I just spent 9 wonderful days in three cities of Central Europe. I bathed in the hot springs of Budapest, delved into the music scene of Vienna and saw the glorious architecture of the Golden city, Prague in a new and incredibly innovative way, via Signal, the festival of light. As for food, it was easy to fall into the coffee and cake cultures of Budapest and Vienna with cafes often set in the most stunning and elegant buildings and I firmly took advantage of beer coming in cheaper than water in Prague and indulged heavily on the carbs needed to soak up the after effects.
Here’s a snapshot of some of my favourite bites and boozes in each city.
In Budapest, I fell into a dangerous routine of cake for breakfast, beer for lunch and more beer for dinner. What follows is therefore mostly about cake. One of my favourite places to scoff the stuff was The Alexandra Bookstore on Andrássy Avenue, formally a Paris Department Store that retains many of it’s glamorous and original features. It has a huge selection of pristine (yet pricey) cakes including sweet apple tart with cinnamon and honey and the lightest carrot and hazelnut cream cake. A more approachable and homely cake shop was Ruszwurm Confectionary round the corner from the Buda Castle where I had the best Krema’s (vanilla cream pastry), a tart sour cherry strudel and a gorgeous almond thin. I did have one grown up meal of confit goose leg with red cabbage at the very cosy and traditional Kiskakukk just behind the northern banks of the river. The place was full of local families and couples and retained an air of high end dining thanks to their formal service but really it was just home cooked food done very, very well.
I spent a lot of time in dark, intimate wine bars in Vienna, taverns with huge selections of Austrian red on sale for hardly any money at all and baskets of free monkey nuts on every table. I got quite familiar with the crunching sound of the shells on the floor made each time a punter headed to the bar to make another order. I’m not sure what the bars were called but they were in the vicinity of the famous Figlmuller, ‘the home of the schnitzel’ where I queued for 20 minutes for half a schnitzel and a potato salad with pumpkin oil. The service was friendly but the restaurant felt way too touristy and the food didn’t really live up to the hype. I’m sure there are better places in the city where you can tick the Schnitzel box. I did however have some delicious Japanese food at the tiny Mochi, a local business lunch haunt just across the river on Peterstrasse (a good stop if you’re visiting the Hundertwasserhaus). I took advantage of the lunch deal and had a mixed salad dressed with soy, orange and almond and a gyoza soup that was full of warming spices and crisp vegetables, perfect for the health kick I was craving after all of the rich food.
Tasting ‘liquid bread’ in the many breweries & tank pubs of Prague could take up an entire holiday so it’s recommended to spend a whole week there to not miss out on the stunning architecture and late night jazz that otherwise define the city. Pivovarsky Dum was my favourite microbrewery for it’s variety. It served an 8 piece taster of beers brewed in house including a rich coffee beer, lime, cherry, a suprisingly good nettle and their standard unfiltered/unpasterized pale and dark lager for just 6euros. They also served a vast selection of traditional Czech dishes which had every kind of dumpling, rich sauce and slow cooked meat you could ever wish for. I went for rabbit in garlic with spinach which was hearty but not all that exciting.
I preferred the food at Lokal, a modern Czech beer hall with huge tanks of pislner and long sharing tables. It felt a bit more tourist orientated but the slow roast beef in cream sauce with potato dumplings and cranberry sauce was huge (which makes their all you can eat dumplings policy a complete gimmick) and utterly delicious so I didn’t really mind.
The special semi-dark lager, or ‘Amber’ at the Strahov Monastic Brewery located between Prague Castle and the Petrin tower (don’t make my mistake and climb the tower after you’ve had the beer) was probably my favourite overall in terms of flavour and a small plate of venison pate wrapped in bacon was the perfect accompanying ‘light’ lunch. The Letna Park beer garden came up trumps for location with stunning views over the city and pints of Gambrinus for just over 1euro and U Medvidku is worth a visit either for the ‘strongest beer in the world’ at 12.5% or some more sensible but scrummy plum beer.
Prague also boasts some lovely coffee houses including ‘I need coffee’, Prazirna Kavarna and Home Kitchen which also serve gorgeous and healthy breakfasts.