Photo by Lorraine Seal
When out-of-town guests visit us in Salzburg, we’re torn between two of our favourite restaurants for the all-important first-night-in-Salzburg dinner. Both restaurants are in the Altstadt, both are relatively reasonable for a nice meal—that’s not to say cheap but good value for money in a pleasant atmosphere—and both have settings that add something very special to the occasion.
On the evening I first arrived in Salzburg—my introduction to my new home town—my husband and I were the guests of his boss for dinner in Stiftskeller St Peter, which claims to be the oldest restaurant north of the Alps. It was a Sunday night in February, already dark when we alighted from the bus from our hotel. We wound our way through quiet alleys, past lit shop windows glittering with colourful fabrics, jewels, porcelains and silver. We passed statues mysterious in the dark, for in winter, Salzburg’s sculptures are protected behind wooden and plastic cases. Overhead, the illuminated Festung—the great castle on the hilltop—looked down on us, its many nooks and corners, towers and bastions giving it a character like a wise old man’s face.
At last, after a few detours into small lanes and the wrong platzes, we passed under the arch that leads to courtyard of the Benedictine abbey church, St. Peters, and found in a remote corner the doorway to its ancient restaurant. On this cold winter’s evening, Stiftskeller St Peter was charming and romantic, a terrific introduction to the city.
Since 803—for over eleven hundred years—this inn has been providing meals to visitors to Salzburg. Its many rooms are cosy, wood panelled, with low beamed ceilings and brick arches. Waiters are helpful and welcoming. The menu offers hearty, traditional fare with an emphasis on Austrian favourites, including game and fowl. One of my favourites, which I recommend to beef-eaters, is Tafelspitz. This is beef that’s been broth-braised to exquisite tenderness, served with creamed spinach, horseradish sauce and vegetables from the broth. It’s as homey a meal as one could wish. I also recommend ordering the herb-flavoured spreads with bread while you’re waiting for your meal.
Up the cellar’s broad stone steps are a series of dining rooms, including a large one where there are regular dinner-concerts of Mozart’s music, with the performers in period dress. Reservations are recommended but not essential. Any of the many dining rooms are comfortable and welcoming.
Though M32, our other top choice for visiting friends and family, is just a few hundred metres from St Peters, its age and altitude make it a complete change of pace. Located on the top floor of the Museum of Modern Art at the very edge of Mönchsberg, M32 overlooks the city. From its terrace or its glass-fronted dining room, diners have terrific views of the river and Salzburg’s splendid architecture, with tree-covered Kapuzinerberg and Gaisberg framing the view. Its style is as dramatically modern as St Peter’s is traditional, but it is no less comfortable or welcoming. The traditional menu is very much influenced by Continental and Mediterranean flavours. The soups, which change seasonally, are wonderful, bold and subtle all at once.
To reach M32, take the Mönchsbergaufzug from street level on Gstättengasse. You will have to purchase a ticket for the elevator (free with the Salzburg card) and ride it to the top. The views, as well as the dining, will make the trip memorable.