Coffee and Cake Odyssey in Central Europe
Coffee shop culture has been a way of life in European cities since it’s popularity in the spread of the Ottoman empire, and introduction via Venice around 1600 AD. Vienna’s coffeehouses are known internationally and an integral part of Viennese, and Austrian, culture. Both Vienna and Budapest offer cakes and pastries alongside coffee to rival those of Paris, and are served in the traditional way with a small glass of water.
I have probably consumed my body weight in cake this last week and and I wanted to share a few of my favourite places, for both the choices on offer and the amazing settings these cafes offered over and above your average Starbucks brew.
On Andrassy Avenue, a wide tree lined street in the centre of Budapest (on the Pest side of the river, near Nyugati train station and the Opera House), you will find the Parizsi Nagyaruhaz Bookcafe, otherwise known as Lotz Hall or Alexandra Bookcafe. Enter under the grand arch, through the book store, up the escalator and you will find the most amazing high ceiling, glittering in gold, and painted murals of traditional and classical professions opening up above you.
Lotz also painted the ceiling in the basilica, parliament, opera house, Buda Castle among many others, making him Hungary’s most popular painter, and you can visit his grave and statue in Kerepesi Cemetery (post on this coming soon!)
This three story Neo-Renasissance building was originally built as a casino in 1884 with billiard rooms and a ball room. Later it was renovated after a fire in 1903 and turned into the Paris Department Store. It survived war and nationalisation to be designated a national monument in 1967, but was not realised as the much loved bookstore and cafe it is today until 2010.
The coffee menu in the Bookcafe is extensive, and as soon as you think you have decided on that mocha, you turn the menu to the next page and more amazing options throw you into coffee confusion once more! Eventually we settled on coconut hot chocolate with whipped cream, and a cinnamon and hazelnut latte. Both hot, sweet and totally satisfying (see images below).
Bookcafe: Two artisan coffees worked out at around £5-7 including tip. Highly recommended – a must visit.
Another favourite in Budapest is the famous and historic Central Cafe, or Central Kavehaz, near to Astoria and Ferenciek Square. We popped in after dinner for a late coffee and cake before heading down to the ruin bar Szimpla which is within walking distance from here.
The patisserie counter was laden with beautiful cake creations, and macarons in every flavour and colour. We went for a silky sacher torte and a chocolate marzipan cake. Both were exquisite and the grande setting was the cherry on top. You can sit and imagine the intellectuals and creative types of old gathering late at night to discuss music and art into the small hours.
Central: Two cappucinos, two cakes and service was around £10. Recommended for any stay in Budapest.
Later we took the train to Vienna, and whilst visiting Schonbrunn Palace we popped into the Cafe Residenz and Court Bakery for the famous Apfel Studel which is made fresh on site in the cellar (they have cooking demonstrations down there too). Unfortunately for us the next batch was a good half hour or so away from being ready so we opted for a trio of the house’s favourites and a slab of marbled sponge with our cappuccinos.
Residenz: Coffees, selection of cakes and service was around £20. Good if you have a bulging wallet and have walked for miles around the gardens and need urgent sustenance. There’s also Cafe Gloriette at the top of the hill overlooking the back of the Palace with panoramic views over Vienna, however it was closed for the Winter, opening again early March.
My quest for Apfel Strudel was thwarted at almost every turn! First at the palace, next in the evening we missed restaurant service for desserts at 9pm, and I couldn’t find it in the bakeries I popped into on the way back to the train station on our last morning – although it was probably there and I just kept missing it in my rush to catch the trian! I eventually had a taste at Eco Cafe, on Andrassy Avenue, back in Budapest, but whilst the cafe was friendly, cosy, modern, and served Fairtrade coffee, the strudel did not live up to my, somewhat inflated, expectations!
Eco: Two coffees and a slice of homemade strudel was around £6. Good option if you are passing on the way up Andrassy to Heroes Square.
Where’s been your favourite coffee and cake experience? Sipping espresso in Capri, pondering a latte and macaron in Paris? Or maybe your prefer a spiced chai in Bombay, or green tea in Chiang Mai?