Sunday, 10 May 2015

Dinner at the Art History Museum, Vienna

The exterior of Vienna's Art History (or Kunsthistorisches) Museum looks like this:


Impressive, isn't it? Vienna is full of such relics of its imperial past. A century ago the city was the hub of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and into imperial capitals flow riches which can be spent on grand edifices evoking both culture and power. 

Think of London, Paris, Berlin or Rome, each with imposing remnants of empire.

Vienna has more than most, partly because of the Ringstrasse (Ring Road) which replaced the old city walls from 1865 - in fact it's celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Once the walls were cleared, a series of opulent buildings could be constructed along its length.

So there's plenty of magnificent places to visit. The reason I was drawn to the Art History Museum on a Thursday night was its regular gourmet evening. Each Thursday the museum serves dinner on its first floor, in an area beneath its dome which usually serves as a daytime cafe.

This is what the space looked like as I arrived:



This was my table:


And this was what I saw as I looked up:


It was an atmospheric space in which to sit, and I could happily have spent hours there. But that wasn't the idea.

Our first course was a selection of dishes, laid out buffet-style on tables around the edge of the seating. I ate a few items, including an inevitable asparagus soup (it's asparagus season in Central Europe, something the locals go dotty about). 

I could order my main course any time I liked, and this was the beauty of the concept. You could eat a little, then wander off to explore the art in the adjacent galleries, before returning to eat some more.

So I meandered through some galleries featuring the work of Rubens and Brueghel:


I particularly liked a Brueghel depiction of the Tower of Babel, a mighty layered structure like a crazed wedding cake, towering above a small sea port at its base.

Another asset I appreciated were the sofas placed regularly through the museum, allowing one to sit and contemplate a large work in comfort.

The architecture was, of course, an artwork in itself. No neutral white boxes for art museum designers back in the 19th century, it seems:


It was a great way to experience great art. Having dinner available, but in a casual format that allowed me to wander off, felt both stimulating and liberating. I'd love to do it again, next time I'm in Vienna.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum's gourmet evenings cost €44 per person; read more and make bookings here.

Disclosure: On this trip I was hosted by the Austrian National Tourist Office.