Two weeks before Christmas, Demel is a madhouse. At five in the afternoon, the waitresses cut through the swaying shoals of tourists like sharks on a mission. The customers barely take heed though, transfixed as they are by so much towering confectionery. Demel’s is easily the city’s most picturesque Café-Konditerei with fittings that date back to the late 1800s. Admittedly, the design is just about as chaotic as the crowd with a confusion of styles that comes with a century of decorative accretions. The latest change came in 2002 when DO & CO the catering corporation that bought the storied confectioner added an open kitchen to the mix. Here, the curious can ogle the Sacher-Tortes being iced and chocolates receiving their final flourishes. I am of two minds about this. I love seeing the meticulous workers carrying out their métier, but it does turn the café into an even more Disneyesque production that it already is.
All the same, the cakes look damn good—not merely the tortes but also the strudels, tarts, and other more homey confections. I stick to the cakes though, ordering a slice of Maroni-Torte, a four layer affair of chocolate and chestnut cream robed in an infinitesimally thin coating of marzipan and an overcoat of chocolate glaze. Textbook perfect and the little “kiss” of chocolate dipped chestnut cream on top just adds to the delight. Demel’s at least seems to be surviving the corporate takeover rather well.