Did you know it’s damn hard to get your hands on wild, sustainable, fresh water fish in Austria? Well Benjamin Fehringer, the passionate owner of Süsswasser, does this every week and goes out of his way to bring the best fish from mountain lakes straight to his artisan-looking eatery in Theobaldgasse. There he serves it up unpretentiously, with bread and good wine. No schnick-schnack, just fresh fish and great hospitality.
Did you also know that there are fishermen out there so obsessed with the quality of their catch, that they keep horses around just so they can throw their manure in the lake to help the plankton grow for the fishys to feed on? Well, we do after visiting Süsswasser. This has to be one of the most unpretentious places we’ve ever dined on fish.
“Süsswasser” (fresh water) reads the sign above the entrance, giving away what this curious place is all about. The word has us thinking about fish darting around in the clear waters of an Austrian lake, or stream.
As we enter the place, we feel like we’ve stepped into an Italian deli – the fridge of fish neatly arranged in a pile, the glass cabinet boasting wine and lumps of prosciutto, and the wooden shelves lined with fancy oils and pasta. We came for the fish, but we immediately know we’d be walking out with a bag full of this tasty looking treats and some Italian wines.
One of the 3 tables in the front part of the eatery is free and we sit down at the invitation of Benjamin, the owner, cook and friendly host of Süsswasser. Benjamin’s the kind of guy you’d sit down and have a beer with, and this makes the place all the more loveable. The people behind the counter are a key feature in a local corner deli, like this.
Before we even get to ask about the fish of the day, we are offered some prosciutto, bread and wine for starters. Benjamin admits that, besides fishing, his biggest passion is driving to Northern Italy and hunting for gourmet products from the local producers scattered around the mountainous region. Prosciuttos, salamis and olives – all are bought straight from the small producers Benjamin meets in the Provence of Gorizia.
As for the menu, well there’s not much of one. Things are kept simple here, with a daily fish dish being served up every day, alongwith a soup most days. Or you can be part of creating your own fish dish, by choosing the fish you’d like to be prepared from the fridge. We choose the most colourful “Bachforelle,” brown trout (like real fish connoisseurs, right? – ‘give us the colourful and pretty one!’). You can also buy fish to take away and cook at home, and the prices are incredibly fair, and below what you’d expect to pay.
Benjamin takes the chosen trout behind the counter and starts grilling while we turn to our second hors d’oeuvre of the night (we really wanted to slip in a French word here): the herring salad, with a dressing of yoghurt, cucumbers and dill, laid on a mix of salad leaves.
After the salad and while we wait, we notice people going in and out of the back room – they’re checking out the small art gallery attached. This is part of the Süsswasser concept. So, we also step into the other room, and crease up our face in confusion when trying to work out some very modern art, until Benjamin lets us know: the trout is out. (We just had an idea for our next rap song!!)
The Forelle has been prepared just how we like it: crispy on the outside, tender and flavoursome on the inside. Kept simple, served with lemon and bread, the fish clearly remains the star of the meal, and of the great concept of this rustic looking kind of place.
It’s almost 8pm and we are the last guests to leave before this fish place shuts for the night. It’s not open late so it’s more of a breakfast or lunch spot, or a deli you pop in to to grab the delectable prosciutto you now dream of, or the awesome Italian coffee (also sourced from a small producer).
What we found fascinating here is the love Benjamin had for what his little fish eatery, Süsswasser, stands for, and for the fish he frys up. This might not make any sense at first, but it does when you think about it. Few people respect the animal or fish they eat. Most don’t even think about them as living creatures, and this is what has led to mass fishing and farming. Süsswasser only sources its fish from fisherman that take small catches from areas that regulate and ensure sustainable fishing.
Süsswasser is a artisan place from the past when the person behind the counter knew the person they were selling their goods to, and put a whole lot of love and passion behind their craft.