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Belly of the Beast The beast, it must be a gourmet

Wednesday, June 15 2022
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Wednesday to Saturday from 6:00pm

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Belly of the Beast

Wasagasse 28
1090 Vienna-district 9
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+43 664 4134822
.www.bellyofthebeast.at

How would she describe her style of cooking? Melanie Mudenda laughs: "Simply delicious." "Some people expect us to have African food," says her brother Marvin, chef at Belly of the Beast. Sure, he says, some of the dishes are inspired by their native Zimbabwe, the pickled beef tartare, which tastes a bit like childhood to him, or specific ingredients, like gem squash and cassava.

Basically, though, he just cooks whatever he feels like. He bakes injera, the ubiquitous sourdough flatbread in Ethiopia, with local rye flour and fills cappelletti pasta with tender braised chicken - a combination many Italians would probably condemn him for, he says with a laugh.

"We love good food, and that's what this is supposed to be about." We are the three Mudenda siblings: Marvin in the kitchen, sister Melanie, who looks after the guests' well-being, and brother Marcel, who is the sommelier for the drinkable delights. His wife Lisa is responsible for the organisational side of things, and the fact that sous-chef Markus has "meanwhile been adopted" makes the farm-to-table restaurant Belly of the Beast an actual family project.

Team Belly of the Beast Wien
Marvin Belly of the Beast Wien
Belly of the Beast Wien (3)
Belly of the Beast Wien (2)

The culinary principle - "I don't want to be squeezed into a box" - is also reflected in the ambience: colourfully printed aprons and large-format black-and-white photos of zebras, giraffes and lions are reminiscent of the siblings' homeland (they grew up in Zimbabwe and moved to Vienna in their early 20s), the chairs were taken over from the previous tenant's Beisl, and subtle piano music plays in the background.

The Belly of the Beast is, contrary to what you might expect from its name ("just sounded good") or logo (a gorilla head), a quiet, reserved restaurant. It's nice because you can concentrate fully on the food that the two chefs conjure up in their small kitchen at the back of the restaurant.

We start with banana bread and buttered bread - the former is the prelude to the vegan menu, which is available alongside the "omnivore" menu. Of course, there is no cake to start the menu, but juicy sourdough focaccia baked with emmer, served with cold-pressed grape seed oil. This oil tastes so intensely like banana that the name Banana Bread describes this first course wonderfully.

Like the focaccia, the rye bread, made from local forest rye, is home-baked and rather than describing how good it tasted, I'd quote my French companion: "Me and bread," he said, "that's a tough-love story. But I really like this bread." So that had to mean something!

The next course was beef tartare, not the classic raw, but pickled - in my opinion, this could be served more often. The same goes for the meat, which comes from old dairy cows that were slaughtered stress-free on the pasture. The vegan option: fennel and fava beans on small potato-camut pancakes - today, without beans, it was too cold to harvest them in the last few days.

Chef Marvin explains that season and weather determine the menu, which changes at least twelve times a year. Sometimes quite spontaneously - if the weather doesn't cooperate or if "Michi" has too much lettuce again and asks if they can't use it somehow in the Belly of the Beast.

Michi, that is Michael Kietreiber, who grows his biodynamic "greens from the field" west of Vienna. "It's important to us that we know all our people," says Marvin. So they are in constant exchange, experiment with old varieties, and plan joint events such as brunches and dinner evenings on the farms of their producers. And they change the menu when too little or too much has been harvested.

Michi's lettuce hearts are now on our plate with creamy mayo made from sunflower seeds, topped with a few wild cherries that sous-chef Markus picked early in the morning on his way to work. The chillies for the hot sauce served with the braised, sweetly spiced lamb also come from farmer Michi. An excellent contrast to the sour injera bread in which the meat is rolled. And a surprising combination - as is the tender pork belly with pickled green tomatoes ("These pickled tomatoes... Oh là là!") and the chicken-filled cappelletti.

The vegan dishes show again that vegetables and co. are in no way inferior to animal products in terms of flavour and range of taste if appropriately prepared - and with the same dedication. There are spicy sautéed oyster mushrooms (an umami bomb) on lentil salad, followed by carrots and chard "from different terroirs" - what applies to wine also applies to vegetables. By playing with consistencies and preparation methods and using all the vegetable parts (the carrot greens become creamy pesto), a simple product is transformed into a complex and flavourful dish that is one of the highlights of the evening for me.

Also on the list are the vegan sourdough pancakes with hazelnut and strawberries and the Earl Grey ice cream with the Victoria Sponge Cake. For dessert, sommelier Marcel serves us a buttery sweet wine that (like the wines before it) complements the brother's dishes beautifully: sparkling Pet Nat Rosé with bread, butter and oil or a light cuvée of Furmint and Grüner Veltliner with fatty lamb and green salad. For years Marcel worked in bars until "he drank a glass of Riesling," which sparked his love of wine.

There is a lot of heart and passion in Belly of the Beast - you can feel it not only in the wine selection but also in the unobtrusive, always friendly service and, of course, in the food. Only when something is prepared with joy can it taste good, says Marvin. The kitchen is his "happy place". Anyone who has tried his food immediately believes him.

The next culinary event will occur on 25 June at the Geyerhof winery. As part of the "Long Night of Demeter Farms", the Belly of the Beast will serve a five-course menu - accompanied by the farm's own wines. The event starts at 5 pm with a guided tour of the farm. Information on other events can be found on the restaurant's website.

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