What is the best way to test a vegan restaurant? Send a devout carnivore over to the weekend brunch spread. That’s what we did when we sent our Michael over to Harvest Bistrot at Karmeliterplatz.
Sneaking in just before opening time at ten on a sunny Saturday morning, we find the staff making the last preparations. All tables are reserved, most of them double booked over the course of the brunch.
The owner, Marcus, escorts us to our table and tells us about how the bistrot came about, about four and a half years ago. “The opening was a bit of an accident. A radiator leak meant we opened on 12-12-12 at noon. I wanted to open the coffeehouse earlier, but I ended up scrubbing the floor for a week first. Then, when we opened, one of our first customers remarked on the date, and I hadn’t even realized it yet!”
Marcus stresses Harvest is not a restaurant, but a coffeehouse. When opening, he missed a place in Vienna where you could have meat-free (Harvest started as a vegetarian restaurant) and non-smoking breakfast. Later, they evolved to go completely vegan. By now, the seats in the restaurant are filling up fast, and it’s only 10:15. People are flocking to the brunch buffet, which looks inviting, even from a distance. The cheerful staff is making sure everybody has their cup of coffee or smoothie in time.
Looking around, we like the haphazard way Harvest is furnished. No seat or table is the same, and there are dozens of old-school posters on the walls. The high ceilings, complete with ceiling fans, give Harvest a somewhat colonial vibe. It works, and we felt at ease from the moment we stepped inside. The large chalkboards scattered around the interior further emphasize the homey, authentic feel of Harvest. Furthermore, it’s great to see they’re sourcing all their products locally.
Listening to Marcus, you can tell he really cares about the food he serves. He describes his food as ‘slow-cooked, fast-served,’ staying in the tradition of the original Russian meaning of the word bistrot. The food is heavily influenced by his background as a chef, a significant amount of Italian- and Greek-themed dishes making up the menu.
Half an hour later, our bellies are rumbling in protest. Time to hit the buffet! All but a few tables are now occupied, and there’s a small queue forming. The selection is generous, with a fantastic coconut-based red beet soup an excellent starter. We needed to be careful not to overfill our plates because there’s too much to try.
Apart from a large selection of assorted hummus, salads, and freshly baked bread, there’s a good choice of hot dishes. We especially enjoyed the curry and burritos. We weren’t alone, as the chefs were constantly restocking the buffet. Make sure you reserve room for dessert as well. The strudel with chocolate pudding, strawberry jam and, of course, vanilla sauce is to die for.
Before we leave, Marcus tells us about his new concept; vegan tapas. They’re currently in their last phase of testing, and he expects to have them on the menu from mid-April. With their outdoor seating grabbing a good share of sun from lunchtime onwards, this sounds like an excellent option to go with their regional wines and beers.
Even if you’re not a devout vegan, the food at Harvest Bistrot had this reviewer rambling on for a few days after. Mike’s suggested going over for the tapas soon as well.