From Cold War Canteen to Literary Salon – Five great places to eat out in Budapest
For three sisters who’d escaped our families and kitchens for a weekend away, eating out in Budapest was an easy decision. The restaurants are gloriously affordable by UK standards and whether you want gourmet, trendy or traditional Hungarian cooking, we found plenty of choices within an easy walk of the Intercontinental Hotel, which we’d booked through Avios. My parents, two sisters and myself were fortunate to have my niece to guide us, who is working in Budapest, so it was pleasant to put my guide book away and my brain in neutral as she guided us to her favourite eating spots. We tried a range of cafes and restaurants, all of which I’d happily recommend to you for different reasons, so here goes;
Best for… Old fashioned coffee and cakes in the Castle District
Once we’d settled into our rooms at the Intercontinental, we decided to spend Friday afternoon on the well trodden tourist trail through the Castle District. We crossed the Chain Bridge, decided to give the funicular a miss and walk up the hill which only took 10 minutes, then strolled along the cobbled streets to the Fisherman’s Bastion for views over the Danube. After all that sightseeing on a cold day you’d be ready, as we were, to squeeze into the cosy coffee shop of Ruszwrum Cukrasda, down a side street opposite St Matthius Church. It’s not a huge place with only two small rooms, so you may have to wait for a table, although in summer they expand outside onto the pavement.
The entrance room has the original cherry wood counter and display cabinets from which you can choose your cakes or perhaps some chocolate and marzipan delicacies as a souvenir of your visit. The inner room is filled with genteel satin-striped chairs and button backed sofas with an antique tiled stove, which look as if they haven’t changed much since the 1820s when Ruszwrum Cukrasda opened. I tried a traditional strudel while my parents shared one of the delicate, layered cakes from the display and we all went away with a warm glow of sweet heritage.
Ruszwrum Cukrasda, Szentháromság u. 7, 1014 Budapest (side street opposite St Matthius Church)
Reteshaz – First Strudel House of Pest
Best for…. Comfort food from your Hungarian grandmother’s kitchen
For dinner on Friday night, we didn’t want to venture too far from the hotel and a short walk away we found the streets around St Stephen’s Basilica were full of great restaurants. We settled on the Strudel House because my sister and niece had enjoyed eating there before and it specialises in traditional Hungarian dishes, including all the flavours of strudel you could imagine, both sweet and savoury.
We felt as if we’d just sat down in our Hungarian grandmother’s dining room with ornate pewter ceiling lamps, oil paintings, heavy gilt mirrors and dark antique wood dining tables. On the bar were bottles of Palinka, the Hungarian fruit flavoured spirit that’s so powerful it makes your eyes water and is traditionally drunk in the morning to wake you up – we tried the strawberry and apricot. We ordered all the traditional dishes; a Hungarian fish soup for my parents, while I tried a leg of duck with caraway spiced red cabbage and a strudel filled with mashed potato and onion. To finish, of course it had to be an sour cherry and curd cheese strudel from the selection at the counter, where you can also buy strudels to take away. We concluded that traditional Hungarian cuisine is filling, flavoursome and heavily meat based, but if you eat too much of it you start to long for a plate of fresh green vegetables. Our meal with 2 courses and wine was around £25 per head. Main courses such as lamb or duck were £12-15 and strudel to take away around £1 per slice.
Reteshaz First Strudel House of Pest, Október 6 street 22, 1051 Budapest
Best for… A trendy night out with the in-crowd
We wanted somewhere fun and a bit special to eat on Saturday night and celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so my niece Sophie booked a table at Menza. In a square just off the iconic boulevard of Andrássy út, this restaurant is inspired by a canteen of the Socialist era with the retro shades of avocado green and old gold that were so popular in the 1970s. They’ve even incorporated some authentic stylized floral wallpaper and curvy wooden laminates – think Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy with added glamour.
There is a bar area where we waited until our table was ready and three main dining areas as well as outside seating, but the combination of fun and trendy with reasonable prices means it’s always popular so you’d better book. Even though the atmosphere is young and lively, I was surprised at the amount of traditional Hungarian dishes on the menu, which were not so very different to the Strudel House where we had eaten the night before. All the old comfort-food favourites seemed to be there, like duck breast with red cabbage or beef stew with pasta. The best part of the meal was the redcurrant and white chocolate fondue which we spotted someone else eating; a warm fruit compote with white chocolate mouse and baked madeleines for dipping. Yum! Our meal of 2 courses each with wine was around £20 a head, with main meat dishes around £8-12.
Menza, Liszt Ferenc tér 2, 1061 Budapest
New York Cafe
Best for …. An elegant Sunday Brunch
By Sunday we felt we were ready for something different to the rib sticking goulash and meat based dishes, so it was a welcome change to head for the New York Café for Sunday brunch after mass at St Stephen’s Basilica. This confection of gilt mirrors, rococo painted ceilings and sparkling chandeliers was somewhere my niece particularly wanted us to see and it must easily win the prize for most photogenic café in Budapest. I noticed that despite the no photo signs at the door practically every table had a camera poised at the ready but the waiters were perfectly friendly and good humoured about it.
The café is part of the Boscolo Budapest Hotel and if you ascend the stairs to the upper part of the café you can peep into the elegant, light filled atrium. The cafe has an illustrious history since it opened in the 1890s and and become known as the salon for writers and intellectuals to gather, later attracting the film and theatrical crowd in the golden age of fun before the First World War. This is the place for coffee and prettily decorated cakes or light lunch dishes which were mostly delicate but delicious, perfect for a New York socialite on a diet. Although the portions are small, everything is beautifully presented and it was easy to make a choice from the photographs of each dish in the menu card. A pianist was playing away in the background making this a lovely place for a refreshment stop and definitely worth a detour. We paid £15 per head for a head light lunch dish and soft drink or tea. A typical lunch dish is £10 while a coffee with cake is around £10.
The New York Cafe, Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073 Budapest
The Central Market
Best for… An inexpensive lunch on the go
On Monday, we took the tram from just outside the Intercontinental Hotel and got off two stops along the line by Szabadság híd or Liberty Bridge for the Central Market – we could have easily walked, but the weather was cold and we wanted to make the most of our last morning. This large covered market is full of stalls selling colourful fruit and vegetables (look out for the piles of multicoloured peppers), meat and paprika products. If you’re looking for a taste of Hungary to take home, fill your suitcase with a spicy sausage, flavoured with paprika or a tin of goose liver pate from one of the ground floor stalls.
In the summer I’d pick up a picnic here, but in winter head upstairs where there are a large number of souvenir stalls and a section down one side with food stalls and a restaurant. You’ll find the normal sandwiches and filled rolls, but also hot Hungarian dishes and a stall selling Lángos. This Hungarian street-food favourite is a cross between a pancake and a doughnut, deep fried and topped with any sweet or savoury topping you fancy, but traditionally sour cream and grated cheese. There are also stands selling beer if you want to try the local brews and you can perch on a high stool at the narrow tables or eat your lunch standing up. A hot dish or sandwich and a drink will cost around £5
The Central Market, Vámház körút 1-3, 1093 Budapest. Closed Sunday.
More things to see in Budapest
We booked our short break in Budapest through Avios, where you can collect points at the online stores you shop everyday or when you spend on your credit card. Then use the points to purchase a flight, hotel, holiday or a day out with your family. Take a look around the Avios website for inspiration to start planning your short break when you become a member of Avios. You can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see their latest videos on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was in the perfect spot beside the Danube to see the key sites of Budapest. I recommend booking a room with a view of the Danube from where you can ook across the river to the castle district and we also enjoyed our pre-breakfast swims in the hotel pool and the lovely spa where you can try a relaxing treatment. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points and a room similar to ours at the time that we were there in February was around 15,000 Avios points or £150-180 per room/night including breakfast but may be higher in peak season. We recommend looking for packages that include breakfast which we really enjoyed, with an exceptional choice of buffet and hot dishes. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.
Thanks to Avios and Intercontinental hotels for hosting my short break in Budapest
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey