For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while now (thank you), you’ll remember that I used to post restaurant reviews quite often. At the beginning of this year I made a conscious decision to move away from reviewing and focus on my own recipes and family stories. When I travel I still love to share my explorations with you, but if it’s the opening of yet another snazzy place in the West End, there are literally thousands of others who can tell you whether it’s worth shelling out the cash for or not. Besides, I managed to score an in at Travel & Leisure Magazine’s blog, which allows me to share trends and tips about London’s food scene with a much larger audience. So I’ve split my food writing into two parts really, with An American Chef in London being the much more personal, creative side of things.
All of that said, I’ve recently had such a wonderful dining experience at Fischer’s on Marylebone High Street, that I couldn’t not share it with you all. Fisher’s is an all-day Austrian style cafe extravaganza – soft pretzels for breakfast anyone? Walking in the front door I felt immediately transported to a different time, like I’d entered Vienna’s train station’s restaurant during the 1930s. Jammed at lunch time, we were lucky to snag a table toward the back underneath a gigantic clock. There are crisp white linens on the tables, crystal, silver, and plates reminiscent of an old steamer, each with the restaurant’s name written across the top. We were likely the youngest people in the room, the other tables filled with dignified, well-dressed, often suited guests, out for lunch on a fine Autumn day.
Back in July I’d read Grace Dent’s review of Fischer’s in the London Evening Standard and it moved to the top of my must-try list, but somehow, during the summer, strudel and schnitzel and spatzel just aren’t that appealing. However, on this recent cool Monday afternoon, the time was finally right. To start I had grilled melon with smoked German ham and figs, the main was weinerschnitzel with lingonberry preserves on the side, potato salad, and pickled cucumber salad. The schnitzel was tender on the inside and crunchy out with the lingonberry serving as the perfect tart foil. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the salads as they are both reminiscent of recipes my parents have prepared over the years and I’ve shared in the past (potato salad here and pickled cucumbers here). Oh how I wished my parents who spent their junior year abroad together in Vienna in the 60s could have been sitting there with us – they would have loved it as much as me.
Even though I’m eschewing sugar at the moment, I knew I’d break down and try their sour cherry strudel with a pot of coffee. The strudel arrived with a large cannelle of whipped cream on the side – the coffee served in a large elegant silver pot. The strudel was crispy and sour and smashing. Just writing this makes me want to run over and eat it all over again. We were told our coffees were on the house as we’d had to wait a while for our main courses – we hadn’t complained nor had we noticed the wait – but it serves as just another example of the kind of high standards and precision Fischer’s is working towards. My Teutonic genes so happily sated as I wolfed down each delicious morsel (the waiter laughed at the gusto and speed with which we both ate our food). Now I’m just trying to budget for when I can return to try their delicious sounding smoked herring, sausages, Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings), and käsespätzle.
I think the reason I felt the need to write about lunch at Fischer’s was because of how much it stood in stark contrast to another meal we’d recently had at a restaurant which is trying to do much the same thing. I had schnitzel at both (my dad used to make it as a special treat when we were little kids – so it has a soft spot in my heart) and it was very nearly inedible at the other spot. While the other (which shall remain nameless) is trying to be all things to all people, Fischer’s is decidedly affable but not at all trendy. Eating the ho-hum food in the other’s cafeteria-style, spartan dining room, looking around the room full of characterless-looking diners, was terribly depressing – like when you see people wearing a fashion trend that doesn’t at all suit them just because they’ve been told it’s the “thing” of the moment. That other restaurant will be popular because of the name over the front door, but it will attract people who don’t know or care much about food, while Fischer’s will be buzzing with those in the know because the chef has taken the classics and elevated them.
These days I find myself almost getting angry when I go out and have a bad meal. It seems many restauranteurs are counting on their name getting people through the door without quality food to back them up. Service in London has always been haphazard, but when waitstaff are downright rude, it’s unacceptable. After my terrible schnitzel I wanted to redeem my love of the dish by making my own standard version which is essentially Ina Garten’s recipe here if you’re interested. Fischer’s brought me such joy in its simple offerings which are made well, using top ingredients, and served with a smile. We grabbed a card on the way back out on to Marylebone’s tony shopping street, completely content and looking for an excuse to return soon.