On the website it says that the food is the main draw at the Tiroler Hut, suggesting a veritable showcase of the best of Austrian fare. I’ll not be knocking the food AA Gill-style, but I would beg to differ – we all know why we’re here and the nosh ain’t it. For the best Austrian fare in the big smoke, I have heard that Kipferl does a mean bratwurst, and that Kurz & Lang is the only Austrian deli in London. If they are as much fun as the Tiroler Hut this city will be an ever-so-slightly happier place.
So, recently, a large bundle of us hit the ‘Hut’. This kitsch, faux chalet-cum-basement is nestled into a mountainside in West London (ok, not quite a mountain – does the barely distinguishable undulation that is Notting Hill count?) Inside, you are greeted by the owner Joseph and his family-based team, clad in lederhosen and dirndls, barely showing the strain of chafing aforementioned leather shorts, bearing trays heaving with gargantuan steins of beer, bottles of Grüner Veltliner and Schnapps. You and they are complicit in one fact, knowing looks are exchanged: it is the party, the virtual après-ski that is the main event here, their chief draw and the main breadwinner – the food is surely secondary. The food is a punctuation mark, a driver’s airbag keeping this friendly establishment just this side of being a messy drinking hole, sponging up the alcohol intake of its clientele.
More bread, madam?
Anyhoo, this said, the menu is not too bad in places but it is a bit of a crevasse field, if we are going to continue with alpine analogies. We lost G at the first turn, at Champignons Tiroler Hut; just because the description says they’re served warm doesn’t mean they’ve been cooked, apparently. My avocado vinaigrette consisted of a whole pear, sliced and splayed roadkill-fashion on an iceberg lettuce, grey and bruised rather like it had been up and down a mountain or two (getting warm in someone’s backpack) before reaching my plate. Serves me right for ordering it suppose – there’s always a touch of Fawlty Towers about it.
Meat, however, is something they do really rather well: the Mir ist alles Wurst on PJ’s plate were salty and delicious – sizzling bits of sausages and gherkins – the thinking person’s approach to a starter and luckily for me, a pickle-fiend, he was happy for me to assist. You can, however, have too much of a good thing and to finish his main course would have required an appetite generated by several hard days on the slopes – a handbag-sized entrecote piled high with crisp golden onions was lowered into position before him. PJ put his head down and set to work, very quietly – this was going to take all his time and attention.
Further down the table, through the towers of beer I saw that the BSG and James, his companion in most manly ‘eat-offs’, had chosen the platter of ‘lots of meat, etc…’to share between them. I am not even sure if the word ‘etc’ bothered either, let alone what it referred to but it certainly hadn’t appealed to me, displaying a distinct lack of knowledge – or interest – on the part of the kitchen as to what they included. However, it didn’t touch the sides or cause any problems.
I confess to being a creature of habit in this place (yes, we’ve really been here more than once) and am awfully fond of the crisp, salty schnitzel. It appeared that this particular night so was everyone else as ours has been cut in half, presumably to ensure they stretched as far as possible, an odd approach which made us feel more than a bit affronted, especially as they’d only done this to the girls – presumably because ladies eat less. El wrongo.
Our trip to the real mountains in Austria seems a long time ago now, but it was nice for us all to get together again – though this time we did refrain from dancing to EuroPop in ski-boots on the tables (it’s just what they do in St Anton – it’s almost rude not to…) The same hospitable display was extended to us everywhere we visited during our week there. Unlike ski-resort restaurants in France and Switzerland, those in Austria have successfully retained their culinary and cultural identity. Of course, on every menu there’s the ubiquitous spag bol but this is barely visible amongst offerings of wurst, pretzels, sauerkraut, schnitzel, spätzle and strudel – comforting and perfect for refuelling after a morning of more strenuous exercise than is taken the rest of the year. These dishes are delicious; little wonder the Austrians have safeguarded them against the invasion of the chip.
Speaking of delicious, our blue-eyed chalet man-host Ed was an absolute dab hand in the tiny kitchen he had at his disposal – we are just sorry we’d had to stop and sample the Austrian-style après ski on the way home each afternoon; I’m not sure we took full advantage of the tea and cake window. Every night he would turn out a few courses to a large, slightly-too-merry group all too fond of dancing on the furniture. Sorry Ed, we do remember your broccoli and bacon soup (strangely good), your amazing roast pork and the raspberry clafoutis amongst all the other lovely things you produced for us. Most of all, we remember swimming in those eyes…
Back in London, the views in this subterranean chalet are not quite as spectacular – unless you like a badly-painted alpine idyll behind a red gingham curtain – and we’d gladly have had the EuroPop (sadly the cowbell cabaret didn’t happen this visit as Joseph was absent, but Ricardo the singer was there) but my goodness we all had fun. Come to think of it, thank goodness there were no glazed windows; they would have shattered on the final, wobbly high-note of Ricardo’s rendition of ‘Delilah’. PJ, still soldiering away at the paving stone of meat before him, would have barely noticed.