Budapest is well-endowed with cafés, restaurants and fast food joints which cater for every kind of international palate. If, however, you’re looking for a true taste of Hungary, or for a place which is as interesting for its history and its décor as it is for its cuisine and its service, there are four famous Budapest establishments which you simply must visit.
The Hotel Astoria, on the corner of Rokoczi Ut is home to a 19th century café and restaurant with old world charm and a traditional Hungarian menu.
The New York, on Erzebet Korut, is a coffee house in the old Budapest tradition. The interior is exquisite and as it was once the haunt of the cream of Budapest society, it has a certain class and cachet.
The Gundel restaurant on the northwestern edge of Virosliget, or City Park, near the entrance to the Zoo, was the birthplace of Pancakes à la Gundel, a confection covered in chocolate, nuts and cream which has all the elegance, and the complete disregard for calories and colesterol, of times past.
The most famous and the grandest of all of Budapest’s cafes is the Gerbaud Coffee House. Founded by Hungary’s culinary leading light, confectioner Emil Gerbaud, it has stood at number 7, Varosmarty Ter since 1858. It still offers the traditional coffee and cake enjoyed by Budapest society ladies and gentlemen in the Dual Monarchy days. Home-brewed beer is also on tap at the Gerbaud Coffee House and it is warmly received by those who come to rest here after an exhausting day’s shopping on Vaci Utca.
Cosmo swung away again, deeper into downtown Athens.
Monastiraki, where we came to rest, is a shifting, vibrant mix of tourists with day packs and runners and Athenians in their Sunday best. Architecturally, it is that blend of ancient, old, new and newer still, which makes up modern Athens. The Acropolis stands against the distant skyline, so the Golden Age of Greece is part of every Monasteraki vista. The last few columns from Hadrian’s magnificent library mark the time of the Romans. In the centre of Monastiraki Square is a beautiful little 17th century church, where black-clad widows, oblivious to the shuffling tourist crowds, pray and light candles to their icons. Nearby, an 18th century Mosque, from the time of the Turks, is now home to the museum of traditional Greek ceramics. A colourful bazaar, selling everything from reef sandals to amphorae, spills through its streets. Traditional taverna and coffee shops stand alongside pizzeria and fast food joints.
Having delivered us safely into the hands of his friends in the restaurant on the corner of the square, Cosmo disappeared. But just like Cosmo, the friends knew what we would like and what would make us happy; olives, dips and pita bread, a crisp white wine, dolmades, Greek salad, soft, sweet Greek bread, moussaka, souvlakia, a tart red wine, coffee and baklava, according to custom, with the compliments of the house. Under the watchful and encouraging eyes of the waiters and chef we ate to a determined finish. But, then Cosmo reappeared and insisted on marsala for Madame and ouzo for Monsieur, with a little halva on the side.