Cafe Zsolnay in Budapest
Ahh, what would it be like to be a European living the coffeehouse/cafe lifestyle? Being able to just drop into your local neighborhood cafe, get a terrific cup of coffee, some fantastic pastries, and just hang out for the day with nowhere to be and nothing to do. It must be nice.
While we may think that this kind of lifestyle is beyond reach here in the States, this is the reality of the life of many Europeans. On a recent trip to Budapest, I actually got to experience the cafe life myself and I can tell you from first hand experience that sitting back and relaxing in one of the numerous cafes is an amazing way to spend an afternoon and just sit back and relax while the world moves around you.
After spending the majority of the morning wandering around the streets of Budapest, filled with Christmas markets, and people, and food stalls, and sights through cold, wet, and rainy weather, it was nice to escape back to the warm comforts of our hotel – the Radisson Blu Beke. Located in the lobby of the hotel was Cafe Zsolnay – part bar, part coffeehouse, part pastry shop. Normally, I wouldn’t be visiting the coffee shop of a hotel, nor would I go there expecting anything fabulous; but I have actually stayed at this hotel in Budapest before and had seen that they had some absolutely spectacular pastries. And since it was cold, and rainy outside, my husband and I figured that this particular day would be the perfect time to visit Cafe Zsolnay and see what they had to offer. What we ended up getting far exceeded our expectations and had my husband exclaiming that his dessert at the cafe was one of the best desserts he’d ever had.
When you walk into the Cafe, one of the first things you see is the pastry display case. The creations you see inside the display case will blow your mind away. The pastries are a combination of amazing flavors and beautiful works of art. On the TV inside the hotel, they had a channel that highlighted all of the delectable pastry and drink offerings at the Cafe. The channel shows the pastry chefs making some of their wonderful creations. It’s not even fair to call them pastry chefs when they should really be called artists. Their work is bright, bold and brilliant. The pastry display case is enough to get your mouth-watering when you see all the choices you have before you.
My husband and I both had a hard time trying to decide on one dessert each from the pastry selections. Trying to choose from coffee cakes, to Black Forest cakes, to creme cakes, to tarts can be a hard choice! I ended up choosing a slice of tiramisu, for which my husband called me obsessed. So, I like my tiramisu, what can I say? The cake was delicious, by the way. All the great coffee, cinnamon and marscapone flavor without the heavy alcohol flavor. Perfectly light.
Dark chocolate caramel pear cake was my husband’s choice. On the hotel TV, the pastry chef actually had a demonstration of how this cake was made, and how dark chocolate was poured over the entire cake, and how a ribbon of chocolate was placed on top of the cake as garnish. It looked to-die-for. And when my husband saw it in the display case, he knew he had to have that one. And it was actually garnished with fresh blueberries to boot, which are his favorite, so he couldn’t pass it up.
Once we had made our pastry selections, we took a seat in the cafe while the staff plated up our pastries. We took that time to look over the cafe’s extensive drink menu which included your normal coffee shop fare (cappuccino, espresso, lattes, americanos, etc.) to fruity mixed drinks to draft beer, to everything in between. My husband chose a cup of coffee, and I chose the hot chocolate.
Everything they do at Cafe Zsolnay is upscale and served on fancy china in an upscale setting, but with downtown prices that don’t break the bank. My husband’s coffee came out on a silver platter with a cup of rich, dark and strong coffee, just the way he likes it, along with a serving of fresh cream, a glass of water, and a little chocolate and almond truffle to enjoy.
My hot chocolate also came out on a silver platter with the hot chocolate cup itself set on fine china. The hot chocolate was silky and frothy, served with a separate little cup of fresh whipped cream that you could dollop into the hot chocolate. The drink too came served with a glass of water and a chocolate and almond truffle to enjoy.
I absolutely loved the idea of serving the fresh whipped cream separate from the hot chocolate so that you could dollop on as much, or as little, of the cream as you wished. And they gave me a nice, healthy sized portion of the whipped cream. So, I took one spoonful of the whipped cream and topped off my hot chocolate, watching the cream slowly melt into the frothy hot chocolate. When that first serving of whipped cream had disappeared and I had drunk half the cup of hot chocolate, I thought, what the heck, I’m on vacation, let’s have the rest of the whipped cream. So, I did it, spooned the rest of the whipped cream from the cup right into my hot chocolate. I loved every single sip of that hot chocolate. Definitely one of the best, and most decadent, cups of hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
While I was in hot chocolate heaven, my husband was in dessert heaven with his dark chocolate caramel pear cake. He proudly declared that this was one of the best desserts he’d ever had. When he had eaten half of his cake, he asked me to take a photo of it so that I could capture what the inside of the cake looked like. He said that the combination of the dark chocolate along with the filling of pear puree mixed with the light sponge cake was just perfect!
As is traditional in European culture, once a table in a cafe is yours, it’s yours for the rest of the day. You can literally nurse one cup of coffee all day long while chatting in the cafe, reading a newspaper or reading a book and not a single person will come and bother you and ask you to leave. Once you’ve taken a seat, they consider that to be your seat until you choose to vacate it. It’s difficult to even get anyone’s attention to bring you a bill. And they won’t bring your bill until you ask for it either, because they don’t want to assume that you’re ready to leave. Think about it, for right around $12, which also includes your service charge (so there’s no need to tip extra), you could have 2 drinks and 2 pastries and sit and relax all day long. Where else can you find something like this? For us, on a cold, rainy day where our feet were tired from walking around all day, ending up at Cafe Zsolnay for an afternoon treat was just what we needed.