Gourmet Travel: Le Loft, Vienna

Visit Antoine Westermann’s roof-top restaurant where French Alsacien cuisine meets Austrian flavour
Monday , 16 January 2012
Le Loft, Vienna
Le Loft, Vienna
Le Loft at the top of the Jean Nouveldesigned Sofitel Vienna Stephandsom.
Le Loft at the top of the Jean Nouveldesigned Sofitel Vienna Stephandsom.
Antoine Westermann, Raphael Dworak
Antoine Westermann, Raphael Dworak
Artichoke À La Grècque
Artichoke À La Grècque

Suspended high above Vienna on the 18th floor, Sofitel Vienna’s Le Loft restaurant lights up the skyline with its brightly coloured canopy flickering in the dark. Inside, ten-metre high floor-toceiling windows wrap round as you gaze across the Danube’s canal to the gothic Stephandsom cathedral. Look upwards to the illuminated, animated canvas designed by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist as it stretches across the ceiling, creating a stark contrast with the subdued, minimalist interior.

With cuisine and menus created by French chef Antoine Westermann who earned three Michelin stars for his Strasbourg restaurant Le Buerehiesel, only to pass the restaurant reigns to his son Eric so that he can open new eateries of his own in Paris, and consult on others in Lisbon, Madeira, Washington D.C and this beauty. Considering chefs strive all their lives to earn one or two Michelins, let alone three, and in the odd case have been known to take their own life, that’s pretty admirable of Antoine. “What I can say, it’s another life after the three stars. I am really, really happy without having to think about Michelin. My priority is making my customers happy, finding the right produce and offering a great price,” says Antoine.

“In Austria and in the Alsace region of France, we like the same food, with a heavy German influence. When Accor asked me to come here, I knew I could bring my three-star kitchen from Strasbourg but simplified, Alscacien style. Every day since we opened a year ago, we do 100 covers [for each service]. It’s important the restaurant is full every day. It takes 2-3 weeks to get a booking.”

The cuisine blends French, inspired by his childhood memories of Alsace, with Austrian flavours. Unlike many consultant chefs, Antoine plays an active, hands-on role flying in at least four times a year. His ex-Chef de Partie at Le Buerehiesel and protégée, Raphael Dworak helms the kitchen every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “I am always on the telephone with Raphael. What’s important is Raphael thinks like I think, he cooks like I cook. He knows me really well. I told Accor if you want me to be the chef and shape the menu, then give me confidence and I want to hire Raphael as Executive Chef.”

Locally sourced produce is a priority for Antoine, with 80% Austrian from vegetables to venison and veal. Organic ingredients are also a consideration, but due to cost not as prevalent on the menu. “For me first the product has to be good, and then if it’s organic a bonus. When I was a young boy, my mother had a garden at home and everything was organic but no one spoke about it. Today, it’s expensive. I have a garden at home in South of France. I do nothing, and simply wait for the sun and a little water, and it’s organic.”

Signature dishes include frogs legs, chicken cooked in a terrine, a goose foie gras, and the recipe we are sharing with you here, artichokes Greek-style.

“This restaurant is like a monument in the middle of the city. At eighteen levels with its panoramic views, it’s unique. Having the opportunity to cook here in this atmosphere is very special. Being French from Alsace, coming to Vienna, the cuisine is very similar and a natural progression.”

With a landmark location, inspiring interior, slick service, and Michelin cuisine at an affordable price – what more could you ask for from Gourmet’s International Restaurant of the Month?

Artichoke À La Grècque

2 artichokes
200g spring onions
1g coriander seeds
500g chicken consommé
50g mushrooms
50g white vinegar
Fresh coriander & salad leaves to decorate

1. Clean the artichokes and slice into quarters.
2. Clean the mushrooms and the spring onions.
3. Gently fry all the vegetables in a pan with olive oil and deglaze with vinegar and consommé.
4. Add the coriander seeds and leave to cook on low heat for a few minutes.
5. Remove the cooked vegetables from the pan and reduce the juice.
6. Add finely diced fresh coriander and place the cooked vegetables on the plates.
7. Serve warm. Decorate with salad leaves and croutons.

INFO: Le Loft at Sofitel Vienna Stephandsom, Praterstrasse 1 www.sofitel.com