If I had to draw parallels, Cafe Sperl would be the more opulent, Viennese equivalent of a traditional Hainanese kopitiam. A kind looking man seated at the counter with the cash register looks up from his ledger to greet you as you walk in, cakes and pastries are laid out by the counter, not in glistening display cases but atop simple trays - you get a sense that nothing much has changed for decades.
Gumpendorfer Straße 11
1060 Vienna, Austria
Like it says on the menu, the cafe has been around since 1880 - it's one of those places with a colourful past and some reminders of the grandeur of days gone by can still be seen in the chandeliers and marble-topped tables. We skipped over to the cafe after lunch at a nearby restaurant, just to put a picture to the cafe that we'd heard so much about since we got to Vienna.
The sachertorte was one of the first things that caught my eye as we settled down in our plush booth (which was conveniently located right by all the cakes and pastries). We had quickly come to recognise the sachertorte as one of the most iconic cakes in Vienna and were eager to sample Cafe Sperl's version of the chocolate sponge and apricot jam concoction. I hadn't been impressed with the slice that we had in Aida and was a little perplexed as to why the cake was such a favourite. Thank goodness for Cafe Sperl - the contrast between the slight tartness of the apricot jam with the bitter-sweetness of the chocolate sponge was much clearly highlighted in Sperl's softer, moister version of the sachertorte.
While I missed out on giving the sachertorte and both Cafe Demel and the posh Hotel Sacher a go, I'd say that at least I came away from Cafe Sperl with a better understanding of what it was all about.
A slice of peach tart, in all its shiny glory. I love a good tart - one where the base isn't undercooked and where there's a good topping to pastry ratio. While it may not look as gorgeous as those one can find at a French patisserie, this had all the indicators of a satisfying tart.
Let me tell you this - it's really not easy having to sit right by a tray that looks like this and not want to reach over for second and third helpings.
This was a recommendation by the proprietor - the special of the day, a brownie-like dessert made out of chocolate and nuts. Tasting very much like a homemade treat, this turned out to be the favourite at the table.
There's a novelty that comes with digging into cake at a place which has been part of the city for as long as it has, a place that has survived World Wars and still stands as a part of the city's rich history. If you're expecting excellent service, the place will disappoint but I suppose very much like our traditional Hainanese kopitiams, we go not for the service but for a taste of our childhoods. A tip, though, if you're heading to the cafe for the first time - do not get off at Gumpendorfer Station. We found out the hard way that Gumpendorfer Street is immensely long and the station is situated about 100 doors away from the cafe. A better option would be to get off at Museumquarter.
Coffee is good, the cakes and pastries are lovely and really, one doesn't get to dine in a 131-year old cafe very often.