20 Camden Passage, N1 8ED
Price for two: £54.23
Yes, it’s back to Austrian cuisine. Turn For The Wurst is running out of German fare in London and, with the influx of Liechtenstein eateries yet to arrive, it’s to Germany’s smaller southern neighbour we turn for Germanic food – although Kipferl is pretty much a continent away from Tiroler Hut, our previous Austrian review.
While Tiroler Hut seeks to capture the booze-fuelled après-ski antics of the country’s west, Islington’s Kipferl is influenced by the coffee shops of Vienna, or at least a romanticised version of it where Hans Hahn and Philipp Frank might nurse a thick black coffee while inventing functional analysis. The café’s own website says it’s “where the kitchen is open all day and you can sit on your own with a ‘kleiner Brauner’ reading newspapers for hours”. Alas, a newspaper is not to be seen on our visit.
Kipferl sits on Islington’s Camden Passage, the sort of street which looks like the media stereotype of Islington – all boutiques and independent coffee shops, bunting and plotting Labour types. While the image of the borough is misleading – 33.7% of the population live in poverty, compared to 27% across London – Camden Passage ticks every middle-class cliché box. Kipferl itself, though, is so unassuming, charcoal-grey with its unobtrusive signage, that we’re still looking for it while stood directly outside (it describes itself as a Geheimtip – a ‘little secret’).
It originally opened as a small delicatessen shop near Smithfield in the City, the brainchild of Christian Malnig, and opened to the public on Camden Passage in 2011. When we visit on a Sunday it’s busy outside and at the front, but a little quieter at the back, where the waiter finds us a table next to the ladies’ loos (it’s fine). Tellingly, German seems to be the predominant language amongst our fellow customers. A table next to us sound Austrian, a couple to our left perhaps Bavarian. The décor is pictures of presumably Austrian luminaries, a map of the Vienna public transport network and a confusing sign to the ladies’ which sends several people off in the wrong direction during our visit.
I order a Hirter Pils, a delicate, semi-dry Austrian lager which is very pleasant, albeit £6.50. Mrs Turnforthewurst has opts for a white wine, a Grüner Veltliner, which only comes in 125ml glasses and is “fine”.
The food, then. Unimaginatively, I order the Wiener Schnitzel. It comes in two large pieces and is very tender, accompanied with soft, delicious parsley potatoes and salad, a mix of salad leaves and mixed salad tomatoes. It also comes with cranberry sauce – I have no truck with fruit-based sauces on meat and could not tell you if this was the finest cranberry sauce the world has seen or gloop. In general, though, the schnitzel is luscious, even at the slightly eye-watering £18.50.
Mrs Turnforthewurst has the Steirischer Backhendelsalat, a Styrian-style salad made up of strips of breaded chicken, roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed dressing oil. While it was tasty, pleasant and light, she says she would have preferred more variety and suggests sun-dried tomatoes or olives would have made a difference – listen up, Kipferl.
In an unusual turn for Turn For The Wurst – well, it is Viennese, so it would almost be rude not to – we order a dessert, sharing an Apfel Strudel. Coming cold, as is the traditional Austrian way, I find it surprisingly tasty, particularly the ice cream which sits alongside it. Mrs Turnforthewurst, though, expected a more sugary pastry.
The atmosphere in Kipferl is very pleasant and relaxed, almost to a fault (while the service was initially attentive, getting the bill at the end becomes a bit of a mission). And while the food was good, it might be more of a weekday catch-up-with-a-coffee place, or maybe an informal business meeting or first date. While the Viennese vibe is definitely authentic, we don’t make any breakthroughs in mathematical analysis while there. But on the way out I did notice the little shop at the front sells cans of Mezzo Mix – the Germanic soft drink I’ve never seen in the UK before – which, for me, is a eureka moment in itself. We’ll be back.