairing that worked well with artichokes, a notoriously tricky ingredient – but to get the most from his advice you need to order by the glass. The Kameel’s 24 selections are almost all Austrian and constitute an impressive line up of some of the country’s best producers, several of whom do special bottlings for the restaurant. We tried eight wines with our four courses and were generally impressed.
The 2010 Sabathi Gelber Muskateller, Krenegg from Styria, served as an aperitif, was aromatic, minerally and bone dry, although the same producer’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was less good, lacking in intensity with a paprika-flavoured dish. The second two whites were better with food. The 2008 Gross Morillon (an Austrian take on Chardonnay) with lobster was toasty and lightly oaked, like a mini-white Burgundy, while the fruity, dry, peach-scented 2007 Hiedler Kamptal Riesling was perfect with those artichokes, cream and mushrooms.
Austria’s reds are not as good as its whites, but they are improving with every vintage. We had the light, cassis and berry fruity 2008 Taferner Tribune Carnuntum Cabernet Sauvignon with beef and, even better, the scented, poised, beautifully defined 2008 Markowitsch Carnuntum Pinot Noir with veal cheeks. We could have been drinking a Chambolle-Musigny.
Sweet wines are arguably Austria’s strongest suit and we finished with two from the legendary Kracher estate in Illmitz. The fresh, grapefruit and mango-like 2008 Scheurbe TBA and the more unusual minty, strawberry fruity 2009 Zweigelt BA, were both brilliant matches with our desserts, the second combining perfectly with a chocolate-based dish.
Overall, this is a fairly priced list that showcases the best of Austria alongside wines from every corner of the Old and New Worlds; it is as adventurous as it is cosmopolitan. There are plenty of well-chosen bottles from other countries, especially Italy, France and Germany, but I’d stick to the local wines. 391 years after its creation, the Kameel remains as Austrian as a Viennese waltz.
AND THE COMPETITION….
If it’s relaxed fine dining (and drinking) you’re after, the Steirereck is Vienna and Austria’s best restaurant, listed among the world’s Top 50. As well as a cheese board that runs, literally in some cases, to 120 cheeses, its cellars contain 1,500 different wines. Frustratingly, they aren’t listed on the website, but this is a superb selection that won’t detonate your credit card, with more than 500 bottles from Austria. At the more casual end of the spectrum, Wein & Co is a wine shop with four of outlets in Vienna, all of which double as restaurants. You can pick a wine from the shelf and drink it, for a flat mark up of E5.90, on the premises and that includes a bottle of water. The food is good, the wines are generally inexpensive and the atmosphere is young and lively.
Zum Schwarzen Kameel (kameel.at) E120 per person for four courses and wine; Steirereck (steirereck.at); Wein & Co (weinco.at)
Originally published in Intelligent Life