Halfway down Windmill Street, Pun Kum was one of these places. A gaudy Thai restaurant, I could never bring myself to go there just in case the name was a bit too literal (albeit badly spelled) and their fish sauce was perhaps a little too, erm, unique. Anyway, this was one place I was kind of sad to watch kum and go. The diners inside eating their special Thai sauce infused foods were replaced by bailiff’s notices and then emptiness. Sorry.
So imagine the delight when it was replaced by somewhere with an equally silly name. And no risqué connotations.
The Austrian empire spread massively and then shrank over the centuries. But what is not really reflected in any map of empires I’ve seen is the extent of the culinary influence. In England the countries of India, Italy and France stamp their imprint on our eating habits. Austria, for all the size of their ancient empire, does not.
And I have been flirting with the wurst over the past few months in Soho, finding myself frustrated at every turn – The Bratwurst on Berwick Street seems to be closed every time I try there and Herman Ze German on Old Compton Street seems to be just a bit too far. So when Boopshi’s opened on the 26th November 2013, I saw a vista of Austrian sausage based lunches opening in front of me.
Yes, I am playing fast and loose with my geography here, but so did Austria, and being exact, this place should be known for its Austrian themed food.
When I walked in it had been open for a day. I was excited. It all smelled new. Even the functional wooden tables with their gifts of little splinters in your jumper smelled new, like they had just been chopped down by a burly Austrian with an incredibly stylish moustache yesterday (or the day before).
It was pretty empty when I walked in early lunchtime. There were a couple of guys and a girl hanging round (I assumed they were staff) and they chatted to me, eager to please like puppies who had just opened a new restaurant. I was touched and hoped well for these guys. And they offered me a beer, locally brewed in Camden, which seemed a bit strange seeing as we were in an Austrian food themed pub.
Slowly, as awkward turn staggered on from awkward turn, I saw the menu, which I would also say was “functional”. I like a functional menu - some of the things on the menu I could recognise, but after reading the menu the only thing I had learned was that frittaten means pancake in German. There were some lovely combinations on it – duck eggs, anchovies, sauerkraut and a main course. But oh dear – the prices! Still, I thought, this place is new and I could finally sate my Austrian desires here so I may as well spend a bit extra. I figured I would go for the top of the list – a wiener schnitzel (thinking if that was what the place was called, they would do it well). And fries. And a coke (perhaps I should have also gone for spritz, but by this point my sense of adventure was leaving me). And while I waited I thought of the heritage of wiener (veal), how it will be deliciously flavoursome and, uninterrupted by that pesky muscle building process of living and walking about, how tender it would be.
My coke was delivered nicely in a bottle, with ice cubes, a glass and some lemon.
Then my fries arrived in an enamel bowl and the schnitzel was presented to me with a flourish on an enamel plate. I like enamel. It is, dare I say, functional. But it is also everywhere at the moment, usually being served by someone who has a stylishly trimmed beard and skinny jeans.
And I have to say the lump of breadcrumbed meat sat there in a way that didn’t entice me, more said “Yeah? What?” and then steamed at me. Confrontation – I see how this is going, my schnitzel friend. I wasted no time in doing some damage to this lump of meat with my knife and fork, expecting it to yield and surrender its delicious wienerness to me.
But it didn’t. It was resolute in defiance like Francis II, the Doppelkaiser against Napoleon, and the schnitzel fought back, all the while steaming at me. I finally won a corner of the territory from it and put it in my mouth, which was burned by the heat of this very chewy bit of meat that tasted of breadcrumbs and not much else. Slightly scorched, I retired to the mess tent to douse the flames in my mouth with a cold coke and ruminate with a fry or two. And they were bland. I added Heinz ketchup and Hellman's mayonnaise. And squeezed the lemon for good measure.
I regrouped and attacked again before giving up. There was nothing to be won in this battle. For a bit more flavour, I asked the waiter for a duck egg to put on top, fresh from the frying pan, before the second offensive. And I succeeded only in reducing the lump of breadcrumby meat and in burning my mouth again, this time with the duck egg. I can't blame the duck egg for that, and it was a nicely fried egg. I soldiered on and worked my through it all, chipping away until I had finished the meat and felt a bit sick after a meal that was greasy and chewy. And lacking in flavour (except for the ketchup and mayonnaise)
Sorry guys - I read the story of your genesis online, and it is heart warming, but your food was expensive and bland. I am sure it can be done well, but to date my experiences leave me to think there is a reason the Austrian menu hasn't made its presence felt in the UK (my surreal experience of Bodo’s Schloss a few weeks later reinforced this view) - Austrian food lacks fizz, or spritz if you will. Judging by the crowds in there as I walk past these days, perhaps it was just an unfortunate starting period, but it will take me a while (and possibly a second mortgage) before I come back to try Boopshi’s Schnitzel and Spritz.
Time out - 50 mins
Change from a tenner - no way
Taste - 4
Were you happy after your lunch - nein