Some menus ago, when in Oregon, USA, the lovelies T&C introduced us to the concept of a wandering dinner: starters in one restaurant, mains in another, and dessert in a third. Even though I’m not a massive fan of moving – I’m more of a get-stuck-in-and-stay kind of person – I enjoyed it. And while feeding the body is always high on my list, when wandering I’ve never made it to dessert.
We were in Graz recently, a place often billed as Austria’s underrated second city. It was a Saturday evening and we were spoiled for choice. We had a limited number of mealtimes, so to make the most of it, we decided to pull a T&C.
We went to Liu Asia for starters. Maki with killer Margaritas. The best I’ve had in a while. Truth be told, we were lured in by the Happy Hour cocktails but really enjoyed the food. California roll for himself and salmon and avocado maki for me.
Like many Chinese restaurants in this part of the world, the sweet southern cuisine from Canton dominates.
Liu’s tells me:
There is actually no such thing as “the” Chinese cuisine as it is made up of several regional cuisines. A distinction is made between four major traditions, which are at home in the regions of the east – Hebei, west – Sichuan, north – Shandong and south – Canton. How these traditions are characterized in terms of taste – very simply – is described by an old Chinese proverb: “The east is crispy, the west is spicy, the north is salty and the south is sweet.”
This family-run restaurant is all about broadening your palate rather than playing to your expectations. As we sat in the courtyard between the restaurant and the bar, we were sorely tempted to abandon any plans of moving but hey, we were on a mission.
I had schnitzel on my mind.
We asked the young waiter where he’d recommend. Turns out it was his dad’s restaurant and he wasn’t that into Austrian food, schnitzelled or not. If my dad owned Liu’s, I wouldn’t eat anywhere else, either. Circa €45 including 4 cocktails & tip.
I was fixating, though. I do this. When I get a dish in my head, it’s that or nothing. A quick search for restaurants in the area that had schnitzel as a highlight turned up Gasthaus Stainzerbauer, Bürgergasse 4.
The interior looked lovely but it was all happening out in the umbrella’d courtyard.
The prices were a tad high for us at around €25 for a main course but then, coming from Hungary, Graz was far from inexpensive. Coming from Dublin, it’d be reasonable enough.
Himself ordered the schnitzel and after finding out that Light of Lamb was basically lamb innards, I went for the boiled beef because it came with horseradish. I’m not a massive fan of boiled anything and had I not been momentarily blinded by the combination of hashbrowns and horseradish, I’d have ordered a schnitzel, too. But eating is all about the experience.
We got a selection of bread and spreads to start with, we thought courtesy of the house but we paid for them. It’s a thing in some places in this part of the world. This was followed by an amuse bouché of puff pastry and pumpkin cream with smoked salmon. And then the main event.
The apple sauce had grated horseradish added to it. The horseradish sauce itself was actually bread and milk with grated horseradish. And the yoghurt side was well, yoghurt with garlic and chives. No horseradish. I’m sure it felt neglected. The boiled beef looked insipid, a dull grey meat floating in a clear broth with some root vegetables. I could have cried. I wanted to renege on our swap-plates-half-way-through agreement, prevail on himself’s good nature and swap immediately. His schnitzel looked delicious and the potato salad was screaming my name. But I’m stubborn. I’d ordered my broth and I had to drink it.
I slathered on the horseradish sauce and took a bite of beef.
This is going to be my new go-to dinner. I quizzed the waitstaff on how long to boil the beef and how to make the sauces. It was with some reluctance that I traded plates but that said, the veal schnitzel reminded me that the Wiener in Wienerschnitzel is there for a reason. Schnitzel describes a cutlet of meat that’s breaded and fried. Wiener means Austrian. And the Austrian schnitzel is traditionally made using veal (although I’m sure I saw somewhere that the veal schnitzel originated in Italy!). In Hungary, the schnitzel is more commonly made from pork – Schweineschnitzel.
We ate it all. Even though I could have stopped 10 minutes and as many mouthfuls before I did. Circa €75 including two white wine spritzers & tip.
We never made dessert.
The next night, we did the same. We had wanted to try a Spanish tapas place recommended by SzP, but it was closed on Sundays (as so many places are). Wandering through the old town, we decided on a Greek starter at Dionysos on Färbergasse 6. As always, calamari is a must. It’s about 6 hours to the coast with regular trains so we were hoping the fish would be reasonably fresh. And unlike many places, the calamari wasn’t cut into rings. The fried zucchini was a nice complement.
I noticed that many restaurants and cafés in Graz go that extra step, be it motivational phrases printed on saucers beneath your coffee cup to, in this case, a quick guide to Greek words in German on the napkins. Circa €25 with two white wine spritzers & tip.
Later that evening, we wanted something light as I was still recovering from my horseradish gluttony. We stayed local* by the university and visited Sakana, a Japanese restaurant on Halbärthgasse 14. The building itself is amazing. It’s an old fraternity house dating back to the 1860s. And, it would appear, still going strong today.
But we were there for the food. If I see gyoza (dumplings) on the menu, I can’t resist. Himself had read somewhere about their dragon rolls so we added that, too. Along with some shrimp skewers (one of the best things about travel is being able to get decent fish). For me, though, the discovery of my Asian-food-century was the hossomaki (hot sushi) – we went for salmon topped with cream cheese. I was very glad we hadn’t found it the night before because we’d not have eaten anywhere else. Circa €45 with two white wine spritzers & tip.
And again, we never made it to dessert.
The Pink Elephant is a happening Mexican spot on Am Eisernen Tor that serves up a breakfast burrito that will start your day well. The terrace is great for people watching and the inside decor is bright and lively and tugs at your inner Warhol, or is it, Kahlo? The loos are quite something. Loved the Dyson tap/dryer mixer.
The Café Bar Glockenspiel … we didn’t eat there but had I had an appetite, we’d have been spoiled for choice. I was watching what others were ordering – standard ham and eggs stuff but they looked delicious. Big portions. Reasonable prices. Friendly staff.
There are way too many to choose from. But let’s try.
The Pink Elephant makes a great cappuccino and adds a little extra. When you lift your cup, there’s a saying written on your saucer. One way of practising your German.
The Glockenspiel Café makes a great coffee, too. We toyed with the idea of having breakfast – they have the ham and eggs on the menu till 11. And some other egg dishes that looked interesting. But I was still full from the night before. That said, if you time your coffee right, you’ll see the actual Glockenspiel as it happens next door (the two doors under the clock).
A sweet maiden and hearty lad clad in traditional costume pirouette three times a day (11 am, 3 pm & 6 pm) up in the gable of the building on Glockenspielplatz square. The mechanism’s cheerful 24 bells play three different melodies. A charming, romantic show beyond compare. Enchanted and each with a spring in their step and a smile on their face, lucky viewers head off once the last note dies away.
This part of town is known as the Bermuda triangle as there’s a danger you might get lost in any one of the myriad restaurants, cafés, and bars.
Café Promenade is another coffee stop worth checking out. Or better still, make it an evening drink. There’s plenty of people watching and the service, as it is everywhere, is friendly and good. Graz has lots of green spaces, which makes it lovely to walk around. This part of town reminded me a little of Bath.
There are plenty of quirky cafés in Graz. Near the University there’s the Geek’s Café and somewhere we passed one with a rubber duck theme. If it’s real lemonade you want, minus the sugar, check out Ristorante Due Amici in Kernstockgasse. Had I been hungry, I’d have gone for a pizza. Smelled authentic. Very authentic. Lemonade was excellent – I was coffeed out. And had just come from my third mass of the day.
For innovation though, it has to be the Murinsel – Island in the Mur. It’s an island café in the middle of the Mur river. Built in 2003, it’s the work of New York artist Vito Acconci. Both a platform and a bridge, the café has indoor and outdoor seating. I’m not a fan of anything vegan (and Graz seems to be a vegan paradise) so the passionfruit and chocolate mousse didn’t do it for me. The wine spritzer, though, hit the spot. The loos were a little space-agey – I still haven’t recovered from the contorted image of myself I saw reflected in the stainless steel capsule walls. Worth a detour
*Where to stay
Parking in Graz is free on Sundays but if you go during the week or at weekends, many street spaces have a 3-hour limit. Most hotels charge anything from €15 to €25 a day for the privilege of leaving your car so we wanted somewhere with free parking. We found it up by the university. Graz Rentals has colour-coded apartments in a gated building, each one with its own parking space. We stayed in the Green Flat and got a well-equipped kitchen, a washing machine in the bathroom, and a decent-sized bed-cum-living room. There were TVs in both rooms but other than CNN and Al Jazeera, it was all in German or dubbed in German. Great wifi but sadly no aircon. Thankfully, the first night we had a storm so it was cool enough. The second night, despite the fan, was hot. Still, it’s within walking distance of the old town and with access codes rather than keys, there was nothing to lose. Circa €200 for two nights. I’d stay there again. It’s right by the university, so there’s plenty by way of cafés and bars and restaurants. A great location.