Hirsch & Kamel Restaurant, Vienna

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Hirsch & Kamel is an Austrian/Perisan restaurant less than five minutes walk from the Hotel Kugel. Christmas carols were playing as we arrived and there was a festive theme throughout with red, green and gold table linen and Middle Eastern-style statuettes lining the white washed walls of the barrel vaulted interior. There are two rooms available to diners; the first, where we settled, has wooden lower walls and is shaped like a traditional beer hall whilst the second room seats less people (perhaps ten to fifteen) in a slightly more casual setting.

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The detailed menus were available in perfect English and they had very clear symbols indicating what items were vegetarian, gluten free, etc (I found it easy to order a complete vegetarian meal here). The waiter also spoke great English too so ordering was easy.

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After we’d ordered we were immediately offered a glass of prosecco each and a platter to snack on, compliments of the kitchen.

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The snack was soft Persian barbari bread and Mostviertler house bread with two types of cream cheese. One had hints of apple, cinnamon and vanilla and the other was a thick Persian cream with a subtle taste of walnut. I really enjoyed this dish, the flavours were very different yet worked well together

To begin with we relaxed into the evening with the aid of cocktails.

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Lamia had a Strawberry Daiquiri.

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“It tastes like strawberry juice with just the slightest hint of alcohol,” said Lamia. “I like it that way as the strong taste of alcohol doesn’t really appeal to me. It’s also very colourful, frothy and refreshing and I love the crushed ice, far better than the daiquiri I had last weeks that had lumps of ice in it. This one, I’m happy to say, is made properly.”

I had the Manhattan Perfect.

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This was an excellent version of a classic cocktail, served very cold with no sign of ice. It had a beautiful colour, too.

Later Lamia was to order a Kir Royal to have with her meal, whilst I moved onto wine.

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“This is a lively, fizzy drink,” said Lamia. “I wanted something fun to prolong the nice feeling that the beginning of the evening has created and this subtle, fruity drink is just right for that purpose. It tastes sweeter the more I drink it, due to the Maraschino cherry.”

For my starter I had a potato soup with Kuku Sabsi (Persian herb cake) and pomegranate seeds.

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It was beautifully presented and the creamy potato soup was punctuated by the sweetness and crunchy texture of the pomegranate seeds. It’s always an unexpected pleasure to discover new food combinations that I’ve never thought about, like putting potatoes and pomegranate together. The herb cake was nice but almost incidental to the pleasure I gained from this dish, as it’s real power was in the very unique combination of the two main ingredients. This was a seriously superb soup!

Lamia started with the chicken soup with ginger, coriander and reshteh (Persian noodles).

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“This smells amazing, so fragrant,” said Lamia, “although I’m glad I also ordered a side salad as the portion size is quite small. The chicken, carrots and other vegetables are very tender, as are the noodles, and the broth is quite salty. It reminds me of a traditional chicken noodle soup only with a lot more flavour and it doesn’t only taste good, it’s also doing good, as one euro from each sold soup goes to help a local charity.”

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The waiter advised I might enjoy a Wiener Trilogie red wine with my choice of herby, vegetarian dishes. It’s made in Vienna, full bodied and I really enjoyed drinking it with my meal.

For my second course I had the red cabbage and orange salad with pears, honey and homemade black nuts.

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It was citrusy and crunchy as you may expect and a beautiful deep pink colour. The nuts were a sombre foil to the dish and were of a medium tough texture with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. It was clearly a Christmas dish, seasonally seasoned, very interesting and fun too!

For her second course Lamia had the baked mushrooms on salad olivieh (Persian chicken salad with potatoes and mayonnaise).

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“It kind of reminds me of the creamy filling you get in a very good chicken salad sandwich,” Lamia said. “The potatoes and chicken are tender and the baked mushrooms are soft and flavourful.”

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The waiter advised I might enjoy trying another type of red wine, a Heideboden, an organic red from Neusiedlersee, a region about thirty mins drive from Vienna. It was another very full bodied wine that felt very dark, gentle and calm, like I was having afternoon tea with Sappho a few hours after she converted to Satanism.

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For my main I had the root casserole (carrots, parsnips, parsley root, celery and Jerusalem artichoke) with pine nuts and coriander, served with saffron rice.

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It was served at such a temperature that I could eat it straight away, no cooling down or blowing on it required. The overall feeling was of a slight sweetness, as you’d expect from parsnip and the saffron rice, served in a separate bowl, was fragrant and flavourful enough to enjoy as a dish of it’s own. There was a hint of chilli heat which emphasised the sweetness of the casserole but which I didn’t notice as I was starting to eat, only minutes later, it was that subtle. I thought this dish a great success, I really enjoyed it.

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Lamia had the roasted fillet of salmon with lemon pepper, served will dill rice and cucumber-mint yoghurt.

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The fish looks amazing and is well seared, said Lamia. “It’s come with a twist of lemon and a triangle of butter, which I’ve mixed into rice to make the rice more creamy. This fish is delicious, soft, tender and flavourful, is slightly pink inside and it’s a large fillet. The dip is excellent but I feel it overpowers the fish if I have it all in one spoonful so I’m having it in-between mouthfuls. I really enjoy the mix of dill and saffron, and both compliment the salmon excellently. As a Bengali whose national dish is fish, and having eaten fish since I was born, I can say that this salmon is excellently cooked. There’s no lingering odour, it’s crispy but not oily, the meat is tender and the colour is perfect.”

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We finished with a Josef V. Farthofer Zirbe, a liquor made by a company who apparently made the best vodka in the world in 2012. They’re based near to Vienna and this drink, we discovered, gets its flavour from pine cones.

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We expected it to be similar to Retsina but instead it was red in colour, quite sweet and with a menthol like sappy smell, a little like the sort of cough medicine that was invented to make you really enjoy cough medicine. It was another enjoyable new experience in a meal that had introduced me to several new tastes and taste combinations.

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Austrian’s generally have traditional tastes when it comes to food so any foreign cuisine that wants to thrive in the country has to first hang onto the coat tails of local dishes in order to integrate itself. The Austro/Persian mix that’s served at Hirsch & Kamel has done this very thing, and very successfully we think, and if you’re a curious eater and want to try flavourful food that’s probably very different to that which you can try back home, then do consider checking out this restaurant!

To discover more about Hirsch & Kamel Restaurant please visit their website - http://www.hirschundkamel.at/

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