This newspaper's magnificent series "A History of the Great War in 100 Moments", run in conjunction with its sister title, has tried to conjure the world of 1914 and just after. Shattered once the Habsburg heir was assassinated in Sarajevo, that world was one in which the city of Vienna starred as a leading light.
Austria produced, in Adolf Hitler, a son that no civilized people would ever want to claim; but it also produced, at precisely the same time, men who personified the very civilization that was about to collapse. Six days after Hitler was born on the Austro-Hungarian side of the Bavarian border, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the most important philosopher of the 20th century, was born in Vienna. His work was a pillar of the Vienna Circle, a club of philosophers led by Moritz Schlick which, by 1914, included many of the most eminent intellectuals in Europe, and hence the world.
Marylebone High Street in London seems a long way from Schlick's city, historically, geographically, and intellectually (except for Daunt Books: just the sort of place in which he or Wittgenstein would get lost). But in Fischer's, that world breathes again. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who made Le Caprice and the Ivy magnificent, and now own the Wolseley, Delaunay, Brasserie Zedel and Colbert – each magisterial – have here created a chapter from Mitteleurope's finest hour. And they have done so on the site of an Italian restaurant called Cotidie, which as I pointed out on this page in April 2012, was not exactly Marylebone's own finest hour.
As ever with Corbin and King, the attention to detail is all. The branded plates have golden rims; the mustard-brown tiles glint in sunlight beaming through a glass roof; a huge, dangling octagonal clock creates a railway-terminal vibe; the portraits are sepia-tinged; and the delightful waiting staff wear smart khaki-green waistcoats and olive-green ties. The overall impression is one of class and coherence, not least when it comes to the cutlery. If you order a schnitzel, you are given something approaching a hunting knife, made by Sambonet, the Italian maker. Fair enough: bits of Italy once belonged to the Austrians.
There are four menus: breakfast, brunch and tea; lunch and dinner; vegetarian (wonderful to see – I hope this starts a fashion); and wine, a list masquerading as a menu.
Some mini sandwich bites are dear but delicious: sweet mustard herring (£7.50) has slightly too much sweetness, and not enough acidity, but is saved by an exquisitely firm, thick bit of fish. Himmel und Erde – heaven and earth (£7.25) – is a plop of salty, rich black pudding on apple sauce, making the name only half-right: this is pure heaven, as long as you're not one dose of cholesterol from heart failure, in which case it could send you there.
There are three types of schnitzel – chicken or wiener, both served with a syrupy lingonberry sauce; and Holstein, served with anchovy, capers and egg. The wiener is spot-on: thin-cut, coated in a crisp but non-oily batter, and generously portioned. You can also choose between six sausages that come with potato salad, sauerkraut and caramelised onions, but I have gone for the braised-beef tafelspitz (£17.95). This is a slowly cooked, ultra-tender bit of cow delivered atop roasted veg, with a rich, almost coffee-like gravy, and a strange spinach and cream accompaniment. The gravy is over-seasoned; the spinach cream a curious irrelevance. Of the sides, the pickled cucumber salad (£3.50) is a juicy, fresh bite, and the excellent spätzle is quite the opposite: gnocchi-like but basically an egg-based noodle, delivered with cheese, and wonderful with the beef.
For dessert, there are strudels, ice creams and inventive Viennese biscuits, but best of all is a hazelnut-and-chocolate fondant, hot and gooey with high-grade, almost bitter cocoa. For what it's worth, the coffee has an excellent flavour.
The Austrians of the Golden Era knew better than most that food is not the point of eating out at all; rather, delivered in the manner it is here, it's a facilitator for conversation in pleasant surroundings – that is, the height of civilization. At Fischer's, Corbin and King have brought the best of Vienna back to life.
Fischer's, 50 Marylebone High Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7466 5501 £70 for two without wine
Four more foodie notes from the week
M&S has a multi-seed offering which, together with its dips, are my weekday lunches right now.
Served with pickled cauliflower, samphire and truffle vinaigrette at the Bull & Last pub in north London – exquisite.
Caledonian sparkling water
We get this on our weekly shop. I am near-addicted to fizzy water. Three pints daily, minimum.
After watching Rick Stein explain how they're different to sardines on TV, Charlie and I maxed out. Pure salty goodness.Reuse content