Posts filed under ‘cafe’

so many kaffeehausen, so little time

This is a post I had started a while ago, a few days after returning from Vienna. It’s finally time I posted it! Hopefully there will be more to follow…


The second day in Vienna (see here for the post on the first day) began without breakfast – the first thing to hit my palate was a supremely rich sacherpunsch (which is essentially a sachertorte, with the exception that the usually dry cake is soaked in rum) and a strong espresso at L. Heiner, a professed favourite of my extremely knowledgable tour guide.

Café Drechsler

Highlights of the day included nipping quickly through the Naschmarkt (Vienna’s most famous food market, which also hosts a flea market on Saturdays; more on it later) and ending up at Café Drechsler. This old-timer, established in 1919, was a popular haunt of marketgoers and stallholders alike (it only closed for one hour every day, from 2am-3am). So connected were the market regulars to the kaffeehaus that Herr Drechsler himself would bring coffees to them, every day without fail, so they would not have to leave their stalls. It closed several years ago, but was rescued and given a new lease of life thanks to the joint efforts of Manfred Stallmajer and Sir Terence Conran. A regular himself in his younger years, Stallmajer would simply and thriftily order a simple melange until, coerced by a grumpy Drechsler, supplement it with a goulash. To him, it would have been a shame for the space left by the closure to go to a brand like McDonalds or Starbucks (snaking their way around the city, slowly but surely) so he took it into his own hands to relaunch the café.

Café Drechsler

The aim was simple – to hold onto the principles of the kaffeehaus while bringing it more in line with the 21st century (a manifesto that was, of course, met with criticism and scepticism); anything which was original to the restaurant must be kept, unless it was proven to be beyond repair. The chairs and timber wood panelling were meticulously restored, and some of the original bauhaus fittings (such as the lights) were also kept, though placed differently. The original ceiling of the building was also kept, after stripping away thick decades of yellowed wallpaper (apparently the layers just kept going on one after the other whenever the most recent layer got too stained). Shiny new mirrors have been put in, and distinctively modern transparent light fittings installed in place of the heavy globes that dominate most kaffeehausen.

Café Drechsler

It felt worlds apart from many of the other traditional kaffeehausen I visited, yet not. The patrons were not, as expected, hipsters or yuppies attracted by the rebranding (though there were a few), but a few gentlemen who looked like comfortable old-timers. These little details, coupled with the ever so subtle ‘upgrades’ of materials and fabrics and combined with the essential air of the café means that the spirit of the kaffeehausen is not lost.


January 29, 2009 at 12:15 am 4 comments

When in Vienna…


Well, no sooner than I had promised posts about Colombia that I’m now posting (live-ish) from my first day in Vienna! Am staying in the positively marvellous but amusingly-yet-aptly-named The Ring (aptly because it’s on the Kärntner Ring road) where I have been – a la Bill Bailey – impressed by the in-room Nespresso machine but lamenting about the lack of tea-making facilities….


Just as well, considering it’s all about coffee – or more like, coffeehouses/kaffeehaus, where the atmosphere and surroundings are infinitely more impressive than the brew – it’s not Italy, afterall.

Rewinding a bit, after flying and making my way to the hotel and consulting my itinerary (which was not crafted by myself, mind you), I decided to forgo the boring option of lunching at the hotel’s At Eight restaurant and set off towards Kärntner Strasse – the city’s main pedestrian drag – in search for some grub. I hadn’t had much time to plan my trip, but one place that stood out was Trzesniewski.

This way!

Luckily, it was relatively easy to find… once you turn down that road, look for it on your immediate left. The exterior is so unbelievably nondescript I managed to head about a hundred yards down the road before I realised my bearings didn’t really match up to the map in my hand… so back I went, clocked the slate grey walls and lone door which opened up into a world of miniature egg-based open sandwiches. The ideal tummy filler for me, since by then I only had 2-3 hours before dinner.


Inside, it was just as threadbare and utilitarian as you might have expected from the exterior; just as well, as most customers only have eyes for the glass cabinet holding 20+ varieties of open-faced sandwiches. I was pretty overwhelmed by the choice, and while there’s a useful placard at the front of the shop with English translations of the different types, the identification ‘cards’ in front of each batch of sandwiches don’t. Severe, non-smiling staff had an air of impatience about them, despite the fact it wasn’t very full when I went – so, a little flustered, I just pointed at a few that looked interesting…



Of my selection, the liver was particularly scrumptious, all creamy textures and delicate flavours. Not overly pungent, which always turns me off offal (har har). Herring with onions came a close second, with nice briney fish contrasting with tangy, soft onions. The others were forgettable… Still, it was nice to stand around (there are limited seats) and check out the colourful clientele – everyone from dazed tourists to a particularly gaunt punter who downed his herrings and onions with much gusto, with a man-sized tankard of beer next to him. It’s very much an eat-and-leave place (I’m sure I annoyed the staff to no end by hanging about snapping pics).

After wandering about some more and getting fed up with the gloom and rain, I decided to seek refuge in a kaffeehaus. I’d intended to go to Café Hawelka, but again couldn’t find it (despite it being on the same street!); it’s known to be a very charming mom-and-pop run place (though tragically, Josefine died three years ago) and the intellectual hangout of the 60’s and 70’s. So by chance I wandered past Café Bräunerhof, which had some mighty cosy-looking booths…

Café Bräunerhof

I am already in love with the dichotomy between the elegant/opulent surroundings and a fully relaxed, convivial vibe of Viennese cafés. I could have spent my entire evening there, sipping melange and eating my apfelstrudel (could have done with some freshly whipped cream or some vanilla sauce, though!). It’s not hard to see why these places were the favoured haunts of writers, artists and revolutionaries (and the odd poor boy who could take hours of refuge in these formidable institutions for the price of a coffee).

Plenty more cafés to go to tomorrow, which I feel defeats the purpose of the kaffeehaus – I need more langurorous afternoons to fully enjoy them, instead of flitting all about the place!

The Ring
1, Kärntner Ring 8 (+43 122 122/

1, Dorotheergasse 1 (512 3291/ Open 8.30am-7.30pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat. No credit cards.

Café Bräunerhof
1, Stallburggasse 2 (512 3893). Open 8am-8.30pm Mon-Fri; 8am-6pm Sat; 10am-6pm Sun. No credit cards.

September 25, 2008 at 11:23 pm 16 comments

a case of ‘we already knew that’

Monmouth Coffee aka REAL coffee.

So in London, the peeps over at Which? have finally worked out that chains like Starbucks have been offering the consumer ‘inferior coffee at inflated prices‘. Now tell us something we didn’t know.

I admit to having fallen for Starbucks’ clever marketing strategies when they first arrived in Hong Kong – for a time, I’d drink nothing but caramel macchiatos and frappucinos, I’d never tasted a real espresso before in my life, and for my undeveloped palate, the sweet milky “coffees” served by Starbucks suited me just fine. I was never raised on coffee, but tea (that much is obvious), so the strong bitterness of espresso was never something that attracted me.

Somehow, somewhere along the line I began to appreciate the brew a lot more. Maybe it was from working at the student union bar at my university – oddly, they didn’t make it compulsory for all staff to attend barista training (only about 6-7 of us went) – where I first learned the basics of making coffee. The trainer, a seasoned barista herself, was dead serious about coffee. We had an hour long seminar on the history of coffee, the do’s and don’ts of coffee making, and finally we spent another few hours getting to grips with the espresso machine and coffee grinder. At the end of the day, I’d made the perfect cappuccino that garnered a round of applause from our trainer and the rest of the group. Since then, I’ve never been able to forgive anyone for a poorly made cappuccino – it seems like most people think that its the same thing as a latte.

it's that time of the year!L: Don’t do it! I still get sucked in by the ‘red cups’.

Another thing I can’t stand about Starbucks is their ‘caramel macchiato’, which is basically a milk drink with oodles of caramel and about a drop of espresso. ‘Macchiato’, meaning ‘marked’ in Italian, the most common usage being in the drink ‘caffe macchiato’ – an espresso with a drop of milk or foam. It’s hilarious how Starbucks turns this right around and marks the milk with very little coffee and a mountain of caramel (if it were a ‘caramel macchiato’, surely it means to be marked with a bit of caramel, not an entire half-bottle?). I still stop by Starbucks occasionally for a quick drink, but it’s never on the merits of its coffee – I go when I suddenly need a sugar fix. I’m going to kick the habit this year, because thinking about how much milk and sugar are in its drinks makes me ill.

So to offset the bitter tone of this entry, here are some places where I’ve had some pretty decent cuppas:

1. Flat White
Located in Soho (right across from Yauatcha), Flat White is one of the best destinations for a decent coffee. Care is given to both making it, and serving to the customer – the first time I went there I was momentarily baffled by the friendliness of the staff, who asked me for my name so they could write it on the cup. Somehow it seems so much nicer when they’ve prepared you your coffee and say, ‘Here you go, Charmaine!’ with a smile. I haven’t tried the signature flat white yet, but their latte was so decadent, creamy, and full of zing.
Flat White, 17 Berwick St, Soho, W1F 0PT, London (020 7734 0370/

we're not dead2. Sacred
Located just off Carnaby Street, Sacred is one of my favourite places for a drink and a natter around the area. It’s particularly good in the summer, when you can lounge on the sofas on the ground floor, or the alfreso seating outside of the cafe, soaking up the sun. Their cappucinos may not be up to scratch (still too much milk, too little foam), but the coffee is acceptable and they’ve got a fabulous range for tea-lovers as well. The aboriginal/tribal artefacts that decorate Sacred are fun and give the place its very unique kind of atmosphere.
Sacred, 13 Ganton St (off Carnaby St), W1F 9BL, London (020 7734 1415/

ca phe vn 3. Ca Phe VN
(photo credit: Ca Phe VN website)
A lovely couple, Rob and Thuyen, bring their love of Vietnamese coffee to the East London community. They set up stall every week at Broadway Market, selling classic Vietnamese brews as well as more unusual drinks such as artichoke tea (which I haven’t had the courage to try yet). Vietnamese coffee is a result of French colonial rule, and so uses French coffee beans. Ground and placed into a unique metal coffee filter, where the espresso drips slowly through – the resulting espresso is extremely strong, though the strength is offset by sweet and creamy condensed milk. A perfect pick-me-up, especially in the winter cold. I bought one of their single-cup coffee filters (extremely cheap!) and a bag of ground coffee (from Buon Ma Thuot) so my dad and I have been enjoying many a Vietnamese coffee here in Hong Kong. You can find their wares at the Algerian Coffee Store in Soho, or can order online at the Ca Phe VN website, alternatively there are many other stores listed in their stockists page.
Ca Phe VN, Broadway Market, E8, London. Open every Saturday 9am-5pm.

Honorary mentions
Benugo at the V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 9PA, Bethnal Green, London
Scoop, 40 Shorts Gardens, WC2H 2AB, London (my review)

January 26, 2008 at 2:16 pm 3 comments

mmmmacau: lai kei, wong chi kei and tai lee loi kei

The Chinese really like their kei’s. It’s almost like the Cantonese version of the Japanese attachment of ‘-san’, except there’s a greater sense of closeness and familiarity when tacking ‘kei’ onto the end of something. It’s casual and homely.

Like snippets of a daydream, my recollections of my trip to Macau this August are hazy. But one look at the photos I took there and like some Pavlovian puppy, I start to salivate. How embarassing. Here are three of the best places I went to (though I only went to four, Solmar wasn’t really worth mentioning even though it claims to be the best, and the oldest, Portuguese restaurant in Macau).

lai kei red bean ice
1. The nostalgic ice cream joint


October 12, 2007 at 5:34 am 2 comments

are you in the mood for love?

goldfinch restaurant

Goldfinch Restaurant may not be a familiar name to most, but perhaps its dimly lit interiors, smoked mirrors and characteristic leather booths will stir up memories of one of Wong Kar-wai’s most famous films, In the Mood for Love, where the small, intimate restaurant is the unique setting for So Lai-chen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan’s (Tony Leung) first dinner together.

It can be said that restaurants like Goldfinch laid the foundations of Hong Kong’s first ‘fusion’ movement; it opened in the 1960’s when the economy was only starting to see some light, and dining out was more of a luxury. With a nod to Hong Kong’s colonial identity, restauranteurs and chefs began integrating more ‘Western’ style dishes into their menus, such as steak and pasta, while adding a Chinese twist – thus serving ‘see yau sai chaan’ (literally ‘soy sauce Western meals’), the colloquial description that has come to characterise such unique eateries.


August 12, 2007 at 4:00 pm 17 comments

the latest scoop


It has been nearly a month since that fateful day when an email from arrived in my inbox, boasting of London’s next best gelataria. Having been confined to getting my gelato fix exclusively from Cafe Ciao on Charing Cross road, I was eager to sample Scoop’s authentic Italian gelato, made with the best Italian ingredients. So after an afternoon of mooching around the Tate Britain, I finally made a visit.

Well, actually, I had previously made two unsuccessful attempts to seek out Scoop this month, attempts of which were foiled only because I never noted down the address and just knew it was in the general vicinity of Covent Garden… So this time, I sketched a rough map in my diary to make sure I would find it.


Once you’re inside the door you’ll be greeted by a massive display of at least 15 flavours of gelato, all heaving and rolling (well, not actively, but you can almost see the movement) majestically in their containers; some drizzled with rich dark chocolate, some dotted with little crunchy biscuits. The interior is bright and cheery, decked out in orange walls and bright blue tables at the back (thought there are only three tables for seating. It’s a shame that there isn’t any al fresco seating!).

As the girl in front of me hummed and ahhed over her choices, I hovered around the glass case, eyes a-darting from gelato to gelato. I knew I had to get pistachio, my absolute favourite. But what else? Soon the woman behind the counter (who looked slightly frazzled) asked what I wanted. Going with the medium chocolate-nut cone, I chose pistachio, tiramisu, and Arabic coffee. It’s worth noting that the large cone will get you FIVE scoops! I had the medium one, which was 4 pounds (eep). A little word of advice: pick your favourite flavour last! My poor pistachio was buried deep within the cone, smooshed by the other two scoops; when in reality that was the first flavour I wanted to try. Indeed, think ahead, my friends…

The chocolate nut cone was scrumptious, but I think I will stick to a cup next time as I didn’t like how the sweetness of the cone interfered with the natural flavours of the gelato – as a result, while the entire thing was tasty, it was just err-ing on the side of being too sweet. I blame the chocolate (but it was so good…). The Arabic coffee flavour was amazing – earthy yet light at the same time, a world apart from regular coffee, which I assume is due to the flavour of cardamom (which I’ve never tasted before). Very good. The tiramisu in comparison was a little weak, which is probably my fault for choosing two flavours that share the coffee element. The Arabic coffee was stronger and so washed out the flavour of the tiramisu. Finally, after wolfing down the first two scoops, I finally reached my pistachio. I knew when it happened because that deliciously smooth, fragrant buttery nuttiness hit my tastebuds. Mmmmmmm, I sure do love pistachio. It was as great as I’d expected it to be – the pistachio gelato is, according to the website:

uniquely made with pure pistachios from Bronte, a tiny Sicilian village known world wide for its limited pistachios production (once every two years). The volcanic soil of Sicily gives the pistachios a unique and delicious toasted flavour.

After smacking my lips with satisfaction, I decided that my visit wouldn’t be complete without a classic Italian cappucino – and I was particularly interested in how well it would be made. I’ve rarely ever had a truly GOOD cappucino in London – the coffee shops usually think that they can get away with a pitiful slick of airy foam on top of what is otherwise just a latte, what with all the milk added (read: all the milk that wasn’t bubbled into foam). So I went up to the counter and ordered one, also taking the opportunity to chat to Matteo. And he took the opportunity to proudly tell me that their gelato is freshly made each day, with the finest ingredients. I asked him what his favourite flavour was: “It changes, depending on my mood!”. In the meantime, his friend (who he has known forever from Tuscany) got to work preparing my cappucino.

My coffee though, was surprisingly underwhelming. It was no different from the pretend-cappucinos many cafes in London serve – the foam too airy, and it wasn’t even a centimetre thick. I’d drank most of the foam off even before I’d reached the halfway point! Shrugging and getting back to my newspaper, I thought, “at least the gelato was stellar…”

At this point Matteo came out from behind the bar and came over to my table and amicably started chatting to me. I can’t even remember how it started, but it was such a friendly gesture. He came over and pointed to the freezer to my left (filled with sundaes, cakes and puddings) and started telling me about the fantastic tasty things he was planning for Scoop – such as introducing more classic Italian desserts, as well as offering mini semifreddos, tiramisus, and so on. He really has a passion for Italian desserts, and clearly wants the whole of London to know more about them and eat them ;) Anyways, I just couldn’t leave without telling him about the mediocre cappucino – how would any self-respecting Italian allow the memory of a badly made coffee stay with a patron? Indeed, he looked slightly appalled and quickly spoke in rapid Italian to his mate, and before I could protest, they whipped me up another one, free of charge. Matteo said he was surprised that the first one turned out the way it did, because his friend owns a coffee shop in Italy. Every barista has his day I suppose!

The next cup was truly magnificent. Dense, creamy foam with little, even microscopic, air bubbles. Sitting haughtily, rising just slightly above the rim of the cup. Perfect. And the final mark of a great cappucino? When there’s still a layer of creamy foam sitting at the bottom of the cup after you’ve drained all the espresso. I was satisfied. I thanked the both of them, feeling just slightly embarassed that I’d made myself seem like such a demanding customer.

After more shop chat with Matteo, I took a few pictures and off I went, smiling. This is definitely going to be one of my usual haunts now. The fact that Matteo is so passionate about what he does, is dedicated to educating Londoners about Italian dessert, and genuinely cares about what his customers think and chats to you like an old friend, is truly commendable.

40 Shorts Gardens
Phone: 0207 2407 086

August 2, 2007 at 1:43 am 5 comments


A freelance journalist and full-time gourmand, eating her way mostly through London and Hong Kong.

Current location: London


Charmaine currently digs: the smell of coffee; adding ponzu to everything; bill granger; still eating natto with every meal; caressing her Nikon FM2n.



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