It’s an old school display of grandeur that I could watch for hours. Zauner Café & Konditorei in the small Austrian town of Bad Ischl has everything a good royal tea and confectionary house should; wooden tables with the curvy legs (that make them look like they’re about to do a little dance), velvet backed chairs, staff with frilly black and white dresses and black and white portraits hung in rows. And just beyond a second door reveals a full dining room of elderly couples eating sandwiches with the crusts cut off followed by cream layered sponge roll and sipping Ceylon tea.
The Konditorei was founded back in 1832 in the time of the Austro-Hungarian Monastery by Johann Zauner, a man with curios eyes, a heightened quiff and a cravat. With it’s high quality an dpopularity it soon became an ‘Imperial and Royal Purveyor of the Court’(not the cravat but the cafe). The business has since then been passed down through the Zauner line to its eighth owner today, keeping the family name alive appears of utmost importance. The previous owner Hildegard went as far as legally changing her last name to Zauner while the current owner Josef wasn’t of any relation until he was adopted by Hildegard before taking over – the name all part of the credentials it seems. Seeing an obvious pattern emerging and hopeful of learning a few pastry secrets I have now changed my last name to Zauner and am awaiting the call.
But little did those frilly wait-staff know, they were serving true royalty that day, two bloody sheilas from Down-under. Although it’d be hard not to know as Mum likes to announce to all who cross her path that she’s from a far-away place they may not know called Australia and that she’s come over to visit her daughter; it’s simply astounding stuff.
We sat in a stripey seated booth in full view of the large U-shaped display counter, shelves gallantly holding up enough cakes, pastry’s, chocolates, tarts, slices and biscuits for the whole Austro-Hungarian Empire and at least 8 horses.
As is the traditional way, the coffees were delivered in a truly civilized manner. Mum sat in delight as an oval silver tray with raised, patterned edging was delivered bearing the coffees, paper wrapped Zauner sugar cubes, a small silver jug of creamed milk and two glasses of water (squeezed from the grass of royal alpine pastures). The fact that she talked about how exceptional that tablespoon of Zauner creamed milk is to anyone she thought might be interested (everyone) over the next two weeks shows just how excited she becomes over the small things. Which really is a fantastic quality as travel and adventure is full of these small moments and therefore mums ability to enjoy herself through all of it remains strong and infectious. On the flip side if she’s served a bad coffee she will rate it loudly as a C minus as the wait staff walk by. The buxom maître’d in her frilly apron was thankfully saved this exclamation as the coffee was up to your Royal Coffee Highness’ standard. Although the polite lass did get to hear that we’re from Australia and that the milk is very goodzen. I’d ordered our sweet treats up at the cake counter; one flaky almond croissant and for Mum a chocolate and caramel layered slice (which she was not overly impressed by but thankfully didn’t give an overly audible grade just yet).
Just as we got up to leave, a chef stepped in to deliver a tray of tortes. Tall and thin with chefs whites and apron to match plus a curling moustache and on top of all that, a big white puffy chef’s hat which I assume is where he hides all the pastries. It completed the picture of an ongoing show of eras past, what a treasure to have been able to indulge in.
A line of portraits hung on the far wall show the 8 previous and current owners and the long years of serving this Alpine region and its visitors. The air of royalty lingers, this was after all Franz Joseph (previous emperor of Vienna’s) favourite spot to holiday, calling Bad Ischl ‘heaven on earth’. There’s a model in the window of the old emperor sitting at his table in Zauner and it gets me thinking what it would be like to share a table with him here today. Then mum exclaims loudly about the exquisite nature of the bathroom she’s just returned from and that she’s from Australia and that the cake receives a D+ grading… sorry Josef but that’s our cue to leave.
Out into the chilly air with my favourite court jester by my side.