Last night I went the opening night of a new bar in Kensington. Not my usual habit, but this was a place I was itching to see.
This was Bodo’s Schloss, decked out, I had read, like an Austrian ski lodge, complete with dirndl- and lederhosen-clad staff and a telecabin as a DJ booth. Now, I’m a bit of a veteran of the real thing, so I wanted to check it out.
Bodo’s Schloss (nothing to do with that king of mountain-euro-pop DJ Bobo) is in the basement of the Royal Garden Hotel, replacing a casino.
According to online reports such as this one, the people behind it – Piers Adam and Nick House – also masterminded Mahiki, Whisky Mist and the Punch Bowl, none of which I know but all of which probably sound rather cooler to most people.
At 7.15pm there was no queue at the street-level entrance to the right of the main hotel (it’s free to get in till 10pm; thereafter £15), where smiley female staff are stationed, wearing fur coats over their dirndls.
The reception area (coats £1 per item) has a knockout pine aroma, a film of a button lift in action keenitely slotted behind a window frame and a line of skis from circa 1970.
In we went, down a few steps (with railings made of wagon wheels), and pulled up a fur-seated stool at the bar.
Over a glass of Petra Unger Q Gruner Veltliner (£6.90 for a 175ml glass; the cheapest white is a Spanish viura/chardonnay at £4.20 a glass/£17 a bottle), we surveyed the scene.
A big effort has gone into decor. A waiter told us most of it comes from Austria, and I believe it.
There are sledges on the walls; light fittings made of antlers; wood, wood, everywhere; two fireplaces stacked with logs; a chamois head; giant cow bells overhanging the bar; cosy lighting; an ibex sculpture; chairs with backs in the shape of deer-heads, and rustic boards on wrought-iron wall-fittings to indicate table reservations.
The ‘Toiletten’ are marked with jaunty Austrian writing, their walls painted with names, funnily enough, of two of my favourite ski resorts, Obergurgl and Soelden.
There’s a poem on another wall that I could half-translate, and, bafflingly, another name, ‘Innsburg’. Did they mean Innsbruck?
Most tables were taken by couples, chattering groups of 20 to 30somethings and a few parties of older blokes trying not to stare at the blonde, plait-haired waitresses in checked dirndls or short-ish lederhosen – definitely the Austrian variety, rather than Swiss traditional dress.
Ninety per cent of the waitresses, the friendly Hungarian barman told us, are Swedish, and though he didn’t think there was anyone from the Alps front-of-house, the head chef, Franz, is Austrian.
I was impressed that, as I’ve seen in Austria, the barmen wear shirts (some with braces, some with hats, too) while the managers wear a jacket (again, decidedly Austrian, rather than Swiss).
Behind the bar are steins (litre glasses for beer), china ski boots (fill it with a rum cocktail for £100 to share between up to eight) and a decent array of schnapps.
‘Winter season’ cocktails (from £8.50) are named after ski runs (not all in Austria): Lauberhorn, Vallee Blanche, Hahnenkamm, Harakiri, Madloch and Corbet’s Couloir. ‘House’ cocktails include the St Bernard, which contains Mozart liqueur.
Draught beer (£2.80) is Stiegl or Schremser, Austrian brands, and Erdinger Dunkel, that tasty German ski-slope staple, comes in bottles. Plenty of Austrian wines are in the mix, towards the pricier end. And tap water, unlike in many places in Austria, is free.
The most extravagant drink is the ice castle (£5,000), which I gather is a limitless supply of the bar’s signature cocktail (including Ciroc vodka, passionfruit, creme de peche and Dom P), served in some sort of ice vessel – which hasn’t arrived yet, so it’s not available for the moment.
You can download a copy of the drinks menus here.
When a table became free we glanced through the food menu.
It’s so full of things you’d find up a mountain that it felt odd not to have to ‘translate’ the prices. Sauerkraut £4.50; goulasch soup £5.50; spaetzle £3; Wiener schnitzel with potato and cucumber salad £16.50 (the priciest dish). So would the proof be in the, er, dumpling?
It turned out it was. Spinach dumpling with grated cheese (£7.50), served in a very new-looking cast-iron pan, was as meltingly satisfying as the last one I had, in the Hohe Mut restaurant in Obergurgl.
Classic salad with chicken strips (£9) was good, too, and generous on the toasted pumpkin seeds. Apple strudel (£5), which I requested without custard but with ice-cream (for which they charged an extra £1), had the requisite sultanas and melt-in-the-mouth apple, though the pastry was a bit tough. Overall, nicht schlecht!
There was a bonus to come, when, at 9.30pm, everyone in the place was presented with a schnapps – a decent-sized one, and not the throat-searing, petrol-fumed variety but something quite smooth.
A bell rang, we all sipped or downed, and out of the kitchen marched a five-piece band, playing “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemuetlichkeit” – which was brilliant until it segued into YMCA.
By now it was standing-room only, Bodo’s Schloss was segueing from apres-ski to nightclub, and after a second free schnapps it was time to pay the bill (£57.62 for four glasses of wine, three plates of food and a 15pc service charge) and step out into the October night for a Boris bike ride to Waterloo and a train home.
I’ll be back, and now I know it’s properly Alpine, with the trappings and trimmings, I’ll dig out one of my dirndls for the occasion.
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