Hiding in the retro setting of the Hotel am Brillantengrund lies some of the best Pinoy (Filipino) vegan food being cooked up this side of the equator.
“Some days I sit in the restaurant and look down and see all kinds of shoes – all kinds of people turn up here.”
We could finish the article at these words from Marvin, “the driver” of the Brillantengrund Hotel project. He, and the hotel, represent this new kind of creative business/space which is difficult to define. It is not just a hotel, just as its restaurant is not just a hotel restaurant. We’ll get to that in a second, but to understand this unique, canary yellow, retro upholstered spot in Vienna run by a Fillipino family, we need to first mention the thought behind the place.
Marvin’s talent is the same of a wedding photographer: a wedding photographer has to organise a large family of a couple of hundred people into one photograph. Marvin organises hundreds of different kinds of people into one space – the hotel – and makes them all feel like they’re part of the family, and that they are meant to be part of the photo.
Marvin tells me after rattling off a raft of stories that have already taken place in the hotel.
“And it all comes about from one simple idea – if you bring a bunch of different creative people together, good things happen.”
Good things are certainly happening in the kitchen hidden behind the retro bar of the restaurant by Marvin’s mum, whose cooking career began in a town not far from the Philippine capital city Manila at the age of 17.
“Mum was cooking in a canteen owned by her dad and made quite the name for herself as a cook,” Marvin explains.
And now, she’s making a name for the Brillantengrund as the place to go for vegan, gluten-free, Pinoy food, within a hotel that looks very traditionally Austrian. One already gets a kick out of the stark contrast and quirkiness of it all.
I tell Marvin that I’m surprised that they didn’t go with the Filipino angle as the restaurant’s claim to fame, considering how rare (if, not non-existent) a Filipino restaurant is in Vienna. But it’s not only Filipino cuisine that they specialise in; their vegan street cred is spreading.
I understand why when digging into the vegan Bistek (a Filipino version of steak typically made with beef). While there is the choice to have beef as your Bistek, I choose the vegetarian substitute with seitan (a high-protein vegetarian food made out of wheat gluten). Strange texture but incredibly tasty with the game changer of the lemon/soy marinade.
“She has this talent of making amazing flavour out of nothing and that’s why my vegan mates love it as they are tired of the boring, bland dishes a lot of places are serving up.”
While Marvin may be biased, I am not when I confirm how creative and flavoursome the vegan dishes coming out of the Brilli kitchen are. It makes me want to ask him if his mum would consider adopting me.
There’s plenty of tofu in the menu, while most dishes also offer the meat variation, from the beloved sour and spiced dish amongst Filipino’s Adobo to a couple of wok and noodle dishes, and the popular Filipino-style Siopao burger. While there’s also a couple of mama’s seafood-based specialties for good measure.
Meanwhile, the dark wood panel ceiling, the loping lamps hanging over the middle-aged dining room chairs and tables provoke a craving for a cigar and whiskey, while the setting is distinctly intimate and social and similar to a family’s dining room. It all combines to give off an aura of that of a 80s rockstar who’s come out on the other side of a mid-life crisis, born-again as a family man. Needless to say, the place has accent, character.
“We don’t try to look vintage or retro here, most of the furniture was here when we arrived and bought the place, but the old furniture does add personality to it all.”
To quench the thirst, don’t go past the homemade juices or teas, such as Yo Mama Juice made up of lemon, honey, lemongrass and curcuma. Like everything else in the place, they also have a story behind them.
Alongside the super juices and teas are their alcoholic equivalent, like the Yo Mama vodka.
Oh yes, and the shoes in attendance while we’re there: three pairs of black polished shoes, two pairs of sneaker, a pair of loafers and a pair of pointy cowboy boots (ok, maybe we threw this one in to prove a point).