Reviewing Boopshi’s, Fitzrovia’s newly launched Austrian restaurant, is a rather interesting experience. I’m no stranger to the need to control my writer’s voice, always on the verge of flooding with incomplete thoughts and fleeting impressions, but commanding three different voices, all speaking from different days and ages, is quite another story.
There’s the ravenous child, grown close to the Austrian-Italian border, with a soft spot for wiener schnitzel and fries. There’s the nineteen-year-old university student, once a teetotal, forever converted to boisterous happy hours and free-flowing Aperol spritz on her very first week in Padova. And then, last but not least, comes my current self: hungry, wistful, and fatally attracted by a menu that spans a lifetime’s memories. When it comes to triggering nostalgia, the mention of schnitzel and spritz is only second to the smell of freshly cooked pizza mixed with cigarette smoke, lingering in my family’s go-to pizzeria, and still stubbornly clinging to my clothes for hours after dinner.
Boopshi’s, brainchild of brothers Ed and Ben Robson, cleverly challenges many well-known Austrian restaurant clichés. Think tiroler huts packed with creepy novelty, rowdy German-speaking lads downing litres of beer, heavy skiing boots dripping water on wooden floors – and then forget them. This is Central London, home of the slick and stylish; it’s only reasonable that Boopshi’s upper floor stands out for its white walls and long communal tables, perfectly suited to a relaxed dinner with friends, and for its dim-lit basement, home of an impressive cocktail bar.
“Cocktail” is the word to remember. Boopshi’s is no exception to the norm of London bars, promoting and pricing spritz as a cocktail, rather than the cheap and cheerful drink it’s supposed to be. If spritz reminds you of the traditional Italian aperitivo, served with complimentary canapés and priced at a 2.50 euros a glass, you may be in for a let-down (unlikely to last long, given Boopshi’s success on all other counts, but a let-down nonetheless).
Forgive the quibbles of my penniless student voice, though, and let the little girl’s enthusiasm burst. Rewind eighteen years, conjure up my eight-year-old self: already prone to choose hearty over healthy, spurred by an obliging father who encouraged me to go for seconds of anything and everything. A staple of my Northern Italian childhood, my first schnitzels came right from the grown-ups’ menu, always with plentiful sides of fries. I took immense pride in polishing off every single crumb on those plates.
It was the Wiener way or the highway; no chicken or pork cutlet could beat the satisfaction of tucking into a thin, perfectly crumbed veal schnitzel. Boopshi’s brought back that same state of bliss, with a gigantic wiener schnitzel I can only describe as heaven on a plate: crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, accompanied by a bowl of lavishly salted skinny fries (what other UK restaurant bothers to season fries, you may ask, and the answer may well be “none”). My equivalent to Proust’s madeleines, taking me back to a time when life was beautiful; even when it wasn’t, a deep-fried wiener schnitzel was all it took to right its wrongs.
If you’re familiar with Austrian cuisine, you’ll be delighted to see that the dessert list sounds as authentic as the main menu (and pleased to explain your tablemates what kaiserschmarren is, while they keep stammering and struggling to pronounce it). My partner went for Sachertorte, which could have done, he argues, with a thicker texture. I had a slice of warm apple strudel, enhanced by a layer of buttery pastry and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side: a more than appropriate way to end a glorious meal in style.
Prices were the only slightly sour note in an otherwise superlative feast. A schnitzel, a side, dessert and a drink quickly add up to £30 per head; enough for the former broke student, turned broke office worker, to relinquish all hopes of feasting more often. It is true that the other main courses are easier on the bank – but who needs Tyrolean goat’s cheese when there’s wiener schnitzel?
Upon leaving Boopshi’s, I felt I just had my meal of the year. Two weeks later, this impression is still vivid, and so is my burning desire to return. My inner child is impatient to go for seconds, despite my prudent, provident side urging me to keep an eye on my finances. The twenty-six year-old glutton knows full well who to listen to, and you should take that advice, too.
31 Windmill Street
London, W1T 2JN
(nearest tube stations: Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road)
Open 12 – 11pm Monday to Saturday, 12 – 10.30pm on Sundays