17-19 Roberta Ave, Glendowie
Ph: (09) 575 1167
Verdict: Not German. Austrian.
In the old joke about heaven being the place where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German and the chefs Italian, hell is defined as the place where the lovers are German and the chefs British.
It seems to me that's the wrong way round: I've had some damn fine meals in Britain but I don't think it's unfair to say that you can get the measure of German food in a day or two. And they wouldn't be your best days.
Now, I know that the food at Restaurant Konditorei Carinthia is Austrian, not German. Owner-chef Valentin Illavnia named the place after the southernmost state of Austria, on the border with Slovenia with which it has a long-simmering frontier dispute.
But at the risk of attracting a torrent of complaints from expatriate Austrians, I am going to stick my neck out here and say that the distinction between Austrian and German cuisine is a very fine one indeed: think the difference between English and Scottish, rather than between the poles-apart north and south Indian.
In the unlikely setting of a small block of shops in deepest Glendowie, Carinthia is half Konditorei (cake shop) and half small bistro and serves food whose most notable characteristic is its quantity. The Wiener schnitzel, for example, which came with a sinus-achingly cold potato salad, comprised two slices each of about A5-paper size. I bagged up one to take home but left it behind, and by the time I reached the edge of the pavement outside, decided it was too far to go back, if you know what I mean.
The schnitzel (in two dozen variations, including beef olives and cordon bleu) is of pork, beef, chicken and turkey. Illavnia said that to use veal would be "a waste of a good animal", which is a bit like saying that an omelette is a waste of a good egg. In Austria, it's illegal to call a dish Wiener schnitzel if it's not veal, so it's a shame he doesn't offer the authentic version here.
I learned all this when I made my order for the iconic Austrian dish and Valentin barked "which meat?" I don't think "barked" is too strong a word here; online reviews paint a picture of a man almost conscientiously abrupt and he certainly gave the impression of someone who thought we could do a much better job of being customers than we were doing.
You probably need to be very efficient if you wait tables and cook at the same time, as he does. But it can be a bit off-putting. My mate Andrew, scanning the list of beers, made the mistake of saying aloud that he fancied a wheat beer: our host snatched the list from his hand, told him what he would be drinking and swept off.
The food here can't be called meat and potatoes because you get red cabbage with it and you can have spatzle, the German equivalent of pasta. The distinctive mains include pork chop, pork belly and pork roast, there are more schnitzels than you can schake a schtick at.
There is soup. There are sausages. And there's the Carinthian Surprise, which is not much of a surprise, really, since it consists of a bit of almost everything on the menu.
You will have gathered that this is a place for meat-eaters, and it is. A section dedicated to "vegetarisch" dishes -- crumbed mushroom, crumbed cheese, noodles with cheese -- made me feel like crying. Andrew, who had just enjoyed a starter of Hungarian-style smoked venison sausage, went for a pork roast finished with cider because Valentin said it had just come out of the oven. He was precisely as impressed as he expected to be, and the two dishes delivered what he called a recommended lifetime intake of sauerkraut, although it was nice sauerkraut if you like sauerkraut. My meatloaf looked like rissoles.
Dessert at Carinthia consists of choices from the cabinets of what is by day a Konditorei (cake shop). We were taken with Sachertorte and cheesecake which were, I don't doubt, the state of the art. I was sorry the Professor was not there to tell me how good they were. But when I said the price of a German cake (which she loves) was a German meal (which she doesn't), she passed. "Austrian," I said. She wasn't fooled.