Sky-High Dining Splendor

Restaurant Review: Le Loft – Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, Austria

Located on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom hotel, with ceiling-to-floor glass windows on all sides; restaurant Le Loft makes it easy to imagine you’re suspended in the air, floating above the beautiful city of Vienna.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomI’m not sure if it is unbelievable vistas in every direction that make my jaw go slack; or if it is the vibrant, illuminated work of art designed by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist that stretches across the ceiling, creating a sublime contrast with Jean Nouvel’s minimalist interior. Perhaps I will never know.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Its 8:30 pm and Le Loft is buzzing. The raised bar at the centre of the restaurant is awash with beautiful people sipping even more beautiful cocktails. The decadent pops from champagne bottles being open and wine corks being pulled create the background music. The tables along the gargantuan windows are by now, all occupied, save for one – right in front (or so it seems), of the gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, for which the Sofitel Vienna is named.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomAnd as luck would have it, we’re escorted to the lone free table by the friendly maître‘d. I sit down with a sense of reverie. The ceiling is alive. Animated with eccentric videos (I’ve read that in the videos, Rist aims to capture the viewpoint of a child looking up into the world). The crispness of the autumn leaves on the ceiling canvas casts a golden glow around the restaurant and onto the surrounding glass panels. The view! Oh the view! Breathtaking and unparalleled, the sights stretch well over the city and is sure to provide one of the most memorable dining experiences ever.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Le Loft’s French head chef, Antoine Westermann grew up in the Alsace region of France and his dishes are a delicious fusion of Alsatian and Viennese influences. In a rather unprecedented move, after being awarded a highly prestigious three Michelin stars for his Strasbourg restaurant Le Buerehiesel,  he shortly thereafter chose to hand over the reins of the restaurant to his son Eric.  The French chef remains ever nonchalant about his success, recognition and his choice to leave the Michelin star hype behind him. In an interview with FooDiva he explains: “It’s another life after the three stars. I am really, really happy without having to think about Michelin. My priority is making my customers happy, finding the right produce and offering a great price.” 

At his side, is his protégée Raphael Dworak, who he worked with at Le Buerehiesel, and the two continue to collaborate closely at Le Loft.

At our table, we scan the menu and are presented with crisp bread basket (of which the olive bread is to die for) and beurre CharentesPoitou. The chef’s suggested four and six course tasting-menus look well-defined and impeccably planned, but a little too adventurous for my tame palate (I dont eat red meat or chicken). I stick to a traditional three-course a la carte preference, while Mr. Wolf is positively salivating at the prospect of patés, foie gras and beef filets.

We each commence with an aperitif of kir-royale whilst still staring, speechlessly at the view that lay before us.

Le Loft Sofitel

Le Loft’s sommelier is knowledgeable, and suggests an impeccable white wine to pair with my fish appetizer and mains, whilst Mr. Wolf is presented with a Austrian burgundy to complement his menu choices.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe chef’s amuse bouche – a lobster cappuccino is presented in espresso cups. The soup is frothy, creamy and deliciously decadent.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For the appetizers I decide upon the poached pike served with crayfish, pumpkin purée, parsley coulis and jus vadouvan. The pike is cooked to perfection and the pumpkin puree melts like butter in my mouth.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomMr. Wolf enjoys paté en croute, which consisted of foie gras and pigeon breast served with elderberry gelee. I can’t comment much on the dish apart from its excellent presentation, but I safely say from the decadent sighs of satisfaction coming from the other end of the table that is was delicious.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomIf you’re expecting a quick meal, I’d advise you not to book at Le Loft. The service at the restaurant is incredibly slow. And rightfully so! Each dish, a work of art, is consumed slowly and celebrated bite by bite. In between courses, the view itself will provide endless distraction between soft chatter and clinking glasses.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For my main dish I select the pan-fried lake char with porcini mushrooms, homemade tortellini and mushroom sauce. The char is fried crispy on the outside and soft and delicious through the center, while the porcini mushrooms add an earthy, nutty flavor to the dish.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

My dining companion has chosen the beef fillet. The dish is typically served with brussel sprout ragout, potatoes gratin and truffle jus. However, being allergic (self diagnosed!) to brussel sprouts, Mr. Wolf kindly requests an alternative. He’s pleasantly surprised when his fillet is served with the potatoes gratin, but instead of the ragout, there is a side of soft, buttery gnocchi. After having a bite of the gnocchi, I can honestly attest that it was the best I had ever eaten.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Selecting dessert is the most difficult part of the evening for me. Each mouth-watering option holds its own merits, but in the end my love affair with chocolate dictates my choice.

Mr. Wolf concurs, and we both choose the chocolate and mint liaison: Jivara chocolate mousse and mint ice cream served in an elaborate chocolate cage shaped like an egg.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The mint ice cream is truly impeccable. Forget the mild store-bought variety with prerequisite choc-chips – this ice cream is made from freshly ground mint leaves that give a hint of sharpness to the cream. I enjoy every last bite.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWashed down with coffees and the chef’s beautiful (and ample) mignardise selection, we are completely satisfied.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The dining experience at Le Loft is not cheap, but it is well and truly exquisite, and so worth the splurge. An excerpt from the hotel’s website: “The restaurant exudes exclusivity and extravagance, combining Viennese charm and international flair”.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The hotel, as seen from the street, with restaurant Le Loft illuminated on the top floor

This perfectly sums up our experience of the night, dining on fabulous dishes, in a surreal setting, literally on top of the world.

Disclaimer: Mr Wolf and I were treated to a complimentary dinner at Le Loft during our stay at the Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, although I hope you will see that has in no way affected my experience or any opinions expressed in this post.

For more please visit the official website.

Booking at Le Loft should be made 3-4 weeks in advance to guarantee a seating.

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Cuba on my Mind

Restaurant Review: Havana Grill – Durban, South Africa

Large upholstered chairs in monochrome leather combine effortlessly with the wood touches, accentuating details. In the far corner of the bar, the barman is whipping up a Cuba Libre (Cuba’s revolutionary drink). Towards the left, antique black and white photo images line the walls conjuring Cuban images of a bygone era.

Bar havana Grill

Bar

Havana Grill Durban

Back in time

A large olive-green leather couch invites me to fold my legs and curl up with a classic from the high ceiling shelves stacked with dusty old books. Add the yellow tinge of the sunlight streaming in through the large windows, and the Che Guevara imprints on the waiters’ uniform, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve just taken a step back in time to Old Havana.

Havana Grill Durban

Classics

Havana Grill Durban

Details

Havana Grill, a world-class grill room, is situated in the bustling Suncoast Entertainment World in a prime beachfront location on Durban’s famed Golden Mile.

While their menu boasts “something for everyone”, I’ve heard that this gem of a restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise. I take Mr. Wolf’s carnivorous ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’ as confirmation. And true to his canine pseudonym, our resident steak connoisseur enjoys only one of 2 cooking styles: Bleu or Saignant (bloody).

On the far wall we find the famed Havana Meat Board detailing the day’s choice cuts and aging details.

Havana Grill Meat Board

Havana Meat Board

Having not taken a bite of red meat in over 15 years, I stick with what I love: seafood. And Havana Grill does not disappoint! An excerpt from the menu: “The SEAFOOD selection includes some of the finest king prawns, langoustines and crayfish; and extravagant platters to feed your soul.” Well, by the end of the meal I consider my soul stuffed, the statement is spot on!

seafood platter havana grill durban

A soul well-fed

When we arrive we are shown to a table covered in crisp white linen, with stunning vistas over the Indian Ocean. Without having to look at the drinks menu we knowledgeably order a round of mojitos. Handing the menus back to the waiter, some fine print catches my eye. “Magical Mojito” screams the title. In a second my order is changed – I want some of that magic!

Views Havanah Grill Durban

Stunning Views through large windows

My drink arrives with much fanfare. Crushed ice, lime and candy floss (yes, you read right!) are piled high into one glass, while a little pichet accompanies it, containing my magical mojito mixture. At the table, the waiter expertly pours the mix into the waiting glass and the patrons around watch as the candy floss magically dissolves into a sugary goo, lacing my rum with a sweet, sweet buzz.

Magical Mojito Havana Grill Durban

Magic in a glass

Giddy from my sugar rush, we dive into our starters: a deconstructed prawn samoosa. The samoosa, like you’ve never seen it before; decadent prawn chutney, rich in spices and flavor, are heaped onto alternating layers of phyllo pastry and drizzled with balsamic glaze. The prawns are fresh and succulent, and each delicious mouthful is a joy to the palate. Another firm favorite is the pear and gorgonzola salad. With a heavenly combination of candied pecans and cider dressing, this salad creates the perfect mélange of sweet and sour for your eager tastebuds. I find the salads are large enough to share.

food havana grill durban

Deconstructed, but delicious

The progressive menu at Havana Grill isn’t exactly Cuban, but rather fusion world cuisine. Nit-picky reviewers sometimes point this out in their Tripadvisor reviews, but are ignorant to the fact that Cuban cuisine in itself, is a blend of Spanish, African, Caribbean and even Chinese influences.

For the main course, I simply must order the extravagant seafood platter. The herculean dish arrives with a medley of crayfish, calamari, prawns, langoustines, line fish and mussels; each prepared in their individual manner with a selection of different flavorings and served with shoestring fries and rice.

Seafood platter havana grill durban

To die for!

The calamari for example, is simply tossed in olive oil and grilled in Cajun spices. It makes a welcome deviation from the typical dipped and deep-fried variety served in most restaurants. The mussels are a revelation! Smothered in blue cheese sauce, dusted with breadcrumbs and grilled…I am willing to exchange some of my ample prawns for more of them, in some kind of weird restaurant barter deal. That is, until I actually taste the prawns. Infused with garlic butter and grilled on what must be an open flame to establish that smoky goodness; I call it quits on the bartering deal.
The line fish component of the platter changes daily, so be sure to ask your waiter.

A couple of glasses of chardonnay from the Walker Bay wine route helps to soak up the rich, buttery tastes.

Speaking of wine, Havana Grill boasts a large selection of South African wines which can be expertly paired with any dish on the menu. If you prefer international brands, guests are welcome to browse the selection in the walk-in cellar, an experience in itself.

Wine Cellar Havana Grill Durban

Walk-in cellar
Photo source: http://www.havanagrill.co.za

I pass on dessert, unable to take another bite, while my dining companions tuck into crème brulèe and strawberry panacotta. From experimenting with various desserts during my previous visits to Havana Grill, I can safely swear by the hot chocolate fondant. Worth the extra wait, it’s masterfully prepared with the prerequisite oozing liquid center.

What I loved:
  • Extensive wine list with domestic and international choices
  • Great views
  • It didn’t cost an arm and a leg!
What I didn’t love:
  • I can’t think of a single thing!

We end the fantastic meal with smiles and small talk with our friendly waiter, who is proffering authentic Cuban cigars in the smoking lounge. Maybe on our next visit?

Havana Grill Durban

Havana Grill has delivered once again, and I can’t wait to go back!

Disclaimer: No part of this restaurant experience was paid for by Havanah Grill or its associates.. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.