With hundreds of outstanding cafés, bars and restaurants Budapest is a welcoming place for hipsters
We millennials have a tough life – everyone blames us for everything, we work too hard, and no one wants to pay us anything but experience and exposure. Perhaps that’s why we love to explore as much as we can. Travel has never been easier or cheaper, and Budapest is the perfect place to get away for an Autumnal weekend escape.
Budapest is a city that has always amazed me. It’s the sort of place where a young person can rock up with ambitious plans to explore what they love and learn to do it as best as they can, whether that’s creating art or music, food or coffee. That means the shabby splendour of a fallen empire’s jewel is full of amazing cafés, bars and restaurants.
These small labours of love are growing rapidly across the city. Once you hop off the main tourist strip covered in over-priced restaurants and souvenir shops full of cheap tat it’s hard not to bump into somewhere amazing.
This is especially true once you get on to Király utca; a narrow street hidden behind the expensive boutiques of Andrássy út. It feels like Shoreditch or Greenwich Village may have done 15 years ago, and Williamsburg and Fulham do now.
Wake up and smell the coffee
Fekete is hidden away in a small courtyard on Múzeum körút, near Astoria. The coffee’s fantastic – my Americano is dark and rich, with the perfect kick to start my day.
Being set back from the street means that it’s quiet, the only sound is people talking, and so it’s a cracking place to get some work done – whether that’s writing, or posting on Instagram.
Rose ice cream for elevenses
It’s not much of a secret that Gelarto Rosa by Szent István Bazilika serves some of the best ice cream in the world.
Their founder, Niki Szokron, studied at the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, where she learned the secrets of freezing and how to craft a rose from the gelato rather than using a simple scoop.
Gelarto Rosa has grown from a small shop by the Bazilika, to include a popup down the street and a bistro around the corner. Now there is even a franchise in Doha.
My rose has salted caramel sepals surrounding pear and chocolate, and pistachio petals. It melts slowly in the heat as I stroll past the great church named after the first king of Hungary.
If you’re someone who likes to try local specialities, then in Budapest it has to be goulash. And if you don’t eat meat, then it has to be at Napfényes Étterem és Cukrászda – the Sunshine Restaurant and Confectionery.
This is possibly the best vegan restaurant in Budapest, and it’s the first place where my girlfriend could eat everything on the menu without having to stand at a buffet. One of the odd things about vegetarian restaurants is that so often they serve their food like school dinners.
Sunshine’s goulash is made with beans, rather than the traditional beef, and one kettle will fill you up. They also do a range of pasta, pizzas and middle- and far-eastern dishes, and gluten-free if you need or want it.
The mustard and purple decor are perhaps a bit off, but that didn’t seem to disturb the wedding party being held while we were there.
Keep it Szimpla, stupid
I’ve been in one ruined pub before. It was Belfast’s Dirty Onion in the dead of winter. Not even a pint of Harp or three could warm my bones. There’s no such problem in Budapest’s Szimpla – the weather won’t get properly cold for another few months.
Under the collapsed roof of an old factory, Szimpla is a warren of dancefloors and bars, saloons and shisha lounges. It’s covered in neon lights and local art hung from the bare stone walls. And it’s a hive of activity.
There’s a range of Hungarian craft beers to choose from, as well as mass-produced Czech and German ones, cocktails and wine.
The pub also acts as the heart of the alternative community, or a “cultural reception space” if you prefer. This means nothing is off-limits in terms of the music they play, or the art that they show as long as helps move the city towards a sustainable culture.
They have now expanded their farmer’s market to include a farmer’s brunch every Saturday and Sunday. It’s all you can eat and it starts at around €13.
Made in Madal
After an early morning climb to Buda Castle to miss the tourists, and back down to the Bazilika, it’s coffee for brunch, and we’re off to Madal on Ferenciek tere.
Madal was on the crest of Budapest’s wave of speciality coffee and comes with a highly Instagrammable La Marzocco espresso machine.
It’s partnered with Square Mile Coffee Roasters in East London and Beyond Within, which means that it only serves the highest quality coffee.
This morning, I go for something a little smoother – a large latte. It’s possibly the best I’ve ever had.
A literary disappointment
Originally we had planned to grab a bit of lunch in the Alexandra BookCafe at Lotz Hall. This is an opulent, golden-frescoed dining room hidden away in the Lotz Terem bookshop.
The clash of designs between the cafe and clean, modernist bookshop should be almost obscene. It’s one of the most stunning contrasts I have ever seen in my life.
But there’s a problem. The shopfront on Andrássy út is now nothing more than a Potemkin village. A hoarding of the café covers the entrance to the bookshop and none of the three websites associated with it will load.
Their Facebook page delivers the news with brutal honesty: Permanently closed. There shall be no relaxed lunchtime reading.
Budapest already has one famous market – the great 19th-century hall at the end of Szabadság híd, or Liberty Bridge. It’s a superb place to do all your shopping for Hungarian delicacies and trinkets.
However, another stands on Király utca: Market BDPST. This is fast food for hipsters who wouldn’t be seen dead in a McDonalds. It’s split into four parts, with separate counters for burgers, tacos, beer and coffee.
Eighties soft rock blares out of the speakers as the vegan ewe cheese burger, covered in peanut mayo and served on a balsa wood platter, fills the ginormous gap left by the BookCafe.
And with that, it’s time for a quick dip in the Széchenyi thermal baths – the largest medicinal pools in Europe – before a sprint to catch the plane home.