Dancing Shiva Superfoods was less than two minutes walk from our hotel, the Kugel, so when we heard it was supposed to be the best vegan restaurant in Vienna we thought we had to pay it a visit. We were so glad we did; it’s probably the best restaurant we visited in our entire nine month trip through Europe, North Africa and Asia.
The mainÂ door was backed withÂ heavy velvet drapes thatÂ kept the warmth and cosy atmosphereÂ in.
We were welcomed in by the scent of aromatic Indian spices, herbal incense and general wholesome goodness. Dining tables were ranged on the left side of the room, Riki the owner was behind the serving counter andÂ Nepumok the resident cat sat on the hardwood floor and guardedÂ shelves full of superfoods on the right.
Nepumok was clearly boss of the place, and he loved being stroked.
The other front of house staff were all female and they, as well as Riki, seemed like quintessential hippies. I don’t normally use this word to describe people nowadays because there are so many different kind of alternative and good-hearted people and also, some might take the word ‘hippy’ in a negative way. But the word fits these women nicely, with their flowing hair, handmade style clothes, warm, generous smiles, timeless honesty and faces that radiated what they promoted and sold on their shelves. They were healthy, glowing and beamedÂ a gentle kindness thatÂ we immediately felt comfortable around.
RikiÂ said that we could eat in the front room or the back diner near the kitchen. We hadn’t realised that there was more to the place than the immediate area were were in. We walked along a narrow corridor with water fountain tinkling among lush foliage that reminded us of a Japanese or Buddhist Zen garden….
…and dropped down into a lower dining area, that was much more like a restaurant than the front, cafe-style area had been.
It was early in the evening so there were only a couple of tables occupied but later we were to notice just how family friendly Dancing Shiva is. People of all ages visited and children were welcome to wander about. Of course, this is common practice at cafes but not at places where the food is to the high standard that we were served here. Honestly, we’d recently dined at a Michelin Star restaurant in Rome and what we ate at Dancing Shiva was every bit as good as what we’d eaten in Rome. The service was different at Dancing Shiva, not so fussy and more openly warm, charming and friendly (which we preferred)Â but the food was equally beautifullyÂ presented and tasting. Even more so if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, as the Michelin Star place was almost a desert if you didn’t eat meat (which is sadly often the case, in our experience, with fancy restaurants).
There wasÂ a real mix-up of cultural decor. Red Indian/desi style curtains -Â Lamia remembered them well from her childhood in Bangladesh – decorated withÂ motifs of peacocks, sheltered goddess statues in exposed brick alcoves. World lounge music played and lamps that wouldn’t be out of place in any restaurant from Marrakech to Istanbul to India lit a buddhist chest in the corner, as did a host of red candles.
Moneyplant vines fell from pots, shielding the kitchen slightly. We could see the two chefs working clearly from our table. The head chef, Julian, sat with us for a while, talking about how he came to work here. From being an unfulfilled salesman in Shanghai to learning his new ‘raw chef’ trade at one of the few Raw Food Schools in the world (in the USA) to working for a year or so in Berlin and now Vienna, his journey had been interesting and, I might add, inspirational.
The menu was in very good English, which was important for us because there’s a lot of joy to be had from reading what you’re eating and what Julian was producing using all the Superfoods that you rarely hear about in regular restaurants. In fact if you wanted a solid grounding in how to use foods in a whole new, healthier, tastier way, you could spend an hour or so studying the Dancing Shiva menu and you’d come away a much wiser person.
Riki brought water with slices of lemon and mint leaves to refresh ourselves with as we ordered. Like everything we were to have on our table that evening, it was a visual treat.
Lamia then had the Chai Latte.
It was made from almond milk, Fuku Premium Matcha and coconut blossom sugar.
“I can really taste cinnamon somehow,” said Lamia. “But perhaps that’s just because I’m unused to this combination and I’m searching for an adequate description. The almond milk is warm and delicious. For those used to a Chai Latte made with regular milk, I’m sure they won’t really be able to taste the difference. It’s refreshing and warming at the same time and the chai spicy-ness is really pleasant and smells great. I’d love to serve this to my friends. Most of them wouldn’t even notice the almond milk and if they did I’m sure they’d be happy to have tried it.”
I guess many people get put offÂ raw food and this type of Superfood cuisine just because of the whole feeling and perhaps newness of the cuisine. It all sounds a bit unappetizing (‘raw’ food? What’s that supposed to mean, a few carrots, a stick of celery and some hummus? Well, no, actually, but to be fair, the term ‘raw’ isn’t doing this cuisine any favours at all as it fails to convey just how intelligent, tasty and good for you the food and drink is) and as though you’re replacing the good stuff (in the case of the Chai Latte, that’s dairy) with a lesser ingredient. We’ve learned though that eating this wayÂ doesn’t have to involve any compromises at all.
When I looked at the Elixir menu I was a little skeptical. Could these drinks actually work? Could they lift a mood?
“Just taste the Lucy in the Sky,” said Riki, “and let me know how you feel before you drink it, and after.”
This ‘Lucy in the Sky’ drink is meant to be aÂ concentrated power cocktail for providing fast energy, beauty and clarity. It contains camu camu, coconut oil and fresh pressed orange juice.Â It was beautifully presented in a martini glass with a sprig of mint and as Riki asked, I thought about my mood before I drank.
It had been a long, cold day and we were both tired. Not just from the day, but from several months of travel, of never having a place to call home. Eating out almost every night, staying in a new room every week and taking photos every day sounds great and it is indeed fun, but it does get tiring. I was indeed in need of a pick-me-up. I took a sip of the orangey, sharp drink and after a few seconds there was a noticeable surge of clarity to what felt like the brain. Within theÂ space of a couple of minutesÂ I’d experienced an obvious lightening of mood, with my mind feeling more alert and youthful that it had done for months. Obviously that sounds like marketing, like I’m trying to sell you some miracle cure, yet what can I say? I can only report on what I experienced, and this drink really did serve as an all natural pick-me-up, the likes of which I’ve never had before. Forget energy drinks and all that other rubbish jammed full of sugar, what you need when you’re down is a Lucy in the Sky…
For drinks to go with our meal Lamia had an Elderflower Spritzer and I a Hirter Hemp Beer.
The Elderflower Spritzer was made with white wine, elderflower syrup and soda.
“It’s taste is floral and not overly alcoholic at all which is what I like,” said Lamia. “It’s aÂ pretty girly drink that reminds me of the first time I had elderflower cider in England, which is always a nice memory to recall.”
MyÂ Hirter Hemp Beer had a 4.8% volume.
Made with just water, barley, malt hops and natural hemp flavour it was a pilsner style and of the high standard that you’d expect from an Austrian brewer. Check the company out at www.hirterbier.at.
Lamia started with a fennel soup (soup of the day) topped with veggie crisps and coriander.
“It’s warm, hearty and spiced lightly, and there’sÂ texture in the parsnip purÃ©e, I mean, there’s little bits within the liquid. Really yummy!Â I’ve had ‘raw’ food before and have hardly enjoyed it or thought of coming back as it seemed bland and cold and cold food for dinner is a big no no for me. But this place is perfect.”
Lamia also had the Pizza Nepomuk (the same name as the house cat but it had nothing to do with her!) made from zucchini, almond, tomato sauce, cashew cheese, cherry tomatoes and basil.
“It smells herbal and earthy and looks very homemade; it’s delicious. Firm enough to hold and pick up but when you bite into it it comes straight away; it’s like aÂ cross between shortcrust pastry and a normal cracker, not crunchy but light. It’s hard to describe the exact nature of this food as it’s something that’s not very common, but I wish it were. The topping sort of tastes like a hummus-y sun-dried tomato spread with sprouts and then there’s nut cheese to sprinkle on top.”
“It’s very creamy, not at all dry, and there are lots of textures to enjoy. Overall it gives you all the things you might love about pizza like the comfort and the taste but without the calories, stodgy base or fatty cheese.”
I had a dish called a ‘variation of starters’.
It consisted of hummus, guacamole, herb cream cheese, bell pepper dip, sprouts, Essene hemp bread and crackers.
The slices of apple provided initial texture whilst the full impact of the combination of flavours and textures materialized. The dips were light yet still creamy, so you got the sense of satisfaction without the heaviness. The red pepper dip was the best I’ve ever had, so creamy and spicy but not too hot. Amazing.
For a main course Lamia had the coconut ginger curry.
It was made from vegetables in a creamy ginger cashew sauce, with a chutney made from pear and parsnips.
“Both of our mains smell amazing right now,” said Lamia, “it’s a real treat. My curry sauce is almost like a soup, I can use a fork or a spoon. Inside there are crunchy and tender veggies like peas and carrots. The sauce is spicy but not hot, just a mediumÂ level of heat, in England you’d call it a two chili heat. The pear chutney goes excellentlyÂ with the curry, it’s a nice twist to a style of food that I’m very familiar with. I just can’t believe how tasty this raw food is.”
I had the nut medallions in a red wine reduction.
The dish consisted of nut medallions, glazed vegetables, parsnip mash, red wine sauce and sweet onions. Without a doubt, eating this dish felt like a fine dining experience, except that no cute animals have been slaughtered in the process.
The vegetables were crunchy, the mash creamy, the nut medallions were firm of texture (pieces of them held on the fork well) and hadÂ a subtle, nutty flavour. There was a hint of wine in the sauce and the presentation was superb. It was as I mopped up the last of the sauce that the thought came to me that the combined experience of eating this dish in this environment was equivalent to any of the fine restaurants we’d eaten in through Athens, Rome, Florence and Venice during the past few months.
It’s was definitely the finest food I’ve had if you take into consideration taste, presentation, the quality of ingredients and the fact that it was packed full of wholesome nutrients.
Before dessert I had a mug of GlÃ¼hwein.
It was a hot, spiced wine with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and a bit of orange and it tasted like a warm night in Zanzibar. A sign on the wall says it’s the best glÃ¼hwein in Vienna and although I’m no expert I’d have to say it’s the best I’ve tasted. It’s generally a potent, spicy, warming drink that clears the sinuses as soon as you raise the mug to the mouth and it’s almost medicinal in the way it warms and caresses theÂ throat. This drink highlighted the fact that good organic food doesn’t have to be about subtlety – which was a new concept to us – and that an inventive chef can be as bold as they’d like, or need, to be.
ForÂ dessert I had the cheesecake.
It was crunchy, creamy and citrusy, with pieces of juicy tangerine in the base. Delicious in taste and decadent in feel, it’s whatÂ I want in a good dessert.
Lamia had the chocolate mousse with super brownie.
It was a dark chocolate mousse with a berry coulis, cashew vanilla sauce and chocolate decor whilst theÂ brownie was made with walnuts, hazelnuts, raw cacao, coconut oil, goji berries, hemp seeds and coconut blossom sugar.
“It’s a thick chewy brownie and a light airy mousse,” said Lamia. “What a chocolate, fruity feast!Â Once again, amazing.”
There’s little more to say, other than, there are few restaurants that we’d consider making a special trip overseas for. The Aleria in Athens, perhaps, the Aroma in Rome, maybe. But the Dancing Shiva in Vienna, yes, definitely. Even if you’re not vegetarian we’re certain you’ll love it. But if you are vegetarian, or vegan, well, we can only say that we’ve been to several vegetarian restaurants around the world now, including the best that London and Toronto have to offer, and not one of them measures up in any way to Dancing Shiva, so go there if you can! And when you visit, please say hi from us to Riki, Julian, Nina and of course,Â Nepumok.
Discover more atÂ www.dancingshiva.atÂ (it’s in German but don’t worry if you don’t speak the language, everybody at the restaurant does speak great English!)