There are not many Austrian restaurants in London, and Café Strudel does its best to conjure up the romantic notion of a Viennese café, with a table of newspapers to peruse, doilies rather than tablecloths, and a welcoming smell of cinnamon in the room. The room itself has wooden floors and a series of old mirrors, traditional globe lights along with café style chairs which I found rather uncomfortable by the time our leisurely lunch was over. The owner/manageress was very welcoming, and the short lunch menu was fairly priced (with main courses as little as £8 or so). If you go in the evening then starters range from £4.50 - £7.50, main courses from £13/50 - £17.50, which is pretty fair in these days of gastropubs charging over £20 for a main course, with vegetables extra.
The wine list is thoughtfully put together, mostly Austrian with a few French offerings, each wine having detailed tasting notes. Examples are Steininger Kamptal Grüner Veltlinger 2005 at £33.50 for a wine that retails at around £20, and Wachau Grüner Veltlinger Smaragd 2006 at £49.95 for a wine that is obtainable in the shops for around £19.50. There are plenty of wines by the glass, including several dessert wines, but be aware these are tiny 50 ml measures. The bread is bought in from a German bakery in Ham called Backhaus (literally bake house) and is slices of a dark rye bread. It had reasonable taste but on the Sunday lunch when we visited it was a little stale (2/10). The chef, Yacine Benghazal, is French rather than Austrian.
A starter of spinach soup was pleasant, though it could have had more intense spinach flavour (2/10). Beef gulasch featured tender slow-cooked meat and a nice, thick sauce thickened by plenty of onions, topped with a nicely prepared poached egg (a new one on me for gulasch, but an inoffensive addition); this was a suitably warming dish for a cold day (3/10). My only issue with it was that if there was any paprika present it was undetectable. When I mentioned this later I was told that this was the “Austrian way” of cooking gulasch, which was news to my wife (who has Austrian parents and has cooked plenty of gulasch in her time) and also is not reflected in the Austrian cookbook which the café itself was selling, whose recipe calls for it in abundance.
A chicken schnitzel is an unusual take on the traditional veal version, but was a successful dish. The chicken fillet was suitably thin, the breadcrumb coating lightly shallow-fried as it should be, served with a dressed salad of lamb’s lettuce and some smooth mash that perhaps could have benefitted from a little more butter (3/10). Less successful was spaetzle, little dumplings served with a tomato and basil sauce. I found the texture a little over-soft, but the main issue was the lack of seasoning in the dish, rendering it rather bland (2/10).
Pancakes with cheese and raisins were competently made, dusted with icing sugar, the filling itself rather more liquid than I would have liked (2/10). Apple strudel is made on the premises, and was very pleasant, reheated and served warm (2/10). Still the strudel of my dreams remains in Vienna. Coffee appeared with the traditional small glass of water, and the coffee itself was fine, with good flavour (3/10).
Service was fine, and prices are quite fair. I really like the atmosphere of this place, and wanted to like the food just a little more than I actually did. It is certainly a pleasant neighbourhood restaurant, and in this age of endless identikit gastropubs it is nice to see something different; I wish it well.