The one big surprise of this trip is my falling head over heels in love with the cakes at this veritable institution-cum-tourist-trap, so much that I don’t mind queuing for a table three times a day, in a sea of photo-snapping enthusiasts.
To be fair, there is plenty of charm in this landmark Viennese café, not the least of which is the, well, cake and truffle selection, beautifully packaged and displayed to make you swoon. If you can nab a table just below the stairs, good: stay there. Otherwise, upstairs is good too, though perhaps better for a proper sit-down Viennese meal. (Reportedly excellent, Wiener schnitzel and all.)
So much has been made of Demel’s legal wrangling with the Hotel Sacher over the use of the label “The Original Sacher Torte” that you best go there and order something other than the torte in dispute, because there is plenty more—the wonderfully smooth truffle torte, for instance, deep-flavored yet surprisingly light on the tongue and stomach; the pretty, gold-and-white Russische Punschtorte, soaked in just enough rum (and Chambord?), so as to blend with the custardy filling and still allow the sponge cake to retain its firmness; the Senegalese torte and the biscuit torte, both equally refined. What also makes these cakes so eminently edible is the size of their serving—the very antithesis of your chunky American or typical Teutonic portions, but just enough to nudge you towards a second helping. And, for what it’s worth, I think Demel’s Sacher Torte is way better than Hotel Sacher’s from where it hailed—there, I’ve said it.
Please. Go to Demel. The other grand Viennese cafes—Grienstedl, Café Landtmann, Café Mozart and Café Central—may be grand and soaked in history, but if it’s refinement of flavors you’re looking for, then Demel is your place.