Friday, May 26, 2006

Bruxelles airport goes all wooden

'Personnages' in wood by Yves Bosquet
Bruxelles International Airport

A FourBees snap

In 1994, Bruxelles airport authority decided to brighten up the place with a bit of art.
Since then, they've commissioned 211 works by 72 artists in 13 difference disciplines.
A total of 15 million passengers pass through Bruxelles airport every year and I think it's jolly civil of them to provide such a range of artworks for people to look at while waiting for their plane.
It's certainly better than the pubs and bars at the airport, which leave a lot to be desired.

Warning, warning!
FourBees are buzzing off to Budapest tomorrow, bright and early.
This is just to give all you Magyar restaurateurs adequate notice so that you can wipe down the chef with a smelly old rongy (rag) and do a desultory spot of dusting, before La Grande Abeille descend sur votre establishment avec all her sting and biting gall.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hungarian pussy is a hit on the café scene

Café Félix

Cat people café attracts pussy lovers with its hot and cold dishes

A FourBees review

In all honesty, we muesli munchers and lettuce lickers and have no excuse to moan these days about Budapest being the last refuge in Europe for slivovica-swilling lard fans.

Quality cafés serving light lunches, healthy snacks and a mind-boggling choice of beverages appear to sprout up like mushrooms after an autumn rainfall, popping up unexpectedly all over town, sometimes in the most unexpected places.
Café Félix is one of the newest and freshest of these treasures, although who can say what will pop up overnight in the fertile, mulchy café ground of the Hungarian capital.
Café Félix can be found just off Szent István körút, on Honvéd utca, the road leading past the Ministry of Defense.
It sits opposite the student grunge of the Süss fel Nap bar, but offers quite a different ambiance. On arriving, the feline motif is immediately apparent, cats are everywhere.
The door lintel is graced with a picture of a large white pussy sunning himself and contemplating life.

Inside, more portraits of moggies adorn the walls, and a cat-like style and grace is repeated in the interior decorating.
The walls are painted with egg-yolk yellow to produce a cheerful atmosphere.
The back wall is ochre with woodwork painted navy blue and I had vague déjà-vu concerning the colour scheme, since it would appear that many café owners in Budapest shop at the same hardware store, or have their shades all mixed by the same man.
The overall effect is very pleasant, a warm light streams in through the large windows and as we sat on the high balcony above the bar, we could enjoy the spring aromas through an open window.
The menu arrived and I was heartily relieved to see that vegetables get top billing.
A selection of about eight tempting dishes is available from mozzarella and tomato salad (Ft420) to avocado cream (Ft580) to the chef’s salad (Ft480).
Once again, I felt my Italian lineage tugging at my belt as my stomach began to yodel songs about ice cream and the Bay of Naples, demanding that I go straight for the Insalata Siciliana without further delay.
This I did, and I was not disappointed.
A large plate of lettuce, tomato and cucumber laden with a generous topping of tinned tuna fish made a perfect light and nutritious lunch. It arrived with olive oil and red wine vinegar to add at leisure and a choice of toast - both white corrugated bread and dark rye slices.
My lunch-time companion sampled the mixed salad with cheese (Ft480) which included lettuce, tomatoes, sweet and tender tinned baby carrots and chunks of cheese, topped with a choice of dressing, in this case yogurt.

Carnivores need not get their ravenous selves in a tizzy either as there are some delicious sounding taste treats to tempt the jaded palate.
Roquefort and turkey salad (Ft480) could perk up a Tuesday lunch time, as could anchovy cream with vegetables (Ft380), parma ham with melon (Ft890), smoked salmon and horseradish (Ft980) or even the humble frankfurter sausage (Ft380), a perennial favorite of this parish.
For those who just fancy a nibble, perhaps before taking in a show at the Vígszínház on Szent István körút opposite or a film at the Szindbád mozi, Café Félix is the ideal venue.
There is a list of sandwiches (Ft250), extra sandwiches with more filling (Ft280), Hungarian-style warm sandwiches (Ft250), toast (Ft420) and a lip-smacking dessert section that will plug any hole in convivial surroundings.
The light coming through the white marked windows throws shadow patterns onto the ceiling and the ambiance is chic Parisian left bank.

Café Félix is the sort of place where young ladies can sit happily on their own, leaf through one of the magazines or newspapers - both in Hungarian and English - and enjoy a cappuccino with a tiramisu (Ft350) or profiteroles (Ft240) or, if they are feeling very virtuous after a lunch of vitamin-packed salad, both.
The sophisticated feline, Gallic atmosphere is continued with the coffee machine, cakes in cabinets and elegant waiting staff, although they are a tad too helpful and cheerful to be really Parisian.
A range of high-quality Hungarian wines adorn the walls and a spring wine list can be found at the back of the menu.
A light lunch of salad, washed down with a glass of Chardonnay followed by profiteroles and coffee makes a delightful break from the office grindstone or starts the evening off on a sophisticated yet relaxed note.
Feline style and grace arrives in Budapest, the city of dog-lovers.

Café Félix
Budapest – District V (Lipótváros)
Honvéd utca 29

Getting there: Tram 2 or 4 & 6 to Jászai Mari tér
Tel: (36 1) 269 1899
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-10pm, Sun closed.

Décor 8/10
Cuisine 7/10
Service 8/10
Wine List 7/10
Buzz 7/10
The Bees' Knees 7/10

Red light district bar brightens up Budapest

Csiga Café

A new venue for Budapest's turtleneck sweater crew

A FourBees review

The Csiga Café is situated in a flesh-coloured corner building on Vásár utca which runs east along the northern side of Rákóczi tér market in District VIII.
If you come during the day it’s most convenient as you can pop into the market and stock up on veggies before retiring to the Csiga for a restorative cup of herbal tea or a refreshing korsó. Rákóczi tér has a reputation as the centre of the district’s red light zone and as darkness falls ladies of the night still gather in their white spandex leggings.
It is not the most salubrious part of town, but on a spring morning the sunshine was streaming in through the large shop front windows and it all seemed very innocuous and friendly.
Csiga translates into English as ‘snail’ but I could not see any references to the slimy kitchen garden pests.
The café occupies two big rooms in a ground floor corner building that, from signs still clinging on outside, was once a cake shop.
There are lots of windows and a high ceiling so the effect is light and airy, although I imagine that it gets packed with student-types in the evenings and the atmosphere becomes distinctly more smoky.
A tape of alternative guitar-based rock music played at a discreet volume and people were dotted all around the large reception room, many sitting quietly on their own reading, some drinking beer and others - who appeared to be locals - were perched on high stools at the bar chatting with the waitress.
The welcoming ambience was noticeable as soon as I stepped over the threshold.
A middle-aged lady rushed up smiling and asked what I would like to drink.
Now, that doesn't happen too often in Hungary.
I examined the list on the blackboard behind the bar and chose a peach juice (Ft70 a decilitre). The Csiga Café has a relaxed feel about it.
Many patterned carpets hang on the walls, there are posters, paintings and photographs in frames dotted around.
A huge archway with frames painted orange divides the two rooms.
The main one is packed with old wooden tables and chairs possibly collected from markets around town.
These ancient and often wobbly tables look like they come from kitchens and are expansive and thus excellent to sit around and chew the fat or contemplate.
No two chairs or tables are the same. Above the bar they have dangled orange plastic cones serving as wacky lampshades and in the main room there are white plastic upside-down cones and some other unusual artistically molded shapes.
I believe the Csiga Café was created by the crew behind the Sixtus kápolna, the hallmark of cool in Budapest café culture, in District VII’s Nagydiófa utca, but this place has more room to spread out.
It has a Picasso Point-style alternative/student atmosphere and I’ll wager it is heaving in the evenings. Food is available and there is a selection of vegetarian dishes, with nothing costing more than Ft1,000.
The walls are painted in plum colours up to chest height, then a smooth creamy custard shade leads up to the ceiling, making me think of school dinner puddings.
In the room with the bar they have painted geometric shapes, mostly triangular, onto the walls in navy blue, black and a lot of bright cheerful orange.
The well-stocked bar also has a selection of herbal teas, a sight which warmed the cockles of my sickly heart.
Huge pot plants, well bushes really, stand in every corner and the unvarnished wooden floorboards reminded me for some reason of a Scandinavian country dacha.
The Csiga Café is so relaxed and friendly you can sit on your own and not feel like an awkward society reject.
On a weekday morning it was an ideal place to sit and read the newspaper or stare out the window at the stray dogs sniffing about Rákóczi tér and ponder on the ever-embryonic novella. What a shame I forgot to put on my black turtleneck sweater.

Csiga Café
Budapest - District VII
Vásár utca 2
Getting there: Tram 4, 6 to Rákóczi tér
No phone
Open Mon-Sat 11am-1am

Décor 6/10
Cuisine 6/10
Service 7/10
Wine List 5/10
Buzz 8/10
The Bees' Knees 7/10

Monday, May 15, 2006

Hellish restaurant comes up from the depths

Il Terzo Cerchio

Hellish restaurant moves premises and goes up a level

Breaking news from FourBees

The latest gourmet dining news from the steamy, dog-turdy streets of Budapest is that one of the best Italian restaurants has moved from its cellar premises on Nagydiófa utca to another seventh district venue, but now it has moved up a level from its Stygian depths to street-level.

Check out the FourBees review on this blogsite at 'Heavenly Food in Hell'.

The fabulous cuisine will -no doubt- remain the same high quality home cooking.
Good news! the telly showing Italian football on Rai Uno/Due is still there, as they haven't forgotten to include an appropriately hellish cellar space.
We only hope that the crusty old olasz bácsik will also shuffle along and maintain the authentic bella Italia atmosphere.
I can't provide The Sting ratings list just yet, but FourBees will be buzzing Budapest-wards in the very near future and will, of course, bumble into Il Terzo Cerchio to see if any distant cousins - other descendants of the great Giuseppe Garibaldi - via Anna Paggi - are sitting there in a suitably revolting mood.

Il Terzo Cerchio
Budapest - District VII
Dohány utca 40
Tel: (36 1) 352-8669
Open daily noon-midnight
Getting there: Metro 2 (red line) to Astoria

Il Terzo Cerchio website

Watch this space for a FourBees rating - The Sting

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Budapest's belle époque resurrected

Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

The 179-room Art Nouveau Gresham Palace is an essential part of the city’s effort to bring Budapest’s belle époque back to life

A FourBees review

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, which opened again in 2004, started life as a temple to capitalism, created in 1907 for the London Gresham Life Assurance Society.
In 1999, the Canadian-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Gresco Investments Ltd. signed a development agreement the District V local council to restore the building to its former glory and create a luxury, 179-room (including 14 suites) five-star hotel at a cost of some $84 million.
The site where the Gresham Palace now stands originally housed a neo-classic palace called the Nako House, designed by József Hild and built in 1827 by wholesale merchant Antal Deron.
In 1880, the London Gresham Life Assurance Company bought the Nako House as its foreign headquarters on this site but then, in 1903, decided to demolish the Nako House and build from scratch.
The Gresham Palace was designed by Zsigmond Quittner and the Vágó brothers and took three years to build, finally opening its grand gates in 1907.
The building was conceived as a kind of monument to Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) the 16th century financier to Queen Elizabeth I, founder of London’s Royal Exchange and inventor of Gresham’s Law which states that, “Where legal tender laws exist, bad money drives out good money”.
The time of completion occurred during Hungary’s Golden Age and some of the most famous artists and craftsmen of the time worked to make the Gresham Palace one of the most glamorous buildings in Pest, and one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.The artist Géza Maróti created many original sculptures for the building.
Sculptor Ede Telcs created the relief of Thomas Gresham looking a bit like a jaunty sea captain at the top of the facade (shown in the picture at the top of this article), staring out at a slight angle to the Danube and across the Chain Bridge towards Buda.
The Gresham Palace was one of the first buildings in Budapest to have its Art Nouveau exterior illuminated at night and no expense was spared on the decor and the embellishments inside either.
Every bathroom and kitchen was fitted with ceramic tiles from the Pécs Zsolnay porcelain factory and Miksa Róth was commissioned to make the gorgeous stained glass windows on every landing.
The wrought iron peacock gates came from the prestigious Gyula Jungfer workshop and furniture maker Endre Thek was commissioned to fill the rooms with his elegant creations.
The Gresham building also featured state-of-the-art technology, full electrical wiring, central heating, two-meter-thick cellar walls to prevent flooding and something known as a ‘central vacuum system’ which was a kind of communal vacuum cleaner which wound its way around the building.
Cleaners only had to connect a tube to a nozzle in the wall of the apartment and there was instant suction.
The ground floor and first floor hosted the Gresham Company’s offices, the Gresham Café and a finishing school for daughters of the aristocracy called “English Young Ladies”.
The second and third floors were comprised of around half a dozen luxury apartments where many of the country’s elite took rooms. Government minister Count Gyula Andrássy took rooms in the Gresham Palace, his brother Géza was conveniently chairman of the board of the Gresham Company’s Hungarian subsidiary.
The fourth floor contained more modest apartments for the company’s traveling insurance salesmen while the fifth floor just under the roof housed the servants’ quarters.
Between the wars, the Gresham Café was the meeting place for the Gresham Circle of artists. The Podium Cabaret in the basement was the place where Bohemian artists rubbed shoulders with fur-clad aristocrats while they watched the risqué and satirical shows.
The cabaret was closed for a time in the twenties for being too ‘daring’ but enjoyed a second lease of life between 1936 and the outbreak of the War.In the Café above, important figures such as István Szőnyei, József Egry, Pál Pátzay and Jenő Barcsay discussed new movements in art.
The radical Nagybánya school gathered here as did writers and artists, all followers of a movement that urged a humanist, respectful approach to art, one that preserved the values of the past.
The Gresham Circle ceased to exist in 1944.
During World War II, the building was hit bombarded from across the river by revolutionaries trying to dislodge the Russians from the Interior Ministry next door.
During the winter of 1944-45 Soviet soldiers occupied the Gresham Palace and burnt much of the furniture to keep warm while the residents huddled in the cellar.
When the Chain Bridge was blown up during the German retreat, the shock waves blew the peacock gates on Mérleg utca right off their hinges.
In 1948 the Hungarian Communist Government nationalized Gresham Palace and scores of new tenants moved in, sub-dividing the palatial apartments into smaller flats.
The Gresham Café managed to keep going through the grim fifties and sixties, and in 1957 even had the first Wurlitzer organ in the country.
Between 1948 and 1990, the building declined into a sad state disrepair.
The café closed and a Chinese restaurant took its place, then a casino moved in.
Small businesses, a hairdresser and a locksmith moved into the arcade but all around the walls were crumbling.
In the seventies, the building was listed as national protected landmark in the late 1970s and in the 1976 list of protected monuments the Gresham is described as being 'of monument character'.
With the change of political system in 1990, the Government transferred ownership of Gresham Palace to the District V Council.
Oberoi, an Indian hotel chain offered to restore the palace in return for permission to turn it into a hotel.
A deal was announced in 1991, however the Council had not considered the 38 remaining tenants of the building.
Much legal wrangling ensued and four years later, Oberoi had lost patience and sold its interests to Fejér & Associates.
In 1997, Gresco entered the picture and arranged for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to manage and operate Gresham Palace.
Gresco agreed to the National Board for the Protection of Historic Monuments (OMVH) which had earlier granted license on condition that the exterior, the ceramic decorations, the glass interior arcade and the stained glass windows on every staircase be restored in a sensitive manner.
To see the stunning interior in all its glory, indulge in a calorific chocolate cake at the elegant Gresham Kávéház (coffee house), sip a Martini from a soup tureen-sized glass at the alabaster and black marble bar before dining in style at the superb Páva restaurant where the menu is overseen by Moroccan executive chef, Abdessattar Zitouni.

The Páva restaurant serves a contemporary fusion of Italian and Hungarian cuisine complemented by a list of 140 Hungarian wines, selected monthly by a group of independent wine writers.
The Szepsy Tokaji dessert wine, the 'king of wines and wine of kings', according to Louis XIV, makes a truly aristocratic accompaniment to the house’s foie gras.
Save a tiny wiggle of your digestive tract for the gourmet delight of carpaccio of pineapple for dessert.
Then strut off to bed like the aforementioned peacock.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 5-6
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér
Tel: (36 1) 268-6000
Fax: (36 (1) 268-5000
Four Seasons Gresham Palace website

Páva (Peacock) Restaurant
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 5-6
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér
Tel: (36 1) 268-6000
Fax: (36 (1) 268-5000
Open for dinner only, 6pm-11pm daily

Décor 9/10
Cuisine 9/10
Service 8/10
Wine List 9/10
Buzz 8/10
The Bees' Knees 9/10

Friday, May 12, 2006

Grabbed by the Gallics

Paris Budapest Café

France and Hungary in a culinary colision course at this new fusion restaurant

A FourBees review

Once again I have had to don my sack cloth and ashes and give myself a good flagellating about the bottom for having the nerve, the audacity, the sheer bare-faced cheek to expect to find a decent Greek salad in Budapest.
Heavens above, whatever next?
Soon they’ll be stringing up visitors to London from the lamp-posts for the audacity of demanding an edible penne all’arrabbiata in Soho, or whipping tourists’ calves with nettles for having the gall to inquire as to the freshness of the Malossol caviar when in a Roman restaurant. Hush my mouth, be still my beating heart.
I had no such worries in the Paris Budapest Café.
In the heart of Budapest with a gorgeous view of the Chain Bridge, I dined on some divine Spanish dishes and nobody rapped my palms with a ruler for commenting that the anchovies tasted as fine as the boquerones I had nibbled on in a Granada bar as the sun beat down and Madame Julia la Loobia and I rashly glugged back 60º proof sangría at noon like it was going out of fashion.
Nobody came up and poured hot boiling oil over my freshly washed wiggie for the outrageous suggestions that the sultry red peppers reminded me of a hot and tangy dish I had once sampled during my mis-spent youth in the dusty back streets of Andalucia.
In fact, not a soul remarked that it was out of the ordinary to expect high standard international cuisine in the center of the Hungarian capital.
And very fine it was too.
Paris Budapest Café brings the Mediterranean sun and joie de vivre to the banks of the Danube with olive oil, sea fish and vegetables and an emphasis on quality and freshness that was veritably heart-warming.

The show kitchen (nyitott konyha) offers a theatrical dining experience as chefs prepare a fusion of French, Magyar, Mediterranean and Asian (phew) cuisine all thrown together with great aplomb in front of your very eyes and dribbling lips.
Having been warned of the dangers and severe punishments that go with the mention of the words 'Greek' and 'salad' in the same - heaven forbid - sentence, I was feeling somewhat frail due to the effects of a vicious cold front and decided not to risk invoking the wrath of the almighty and thus made a beeline for the tomato and anchovy salad (Ft990) as a starter.
This was not a few soggy, salty, stringy tiddlers but a pile of tangy, filleted fish marinated in authentic vinegars with citrus hints, mixed with lurid green lettuce and surrounded by rings of tomato.
The kind yet discreet waiter had already placed two pieces of focaccia bread, steeped in olive oil and sprinkled with shavings of black olives, dangerously close to my left hand and my companion even suggested another dribble of the virgin cold pressing from a bottle conveniently situated between us.

My suitably chauvinist companion Yves, the old roué from Rouen, tried the baby lettuce hearts with marinaded white tuna (Ft990) and pronounced it very good, the slight bitterness of the lettuce was soothed by the Albacor tuna's sweet flesh.
I used to live in London with Rafaele, an Italian who stubbornly existed almost entirely on that dish, instead of Brixton’s local dish of curried goat and gungo peas, and - shocking though it sounds - he thrived on it, so I made up my mind to try it next time.
The décor is tasteful with attention to detail and elements of all countries with Mediterranean coastlines incorporated, plus elements of the Orient thrown in just to confuse the senses and whip up diners into a euphoric frenzy.
And here a scoop, dear readers: Head chef János Cseh is a secret vegetarian, however he understands - and respects - the pleasures of the flesh.
The decor has changed from the recently rustic Focaccia and gone all sleek and upmarket with clean lines and smooth chic colours, almost industrial in tone.
Orange chairs clash elegantly with metallic blue walls and ceiling hues.
We sipped on a fragrant, fruity sangría, since this was Spanish cuisine week and thus reason enough for celebration.
Then more delights to savour, long after the coffee had congealed.
I spotted the flounder (Ft2,290) and pounced.
The flat fish was served in four perfectly filleted portions, delicately steamed and resting nonchalantly on a bed of Spanish lecsó: Peppers, courgettes and onions in a slightly spicy tomato sauce.
Yves decided to take advantage of the visiting Spanish chef, as he so often does (bruises bear witness), and tried the paella which was a vibrant orange with contrasting blue-black mussel shells dotted about the rice.

A chardonnay from Lake Balaton was perky and insolent and a perfect accompaniment to the more bland and docile Atlantic ocean fish - a fine example of international co-operation.
Most Hungarians are cosmopolitan and forward-thinking.
It is patronizing them not to expect the very best.
Fortunately there are places like Paris BudapestCafé where people know all about good food, excellent wine and a welcoming atmosphere, regardless of nationality.

Paris Budapest Café
Sofitel Atrium Budapest Hotel
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 2
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér 2
Tel (+36 1) 266-1234
Open daily noon—2am
Paris Budapest Café website

Décor 7/10
Cuisine 8/10
Service 8/10
Wine List 7/10
Buzz 6/10
The Bees' Knees 8/10

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cack-handed mouser

As a left hander, I attempt to satisfy my artistic inclinations, drawing with mouse right-handedly and using Microsoft's very basic paintbox.
It's all very unsatisfying really.
However, here is my tribute to the great and inspirational Marc Chagall.
It's all I'm posting today as I have to go out and do some real work - restaurant reviews in Bruxelles - paid to scoff moules-frites washed down with lashings of Kriek, ha! - and can't sit around all day, self-indulgently twiddling the blog knobs.
POZOR ! Be wary of those who write in green.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Party like it's 1894

1894 Borvendéglő - Food & Wine Cellar

Select from a vast range of vintage wines in a cool cellar under the legendary Gundel restaurant.

A FourBees review

Poet Mihály Vörösmarty put it in a nutshell when he penned the lines, "The feast revives and feeds the body, but that which gives spirit, that’s the wine."
The 1894 Borvendéglő - Food and Wine Cellar, which opened in May 2002, takes the poet’s theme and develops it with panache.
This new addition to the Gundel dynasty is situated in the 100-year-old cellars beneath the famous restaurant, but now there is a separate entrance, just opposite Gundel's little sister restaurant, Bagolyvár (Owl's Castle).
Gundel director Gábor Budai pointed out that the name of the new wine bar did not make reference to Gundel, but chose to promote itself as a "ligeti étterem, ligeti árakkal" - a park restaurant with park prices.
Previously, guests who wanted to attend the monthly Zsuzsanna Lorantffy wine dinners amongst the atmospheric ancient bricks or visit the cellar for a range of different functions, had to enter through the restaurant and the managers feared that some might be intimidated by the high-class dining atmosphere and compulsory dinner jacket policy.
The new wine bar, named 1894 after the date when the original Wampetics restaurant was built, will have a more relaxed ambience and guests can pop in for a glass of quality Hungarian wine from the highlighted selection chalked up on a board.
The selection, which includes wines by Dúzsi, Gere, Szeremley, Szôke and Figula vineyards, amongst many others, is changed every month, allowing visitors to purchase by the glass rather than splashing out for a whole bottle.
However, if you want a bottle, you can stay for a full dinner, prepared by chef István Csôke, who has been promoted at the same time as lured downstairs from the Gundel restaurant.
Lining up alongside the cellar walls are more than 100 wines from all grape-producing regions of Hungary, including Gundel’s own Tokaj vineyards.
The low arches, candles in wrought iron holders and bare brickwork evoke a feeling of history and the decor is discreet and tasteful with a few color photographs in frames dotted about.
There is a display of ancient corkscrews and wine paraphernalia in a smaller drinks and snacks room.
Some guests sat in a side room, on high stools by a large wooden bar decorated with mini wine barrels and consulted with the sommelier about which bottle to select.
Some, already ensconced in the main dining area, seated at tables with white cloths and the full silver service, could choose from the full menu which, besides main courses and desserts, includes "borkorcsolyák" - snacks to accompany wine.
Those who fancy just a few drinks or want to sample some of the best Hungarian wines can also nibble on crisp potatoes with dipping sauces (Ft650), honey-glazed chicken wings (Ft1,250), or a traditional lángos (deep-fried dough frizbee) but baked in the oven this time to cut down on the cholesterol, with a thigh-slapping topping of cheese, bacon and spicy sausage (Ft450).
For Ft2,900, guests can treat themselves to three top Gundel wines; a Chardonnay, an Egri Bikavér and a five-puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, accompanied by deluxe nibbles of smoked trout, guinea hen paté and goose liver truffle.

1894 Borvendéglő - Food & Wine Cellar
Budapest – District XIV
Állatkerti út 2
Getting there: Kisfoldalatti (Little Underground) Metro 1 to Széchenyi gyógyfürdô
Tel: (+36 1) 468-4044
Open Tuesday-Saturday noon-11pm
1894 Borvendéglő website

Décor 7/10
Cuisine 8/10
Service 7/10
Wine List 9/10
Buzz 8/10
The Bees' Knees 8/10

Monday, May 08, 2006

New York Palace café re-opens

New York Palace Hotel and Coffee House

At the first opening in 1894, writer Ferenc Molnár hurled the main door key into the Danube saying that the coffee house should never close. What will they do this time?

Breaking News from FourBees

The Italian Boscolo Group, owners of the famous New York Palace in Pest’s District VII, gave a first tempting glimpse of the building’s new makeover as a five-star hotel at a press conference on Friday May 5.
The Boscolo Group acquired the building in 2001 for €2.5 million and has invested a further €80 million in extensive renovation.
The hotel is due to open mid-May, but afficionados of the famous coffee house will be delighted to learn that the legendary kávéház (coffee house) will be open for business this week.

Expect writers, artists and intellectuals to flood in and gaze around at the opulence, hoping for literary inspiration.
Pest district VII mayor György Hunvald the re-opening of the legendary watering hole signified a 'turning point' for the district.
Those with an interest in architecture, Hungarian history or literary coffee houses will soon be able to sit, sip a coffee and admire the sensitive restoration work on the ceiling murals, and the freshly gilded marble columns of the historic coffee house.

The ceiling tableaux, depicting muses, have been carefully restored to their former glory while respecting the original colours and technology of the period. In the ‘ladies room’ the gilding of the stucco is a sight worth powdering one's nose for.
The gorgeous 112-year-old building, which was a legendary meeting place for the Pest artistic world, later functioned as a sports equipment shop and an Ibusz office.
The investors, the Italian Boscolo group hope to recreate the turn-of-the-century ambience with a luxury, five-star, 180-room hotel and coffee house.

The new building occupies the site of New York Palace and the demolished former Athenaeum Nyomda (Printing House) on Osvát utca behind the New York Palace.
At the turn of the last century, Budapest was known as the ‘City of 500 Cafes’One of the grandest of these was the New York Kávéház (Coffee House) standing at Erzsébet körút 9-11, near Blaha Lujza tér in the heart of Pest.
The New York Palace was built in 1894, to plans by Alajos Hauszmann, as a showcase for the New York Insurance Company. The Gresham Palace (soon to open as the Four Seasons Gresham Palace) and the Adria Palace (now Le Meridian Budapest Hotel) were also built for insurance companies.
It's interesting how the dullest jobs get the most gorgeous locations.
The building was designed by Alajos Hauszmann, and built by Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl in an Italian Renaissance style with eclectic ornate elements.
The frescos in the corridors and rooms were created by Gusztáv Magyar-Mannheimer, Ferenc Eisenhut and the celebrated artist Károly Lotz.Locals were struck by the interior’s resemblance to the Bayern King Lajos II’s palace.
Inside were the insurance company’s offices (their motto at the end of the 19th century was ‘the best of everything’), and the ground floor was rented out as the New York Cafe.
The New York was concocted in a spectacular melange of styles with curly gilded marble columns, bronze details, colourful murals and ornate chandeliers.
It immediately attracted Budapest’s literary society; authors, poets, journalists, intellectuals and Bohemians all filled its tables.
The artists and intellectuals would sit at their appointed alcove tables while visitors were relegated to the ‘deep end’ (the mélyvíz), a lower floor surrounded by galleries on the ground floor, thus resembling an indoor swimming pool.
Impoverished writers could linger all day over the special ‘writers’ dish’ a bargain-priced plate of bread, cheese and salami. Regulars were even provided with pens, paper and unlimited ‘fekete leves’ (‘black soup’ the local term for coffee) and spend entire days within the inspirational walls, ruminating over a manuscript.
The maitre d’ during the period, Gyula Reisz, known to all as the ‘literary head waiter’ gave endless credit for his select literary guests.
Like Gyôzô Mészáros at the Centrál Coffee House in Pest's district V, he was not a great businessman, but he earned his place in Hungarian literary history.
Dr Miksa Arányi was the Hungarian representative of the New York Insurance Company. The first leaser of the coffee house was Sándor Steuer, who was a member of a large cafe house family dynasty.
The grand opening was held on October 23, 1894 in time for the excitement of the Millennium celebrations in 1896.The coffee house’s literary scene really blossomed when the Harsányi brothers took over the management.
Lajos Nagy remembered the literary atmosphere in his work ‘Budapest nagykávéház’. He wrote, “There are some guests who do their books here, some who write verse, some sell their books, look for a job or churn out articles”.
It must have been pleasant to while away the afternoon in the spacious rooms, among the curly columns, winding staircases, and statues.
There were two game rooms, one decorated in Rococo style, the other in Renaissance. The gigantic glass separating walls were painted by Gedeon Walther in different styles; with Japanese, Turkish, Baroque, Pompeii and Renaissance elements.
The tables and chairs were bronze and the game rooms’ furniture was made from wood. The tasteful light fittings were a special attraction and unique to the New York.
The New York can be considered the birthplace of modern Hungarian literature. Almost immediately after opening in 1894, the Pesti Napló editorial moved in.
Writers Sándor Bródy, Endre Nagy and Simon Kemény set up their regular tables alongside luminaries from the film world, including the young Sándor Korda and his associates.
Actors, journalists and aspiring writers all gathered to soak up the atmosphere and browse through the impressive collection of some 400 periodicals and papers which arrived regularly.In 1908, the legendary literary journal ‘Nyugat’ set up home here, and Magyar Hírlap also operated from one of the offices on the floors above.
Regular visitors were Kálmán Mikszáth, Endre Ady, Gyula Krúdy.Zsigmond Móricz came here to seek out the editor of Nyugat, Ernő Osvát, always to be found at his table in the gallery.
Dezső Kosztolányi even immortalised the literary venue in a poem, which began,

“Newyork, you are the coffee house,
where I sat so often,
Let me open your door,
and maybe I can sit down for a while,
Just like a beggar who rests on a bench,
And look around at what remains within me and all around...”

Ferenc Molnár wrote most of his great work ‘Liliom’ here.
Soon after the coffee house opened, legend states that Molnár hurled the main door key to the New York Café into the Danube saying that it should never close.
However, one day it was forced to close for renovations. The cafe flourished until the First World War, enjoyed a brief revival in the thirties, and then went into decline.
It suffered significant bomb damage during the Second World War and was ignominiously rammed by a Russian tank during the 1956 Uprising. In the 1950s, the New York was turned into a sports equipment shop and an Ibusz office, then, after closing in the late 1990’s, its blackened exterior was shrouded in protective sheets and wooden scaffolding for years, with only the spire soaring unhindered skywards.
During the Socialist period, the café was renamed the Hungária kávéház, and was famous for the slowest and most surly staff in town.
Now it sits on the regenerating Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard), just along from the newly-refurbished Corinthia Grand Royal Hotel, and urges the progress of the great revival.

New York Palace Kávéház (and hotel)
Budapest - District VII
Erzsébet körút 9-11
Getting there: Metro 2 (red line), tram 4, 6 to Blaha Lujza tér
Tel (+36 1) 886-6111
New York Palace website

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Siempre en mi corazón

Buena Vista Café

Havana-tinged café adds a touch of Caribbean charm to a square already heaving with theme bars and expat poseurs

A FourBees review

It’s official: Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc tér is now wall to wall solid café. An uninterrupted block of cappuccino and pizza stretching from Andrássy út to Király utca, with even the Mûszaki Könyváruház (Technical Book Store) joining in, doing a trade-off with Café Vian next door: You can put your tables and chairs outside our shop if your waitresses wear T-shirts advertising our books.

The trouble with having so many cafés, seats and babes filling the square is that, through an embarras de richesses, we are faced with a difficult choice between each item in the homogenous trendy blobby mass.
Selection tends to be by a process of elimination. One selects according to where’s there’s a spare seat or where there’s a higher proportion of tottie per square meter.
The criterion of negative selection also holds true: If one place holds bad memories, of a surly waiter or warm beer, then the visitor might be tempted to shift a few metres to the left or right and find him/herself in another theme or bar or both.

However, the latest arrival stands apart.
Even though sandwiched between Pest Est Café and Incognito and sharing the same bright yellow paintwork as Pesti Est, the Buena Vista Café is quite unique in the square, nay in all of Hungary, with its stylish, elegant and tasteful interior design.
Rarely does one find such quality and my usually loquacious Hungarian companion was stunned into silence by the sheer wonderfulness of it all. On my first visit we sat outside in the jostling pavement terrace and thus didn’t really appreciate the full impact of the place.
I had a foofy pink grapefruit juice (140 forints a decilitre) and my companera, Senorita Mojita had her usual, but was shocked when her Mojito (Ft1,150) arrived with a lurid red cocktail cherry bobbing about on the minty green surface.
As the café is named after the film of the band, book, T-shirt and suburb of Havana, Cuba, there’s plenty of rum available - but it’s the best: Havana Club Anejo reserva and Havana Club White rum blend with apricot brandy in a lethal Cuban Ice Tea cocktail (1,300 forints) which would knock you for six if supped in the Caribbean heat but slips down a treat in the muggy Carpathian Basin.
Bar snacks, gorgeous looking salads at around Ft1,200 and Magyar desserts and torta (Ft550) are available for nibbling on while you check out the self-conscious talent moseying by.
Go inside and there’s a massive restaurant up the wooden stairs lined by a dry-stone wall resembling something I once attempted to build in North Yorkshire, up near Robin Hood’s Bay.
Check it out if you’re ever rambling in the vicinity, it probably resembles a pile of rubble by now, but the good intentions were there.
The décor combines tasteful cream walls with prints, dried flowers, ethnic chic raffia borders and healthy yucca plants.
Having nearly suffocated while attempting to eat this overly fibrous plant mashed up while on a jungle trek near Topes de Colantes in Cuba, I was relieved not to find it on the menu which offers grilled meats and lots of innovative vegetable dishes.

On the ground floor café a stylish minimalism prevails and there is a partitioned-off sofa area for chatting and sipping latte macchiato (Ft290) while Gloria Estefan bellows her brand of right-wing Miami commercial-salsa through the speakers.
The cellar also holds surprises for those who venture down into its cool depths. Here the bar is a stylish air-conditioned labyrinth, fortunately not some grungy, smokey sörözô (beer hall), and on every table stands a draught beer tap allowing guests to serve themselves and tally up their consumption with a little electronic device offering ‘half’ (pohár - glass) or ‘one’ (korsó – half-litre mug) of Heineken.
Get there soon before the sad dipsomaniac expat males of Budapest discover this little-known feature and drain the barrels dry.
I tried a Buena Vista lemonade (Ft590) with mint (Ft590) which resembled genuine Mojitos served in Cuba more than the cocktails did as they were refreshing but not strong and the three quarters of lime ensured I’ll not get scurvy this summer at least.
My companion had a very good fresh fruit salad (Ft490) and we both agreed that you can never have too much of a good thing -Buena Vista Café is really something special.

Buena Vista Café
Budapest – District VI
Liszt Ferenc tér 4-5
Getting there: Tram 4, 6 or Kisföldalatti (Little Underground metro 1) to Oktogon
Tel: (+36 1) 344-6303
Buena Vista website
Open daily noon-1am (terrace closes at midnight)


Décor 8/10
Cuisine 7/10
Service 5/10
Wine List 6/10
Ambience 7/10
The Bees' Knees 7/10

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Over the Top in the Underpass

Cha Cha Cha

Groovy retro chic cafe with garish neon brightens up the dismal subway under the Calvinist Square.

A FourBees review

Some people appear to have arrived in Budapest on a direct flight from la-la-land. Lurking in the dank cellar bars of the city, probably with an obscure vested interest, they would like to read happy, smiley restaurant reviews all day long.
All is delicious and lovely, yum, yum, everything in the garden is rosy, the kind waitress smiles beatifically as she hands you a plate of ambrosia, a goblet of nectar and then polishes your shoes while you dine.
Get real.
I thumbed through the HVG restaurant guide the other afternoon in the Libri bookshop. Surprise, surprise every single blessed establishment offered wonderful food served by delightful staff. How constructive is that?
If it’s more foetid than a camel’s crotch then it’s pretty pointless to say it’s delicious and face a barrage of complaints from readers who happily trotted off there and returned home with the runs.
Many restaurants in Budapest serve truly horrible muck and pass it off as food, and could thus do with an elbow in the direction of edibility.
Fortunately, many are catching on.
This hostelry, praise the Lord, is mighty fine, thus the poison pen nerds can untwist those angry knickers and get ready to do the cha cha cha. It is with some trepidation that I venture down into the underpass beneath Kálvin tér.
The vast cave-like expanse is populated by all manner of troglodytes, their skin pasty from an absence of sunshine. I have been chased across its smelly terrain, shouted at and abused by its inhabitants and I have witnessed some sights I wouldn't write about in letters to my mother.
Kálvin tér aluljáró could never be called dull, a little terrifying maybe, but boring never. However, its dowdy, dusty walls could do with a spot of cheering up.
And Cha Cha Cha is in mind to do it.
Bringing those Latin rhythms, a Csinibaba retro chic and some garish neon, the café brightens up the gloom no end.
The walls and even the menus are papered with giant blown-up black and white photographs of girls in sensible bikinis, lounging in a time when it only cost a few forints to fly to a Cuban beach. The chairs are all in different styles, the red leather seats are a little worse for wear, comfortable to lounge on but difficult to pose and look cool on unless you are the man with the wrap around shades from the Cinzano advertisement.
Authentic rumbas and other Latin rhythms create an authentic atmosphere and Tom Jones and Astrud Gilberto serenade you while you sip Irish coffee (380 forints), a korsó of Dreher (230 forints) or nibble on a salami sandwich sitting under cling-film on every table or a hot frankfurter sausage prepared by the extremely friendly and helpful young waitress.
A giant chrome cappuccino machine sits on top of a wacky bar which has little red and blue circular lights twinkling merrily.
One entire wall of the tiny café is reinforced glass, looking out on the Kálvin tér underground life, so you do feel rather exposed, sitting in a goldfish bowl like some scaly window display dummy. Sip your cappuccino carefully: Dribble it down your kipper tie and you have one hundred witnesses.
The walls are lined with ancient radios and TV sets with humorous messages and the general comic ambiance is infectious, as if we are all in on some secret joke.
Most mornings the five or so table-and-chair clusters are already occupied even at the early hour when Cha Cha Cha first opens, as people enjoy a musical wallow in nostalgia.
Outside, a store window mannequin dressed as a waitress braves the subway, waiting to greet customers, who can enjoy hot chocolate, varieties of coffee and a selection of teas.
The subway wall opposite is covered with photos of the goings-on at the Cha Cha Cha parties which last until dawn most nights, spilling out onto the fragrant, dripping concrete of the underpass. After hours, the cafe changes into one of the hippest clubs in town, a place where the gorgeous young things gather, dance and check out the talent.
The managers of Cha Cha Cha have obviously put great care and energy into creating a lively bar filled with detail and their enthusiasm has paid off as it is always packed out and brings a touch of class to a gloomy cave.

LATEST BUZZ: Cha Cha Cha's summer venue on Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) in the middle of the Danube opened again on May 11, 2006.
Swing your pants in the park.

Cha Cha Cha
Budapest - Distrct IX
Kálvin tér subway

Getting there: Metro 3 (blue line) to Kálvin tér
Tel: (+36 1) 215-0545
Open daily 10am-dawn
Cha Cha Cha website

Décor 8/10
Cuisine 6/10
Service 7/10
Wine List 5/10
Ambience 7/10
The Bees' Knees 7/10

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Message from Queen Bee

Greetings to all fellow bloggers...
I hope this collection of restaurant reviews from Bratislava, Brixton, Bruxelles, Budapest proves useful.
It's the result of almost 20 years of guzzling and slurping - but not in a totally unladybee-like manner.
If it sounds like endless bliss and gourmet gorging, I'd like to reassure those of you who feel a little green, that I've suffered for my craft - lain awake on endless dark nights with violent stomach ache and got through countless packets of Rennie and Andrews (would they like to sponsor my travels, perchance?)

I've also written about cuisine and wine in Bristol, Barcelona, Brasov, Berlin and Brno and will occasionally feature those fine cities.
My travels are not confined to the Continent, but my destinations must must begin with a 'B', so if any hoteliers/restaurateurs in Buenos Aires, Barbados or Budleigh Salterton would like me to dip my proboscis amongst their petals and stamen (ooer matron) and sip nectar chez lui, just give me a buzz.
Muchas gracias to Zoe for her words of encouragement and advice.
Yes, I see your point about the paragraphs, but unfortunately, I have constant and sometimes uncontrollable literary diarrhoea, and quite often the other sort too, and cannot confine my buzzing to a few sentences.

If I do double spacing for paragraphs, we'll be here all day and your delicate little scrolling finger will go into spasms.
I have sensitive and artistic use of white space, which all page designers know is essential and most bloggers ignore.
Having remembered about the original ratings idea, I have added them to all four previous reviews.

The Bees' Knees rating is the overall buzz about the place, with QueenBee's heartfelt feelings and those of all the other little apiarists who accompany her on these gastro-trips.

My Profile:
Bitter Ballen: a creature of a certain age living in a vague location, but usually Mittel Europa, bumbling from bar to café to restaurant to pub to bistro in search of a quiet life, the perfect gulyás and an end to gall bladder twinges.

Four Bees' reviews are nobody’s opinions but those of Queen Bee and the many honeybees who join her on her gastro-bibulous travels; no desperate advertising department has pushed the increasingly obese bee through the door or held a Kalashnikov to her head as she eats, drinks and writes, then gorges some more...

Heavenly Food in Hell

Il Terzo Cerchio

Divine dishes in a genuine Italian setting make this cellar bar a hidden treat.

A FourBees review

Il Terzo Cerchio, possibly my favourite Pest Italian restaurant (my Buda favourite being the atmospheric Piazza Italia) used to have an incongruously Spanish name Puerto Escondido translating as “hidden doorway” and taken from a film about safecrackers in Lisbon. However it was rather appropriate considering this tesoro escondido was the Pest Italian community’s hidden treasure and best-kept secret.
I’d enjoyed many a steaming bowl of spaghetti deep in the bowels of Nagydiófa utca (opposite the Uránia National Film Theater on Rákóczi út). Now, after extensive renovation and enlargement, the same ownership have reopened under the new name of Il Terzo Cerchio, referring to a part of Canto VI of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. This is the “third circle” of upper hell, where those who committed the sin of gluttony end up.
I have seen numerous restaurants in Italy called Il Terzo Cerchio. It must be either a warning, or somehow a comfort, that all of us who adore Italian cuisine are going to end up in the “third circle” - at least we’ll all be together and enjoying a good nosh.
The basement venue just oozes la bella Italia. We passed through the empty ground floor; it used to be an ice cream selling venue (and maybe will again come summer), then descended into Il Inferno, another misnomer for this was a well-ventilated, cool and airy cellar space.
Past the bar and kitchen, the first room is darker and romantic but we turned left and found ourselves slap bang in the heart of Italy.
In this second room, the lights were on, the television was blaring and a collection of guests, all Italian, sat dotted about the cluster of tables all gazing at the news program. The noise, or that which could be heard above the TV was all in Italian; “Sergio, come stai?” “Giacomo, va bene” or “Ma figurati, Angelo” echoed through the cellar rooms bouncing off the walls which have been covered with crazy paving stone tiles up to shoulder height.
Il Terzo Cerchio is decorated extremely simply and unassumingly, but given the clientele, they don’t need carafes of Chanti or blown-up shots of Taormina or the Venetian skyline to waft visitors immediately to the country of pizza, pastasciutta and zabaglione.
Having discovered recently that a branch of my family is descended from Giuseppe Garibaldi (the picture above shows what a handsome chappie he was, and so serious!) - the revolutionary, not the squashed fly biscuit, I hasten to add - I have been enthusiastically rediscovering my Italian roots. On a trip to Naples, this cultural rebirth took the form of sampling every possible pastasciutta, pizza and zabaglione available, and thus I now consider myself somewhat of a connoisseuse, if not a grossly overweight Italian mama.
If the omnipresent Italian chef and community doesn’t convince you, the waitress Zsuzsa gabbles away with gusto in a fluent mix of Italian and Hungarian. In fact, I can’t report on the exact price of the dishes as she rattled off about 15 possible choices - all equally tempting involving spicy sausage, tomato sauces and “long or short pasta” - before I had time to draw breathe, let alone jot it all down.
Suffice to say, my trencherwoman companion adored the bruschetti (about 1,000 forints): toast with a selection of tomato, mushrooms, Cannellini beans or chicken livers to add yourself, then wolfed down a gigantic slice of chicken breast (about 2,000 forints), perfectly char-grilled with cheese and wafery prosciutto, served with oven-baked potatoes.
I devoured my “vitamin-bomba” - a gigantic insalatone (1,100 forints) with a generous assortment of iceberg lettuce, carrot, black and green olives, tomatoes and chunks of bland white cheese.
I followed this with a spaghetti Amalfi (450 forints) which was laden with juicy tinned tomatoes, olive oil and olives and I dipped into the fresh parmesan at regular intervals, throwing caution and gall bladder twinges to the wind.
I felt like the general in the film Babette's Feast who, on attending a special meal in the Puritan religious colony in northern Jutland, recognizes special delicacies from his days in Paris and goes into private paroxysms of pleasure with each mouthful. Ooh, real Parmesan, aah fresh tomatoes, I oozed discreetly to myself.
The menu offers all kinds of pasta with delicious sauces, pizzas baked in a proper oven, meat and fish and desserts such as Tiramisú.
We both sampled the house wine (from Hungary) and gawped as the comedian/actor/director Leonardo Pieraccioni entertained the room on a cable channel. I was so carried away by the ambiance, that I was a little disappointed to leave Il Terzo Cerchio and discover I was on a chilly back street on a dark January night and not some elegant Campanian terrace looking out over the bay of Naples as the sun set behind Vesuvius.
So much for my fantasies.

Queen Bee has studied the picture of the great Giuseppe Garibaldi (shown above) for several minutes and he does indeed bear a striking resemblance to my second cousin, Patrick, the very man who is researching into the family line and descendants via a certain Anna Paggi.
If any of you little bees out there in cyber land can help with this mystery, please give me a buzz!

II Terzo Cerchio
Budapest - Distrct VII
Nagydiófa utca 3
Getting there: Bus 7, 78 to Vas utca/metro 2 (red line) to Blaha Lujza tér

Tel: (+36 1) 352-8669
Open daily noon-midnight


Décor 6/10
Cuisine 8/10
Service 8/10
Wine List 7/10
Ambience 9/10
The Bees' Knees 8/10

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Linoleum and leatherette

Bambi Eszpresszó

Hipsters in black turtlenecks sit next to domino-playing uncles who haven't changed their socks since 1961. The décor remains the same too.

A FourBees review

The very popular Bambi Eszpresszó on Budapest's Frankel Leó út should really be protected as a national monument and listed building as it has one of the few interiors of old style coffee bar culture dating back to the early sixties, that remain untouched by the clammy fingers of time.
A fairy tale ceramic city adorns the walls of the main café room where the atmosphere is all beige. The mosaic floor has geometric box shapes in yellow, green and brown on the aging linoleum, but nobody notices as they're all having too good a time.
Old men play dominoes on a Sunday afternoon, sitting on red leatherette seats. Groups of grannies enjoy cake and gossip, students while away the hours with a few low-price beers and labourers come in for refreshment between bouts of digging. Everyone, it seems, can find their place at the Bambi.
On the semi-pedestrian street the doors are flung open on warm days and the fuggy, stale Sophie ciggie atmosphere spills out onto the pavement. The doors’ geometric design is also worth noting, as they were created when the enthusiasm for pop-art shapes and angles was at its height.
The Bambi serves ‘warm sandwiches’ (meleg szendvicsek) curling up at the edges, omelettes, cakes and coffee, but really, to keep in the style of the establishment you should try the lukewarm ‘Soviet’ champagne on offer for only 480 forints a bottle, or the sometimes difficult to find Kadarka red wine, which comes complete with a non-resealable metal bottle cap, a genuine and historical bargain at 27 forints a decilitre.

Bambi Eszpresszó
Budapest – District II
Frankel Leó út 2/4
Getting there: Tram No. 4, 6 to Margit híd, budai hídfô
Tel: (+36 1) 212-3171
Open Mon—Fri 7am—9pm, Sat—Sun 9am—8pm

Décor 9/10
Cuisine 5/10
Service 6/10
Wine List 4/10
Ambience 9/10
The Bees' Knees 9/10

Behind the musty red velvet curtains:

Bambi, Márka and Traubisoda - bubbling success stories
The Bambi soft drink was first made in Budapest in 1947 and for years the two-and-a-half decilitre bottle sealed with a clasp was the only soft drink available.

Created from synthetic basic ingredients, with ‘orange flavouring’ and gently carbonated, it was the ‘children’s favourite’ but disappeared soon after the Kőbányai Likőrgyár began producing Coca Cola under licence in 1968.
Traubi was created by the Austrian Mose Lenz and the recipe and ingredients arrived in Hungary in 1971. The uniquely stylish green ribbed bottle and refreshing Badacsony Saszla grape (traube in German) blended with magnesium-rich water taste ensured its lasting success. In 1992, Traubi Hungaria Rt. bought the bottling plant in Balatonvilágos and the company successfully rides the wave of nostalgia keeping the iconic design of the bottle. In 2001, the company resurrected another soft drink family with a great history.
The Márka brand first appeared in 1973 in sour cherry, raspberry, grape and orange flavours.

Passing Judgement

Borbíróság – The Court of Wines Restaurant

The verdict is positive on this great new wine-inspired restaurant behind Budapest's main market hall.

A FourBees Review

The Borbíróság (Court of Wines) restaurant opened in October 2003 in a deserted square just behind Budapest’s Main Market Hall.On discovering this new venue with the unusual legal theme, I immediately summoned my Magyar advocat. She was happy as she does not usually eat hot food, just the raw reptilian diet.
We went on a Monday evening and found the place relatively empty but still with a warm and inviting atmosphere - quite a relief after the hustle and bad tempers of Liszt tér and Ráday utca. The place is stylishly done up with bare brick walls, brown wood and wrought iron.
The ‘Court’ is on three levels, with a ground floor restaurant-wine bar, a gallery high above and a cellar bar down some steep winding steps. It's not immediately apparent that Borbíróság peddles the legal theme, until you see the menu. It will be in English, Spanish, German and other EU languages soon, but for now my lawyer was in legal-beagle heaven, chuckling away at all the in-jokes on the menu.
The different sections have jokey titles like ‘Alibi’ for the soups (450-590 forints), such as a cold Tokaj cream soup, ‘társtettesek’ (accomplices) for the selection of spirits and ‘enyhítő körülmények’ (mediating circumstances) for soft drinks and many more but I imagine you get the picture.

The paper mats resemble my lawyer’s newspaper of choice (after The Budapest Times of course) Magyar Közlöny (the official journal of the Hungarian state). This one has been altered to read ‘Magyar Közöny’ (Hungarian Indifference), amusing but the food was not indifferent at all, your honour.
While we perused the menu and chortled at all the witty one-liners, a young man appeared from the back room with some hot toast and a plate with lemon garlicky butter smeared about. A winning feature at Borbíróság is the huge number of high-quality wines all available by the glass. No more worries about not being able to finish the bottle, or the dubious migraine-inducing qualities of the house red.
Borbíróság suggest the wine for each and every dish on the menu and this is a great help if you want to step out and try some new vineyards but don’t know what food should accompany which brew. In a refreshing change from the unhealthy, smoky borozós (wine bars), Borbíróság realise that wine can be best, or rather only, appreciated when supped alongside food, and have suggested enhancing combinations of food and drink throughout.

However, the wines on offer change weekly and I found that every wine I selected from the wine list, in one of those cardboardy beige files (more legal sniggering from the other side of the table), was not on offer that evening and I had to chose again. No problem! I find it much more reassuring to eat in a restaurant where items are so popular they run out, rather than a place where things linger on wilting for weeks.
At the pre-renovation version of Fészek klubja in Pest's Kertész utca, the waiter even had the gall to inquire whether I'd mind waiting 30 minutes while the chef defrosted the last trout he'd discovered lurking at the bottom of the deep freeze - yum yum.
There were plenty of other options on the wine list and the trick is to go with an open mind and a willingness to try all. For the first course I selected a mozzarella salad with rucola (980 forints) and instead of the Ottó Légli 333 suggested for that dish, I had a Szeremley Rajnai Rizling (390 forints a decilitre).

The massive salad was quite splendid, with a huge heap of rucola, some beautiful leaves of radicchio lettuce that resembled rabbit ears, some superior quality ham strips and an assortment of fresh veg. The sharpness of the Riesling grape complemented the freshness well and created a kind of appetite stimulant.
My lawyer tried the Parma ham on little toasted soldiers, a good starter with the cheeky Szeremley Szűrke Barát (350 forints a decilitre).
The taped music in the Borbíróság was not, as legal beagle predicted, something from The Stranglers or perchance the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, but the rather more classy warbler Sade working her way through her Promise album. I could have been dining out in Islington, were it not for the extremely reasonable prices – and the excellent Magyar wines.
My main course was another winner. I found the grilled salmon (1,600 forints) on a bed of bay leaves, spinach with rose peppercorns and a lemon sauce to be the perfect companion for my glass of Irsai Olivér (210 forints a decilitre) from Öregbaglás cellars (when the suggested Németh Pince Veresföldi Chardonnay was not on that week).
However, despite its digestion-aiding tanginess, I couldn’t finish all the lovely little rösti (fried potato and onion) coins served with the fish. The dish was decorated with another artistic arrangement of carved carrots, cucumbers and, wanting a squirt from one of the lemon quarters I nearly de-oculised myself on the spiky antenna of dry-roasted spaghetti, a decoration along with fresh rosemary and dill.
My lawyer chose appley chicken with mushrooms (1,200 forints) and also found the portion a little overwhelming after the generosity of the entrées. She sipped on a Szeremley Muscat Ottonel (Ft210 a deci) and found the fruitiness of the Muscat grape to be a good mate of the apple and mushroom mix livening up the chicken.
Borbíróság’s proximity to the market is revealed in the divine selection and use of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat. However, here wine is the main thing, but that’s not to say the food is neglected. In fact I was more impressed by the selection of ingredients, collation, presentation and panache than I have been in a long while.
It is a quite deserted part of town, it feels like the world might have ended but nobody told us. Nobody walks past the gigantic shop windows looking out onto the darkened Csarnok tér. It seems a little out of the way, but in fact it’s very central and very easy to find. Just walk down Pipa utca on the left hand side of the main market as you face it and when you come to the square about 200 yards along, you’ll see the sign Borbíróság.
I imagine once people discover it, they will keep on coming, but for now I’m enjoying the peace and quiet and the excellent food and beverages. The verdict, m’lud? Ten out of ten in all departments. Borbíróság also offers a fixed price menu on weekday lunchtimes and a daily happy (wine) hour 4pm-5pm of half-price wine tasting.

Borbíróság – The Court of Wines Restaurant
Budapest - District IX
Csarnok tér 5
Getting there: Tram 47, 49 to Fővám tér
Tel: (+36 1) 219-0902
Open Mon-Thurs noon-10pm, Fri-Sat noon-11pm, closed on Sunday

Borbíróság website

Décor 7/10
Cuisine 8/10
Service 6/10
Wine List 9/10
Ambience 6/10
The Bees' Knees 7/10

Cornered in Bavaria

Bajor Sarok (Bavarian Corner)

A mixture of German and English pub décor could exacerbate feelings of disorientation in this haven for lost tourists

A FourBees review

King Ludwig II of Bavaria was considered something of a fruitcake, but was blessed with a great imagination. The personality of ‘loony’ Ludwig, brother of Hungary’s favourite queen Sisi, has been analysed by psychologists, historians and tourists. No other 19th century monarch has come under such intense scrutiny.
The majority of modern studies about Ludwig label him as a selfish, pompous man who despised his subjects, however Ludwig hated governing and governments, and who can blame him?

In the picture above, he looks wonderfully winsome.
Rather than spend time attending to affairs of state, Ludwig took moonlit sleigh rides and when a blizzard hit he would take shelter in a peasant’s mountain cottage or country inn.
The owner, woken by a knock at the door, would pull back the gate to reveal the amazing sight of the king dressed in his velvet frock coat and wide-brimmed hat, studded with a diamond hat pin.
Ludwig the loon was often accompanied on these trips by a young trooper named Thomas Osterauer. The king and Osterauer were travelling through a tiny village in the Tyrol at 2am when Ludwig noticed a skittle alley beside an inn.
He wanted to try the game and the trooper set up the skittles for him. After about three shots and much giggling, they were confronted by the irate inn-keeper who thought that drunks were attacking his property. Ludwig ran for his life up the village street while Osterauer stayed to reassure the inn-keeper that all was well.
If he were alive today, Ludwig’s favourite watering hole would definitely be the Bajor Sarok or Bavarian Corner for this little piece of Germany in the heart of Pest’s seventh district has a unique atmosphere that really only Ludwig could have appreciated. The interior decorating comes from an unusual conglomeration of styles best described as a cross between a traditional English pub and Maria Theresa’s front room decorated by Franz Beckenbauer, Bayern Munich’s former wizard on the wing.
A strange light emanates from the pink lamp shades which dangle over every table, giving a not entirely unflattering hue to the skin.
The Bajor Sarok is just around the corner from the Emke hotel on Blaha Lujza tér and appears to have quite a passing trade in lost tourists. A quick survey of clientele revealed a German hausfrau, a Canadian gentleman and a Japanese couple, all looking slightly stunned.
My companion insisted that she wanted to drink something called on the menu ‘Bishop’s Fingers’ (sic) which sounds faintly repulsive.

However, as it was fortunately not available on this particular occasion, we both settled for a brown German beer called Diebels, which gushed from a ceramic tap on the crowded bar. At 240 forints for a small glass (33cl), it was rather expensive but on a wet, pre-footie match evening, it perked up the mood no end and warmed the cockles with its sweet, meady taste.
Giant wall paintings of Germanic villages made a pleasant change from the Budapest bar favourite theme of black and white photos of obscure mid west American towns and lots of foliage and greenery soaked up the tobacco smoke fairly efficiently.

Salted almonds under cling film eventually proved too tempting to resist, but were a big, soggy disappointment and added 120 forints to the bill.
The cuisine is of the ‘slabs of fleisch’ genre, hearty food for wet Mittel Europa evenings.
The bar was relatively empty on our visit, but the waiter insisted that we sit by the door, possibly to create an impression of popularity.

I wouldn’t have minded if there hadn’t been a chilly draught shooting right up my shirt, undermining any feeling of warmth created by the Diebels. Mysteriously, every table has a large ‘reserved’ sign on it, yet all suitable entrants are immediately directed to these places.
Whether this is as a result of an elitist door policy, we shall never know.
To keep up the Teutonic ambience, the German pop group Modern Talking who assaulted eardrums and musical sensibilities throughout the eighties blasted out over the stereo system and my companion insisted on having a long and heated debate over whether Ludwig II was really crazy or just misunderstood.

Unfortunately, I did not have the strength for this and required several more shots of Deibels before I could tackle such a weighty topic.

Bajor Sarok (Bavarian Corner)
Budapest - District VII
Akacfa utca 7
Getting there: Metro 2 (red line) to Blaha Lujza tér
Tel: (+36 1) 268 0535
Open: 10am-midnight daily

Décor 6/10
Cuisine 6/10
Service 7/10
Wine List 6/10
Ambience 8/10
The Bees' Knees 7/10