Sometimes A Schnitzel Is More Than Just A Schnitzel: Essen Restaurant And The Schnitzilla Challenge


There are many people who say there’s a time and place for fried food. And there’s the rest of us who exclaim “anytime and anyplace!”. For those in the latter category, a trip to Essen, a restaurant specialising in northern European cuisine, is a must. It’s located on Broadway close to Sydney’s CBD.

My love of this kind of food started in the early 1970s with regular visits to Una’s in Kings Cross. Una’s has always been dependable; great breakfasts and especially great schnitzels including the jaeger schnitzel (with mushroom sauce). When original owner Maggie sold out (and later opened a namesake operation just across from the El Alamein Fountain), the new owners branched out with a couple of satellite Una’s. One was on Broadway, sandwiched between the University of Sydney and UTS. That was seven years ago; a couple of years later, the partnership that took over Una’s split and this branch became Essen.

It’s been as dependable as the original Una’s; great jaeger schnitzel (in a choice of pork, veal or chicken) and superb slow-roasted pork knuckle with bread dumpling and sauerkraut. Essen is also notable for its excellent beers and ciders including a malty dark Dreher Bak beer from Budapest (a brewery better known for its export Pilsner Urquell). Essen on Broadway is especially good for those of us for whom Kings Cross has lost its charm.

The Contenders Await The Challenge

As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that Essen’s schnitzels are comparable to my all-time favourite, the legendary Figlmüller in Vienna, Austria. It’s here that the humble wiener schnitzel has been elevated to an art form. Figlmüller opened on Wollzeile, a short walk from St Stephen’s Cathedral, in 1905. I’d often reflect on the famous (and infamous) personalities who may have found their fried version of heaven within these walls – Freud (who undoubtedly would have suggested that a schnitzel is sometimes just a schnitzel); an unsuccessful painter of watercolours who just missed out on being named Schicklgruber; and Orson Welles, legendary lover of food in prodigious amounts who filmed The Third Man in the streets nearby

Figlmüller’s claim to eternal fame lies in a single piece of pork tenderloin, pounded into wafer-thin submission, crumbed and fried. At around 30cm in diameter, it smothers the plate on which it is served. It was always the first place I’d eat whenever I arrived in Vienna and the memories stay with me today.

When it comes to food, as with so many things, I claim observance to Dirty Harry’s creed that “a man’s just gotta know his limitations” and so it was at a recent media launch for Essen’s Schnitzilla challenge. I was on hand to watch a bunch of overly-ambitious journalists and media types attempt something no-one else had been able to achieve – defeating a man-made mountain of schnitzel.

Disbelief Sets In

The Schnitzilla is Essen’s newest menu item. Inspired by the Man v. Food television program, it encompasses a 3.5kg platter of chicken schnitzel, side dishes such as roesti and cabbage salad, and jaeger sauce. The idea is that if the dish is consumed within 45 minutes, the diner gets a limited-edition “I Got Schnit-Faced At Essen” T-shirt (presumably Size XXXL).

In the first month of the Schnitzilla, 70 diners tried but none reached the goal; the best performance was leaving 1.2kg. They get to take the leftovers home, where they will undoubtedly be recreating their challenge for the next few days.

There were more than enough contenders at the media launch. They took their places, their optimism as bright and eager as little bunny rabbits. But the Schnitzilla was the headlights on the highway. All were flattened by the juggernaut of fried meat. The best performing diner left 1.39kg.

Craig Donarski At Battle Stations

Human nature is such that we always believe we can conquer the impossible, tackling Everest or visiting Ikea on weekends being the most notable examples. So the Schnitzilla will continue to seduce thrill-seekers but it appears unlikely any will ever succeed.

On the other hand, the Schnitzilla –  at $49 – can be seen as outstanding value. It roughly equates to about four or five servings so do your best but don’t overdo it; the leftovers will feed a large family or 27 Russian supermodels.

Essen

133-135 Broadway

Ultimo, NSW, Australia

Tel: 612 9211 3805

The Schnitzel Will Always Win

Words and photos © David Latta

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From Temple to Tiramisu


OK, so I’m old-fashioned but I’ve never been able to call it Ho Chi Minh City. It’ll always be Saigon for me. On my first visit some years back, a friend promised something special. The streets are crammed with bicycles, he told me, ridden by straight-backed young ladies wearing ao dai, coasting through the traffic so serene and beautiful.

It turned out it’d been some time since his last visit. The bicycles have long-since been replaced by motorcycles that often accommodate entire families, the ao dai swept away by knock-off Calvin Klein jeans and spangly T-shirts.

Saigon now resembles just about every other emerging Asian city; it has an in-your-face precocity and it’s far from being beautiful. The kindest thing that can be said about Saigon is it has energy and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Once visitors have had their fill of temples and Vietnam War (or the American War, as the locals call it) attractions, there are some surprises to be had. And, once the palate has red-lined on Vietnamese food, a journey back into the country’s recent past can be entirely satisfying.

The Augustin Restaurant is as close as you’ll get to a traditional Parisian bistro in this part of the world. For nearly two decades, a local chef has been serving up classic French dishes at ridiculously low prices. Located in a short laneway known as Nguyen Thiep, linking the major streets of Dong Khoi and Nguyen Hue, it is a short walk from the flamboyant French-inspired architecture of the Saigon Opera House and such hotels as the Rex, Caravelle and Continental.

A heavenly duck confit (costing just 170,000 dong, about $AU10.00), partnered with an indulgent little Bordeaux (75,000 dong per glass), made me realize that while the Vietnamese fought long and hard to rid themselves of their French colonial oppressors, they haven’t entirely turned their backs on things Gallic.

This is even more apparent just across Nguyen Thiep. The Brodard Bakery has been operating since 1948 and offers up an outstanding pain au chocolat. Other notable treats are tiramisu and coconut ice cream.

Next door to Brodard is My Way Deco. This upmarket interior design shop spins a wickedly Art Deco influence to such items as tea caddies, humidors, jewellery boxes and photo frames. Designed by a French expat, My Way also produces an Agousti-inspired collection with imitation exotic skins such as stingray.

An aspect of negotiating Saigon that may be confronting for first-time visitors is the fearsome traffic. The walls of wheels can be unsettling, amplified a thousand-fold by the metal mosquito drone of a thousand tinny engines. There rarely seems to be a break in the traffic. To cross the street requires a steely determination and the calm of a Buddhist priest. Step from the curb and take your time. Move slowly and steadily and the traffic flows like magic around you. It’s an acquired skill but an essential one.

That way, you’ll not only be comfortable exploring the city but may also find a few local delights along the way.

Words and photos © David Latta