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The southern twin of the two-building Klotild Palace, commonly called Matild, recently rose snow-white over Pest, as if a pair of elegant ladies were greeting you on the approach to Elizabeth Bridge. The buildings were created at the last turn of the century for the Archduchess Marie Clotilde, and it’s no surprise that the wife of Habsburg Archduke Joseph Karl commissioned the best craftsmen to work on the construction. The result is the abundant luxury that the contemporary MKV design studio has been able to renovate with little further frippery.
The functional diversity of the renovated building also commemorates the extensive personal connections of the eponymous princess and the colourful social life of the time, as it housed a beautiful Art Nouveau café, a cabaret and a restaurant. Today, Spago by Wolfgang Puck directs the gastronomic orientation, and the same goes for The Duchess.
Through the door with the key logo, almost hidden in the grandiose interior, after secretly peeking into the kitchen, you reach the cocktail bar via Budapest’s first lift. Upon arrival, golden peacocks and giraffes evoke the atmosphere of a royal boudoir.
Gold and green dominate everywhere, in fact, and in the zigzagging space richly adorned with accessories, you feel like a privileged member of a secret society.
After all, this is an old story brought back to life: at the beginning of the last century, this was the seat of a mysterious and decadent movement. The Archduchess was keen to combine a love of luxury with the full pleasures of life enjoyed by the highest echelons.
From here, you step out onto the wonderfully spacious, panoramic rooftop, a daytime escape from city bustle, hovering over snow-white Elizabeth Bridge. By the evening, brightness falls and you can admire the twinkling lights of Buda.
You stroll around, bask in the view and take in the intended grandeur, before sidling up to the cocktail bar and settling in. With this, chief mixologist Richárd Attila Oláh will lean over the counter to ask what kind of drink you would like.
Formerly a bar supervisor at KOLLÁZS and St. Andrea, among others, Oláh created the current cocktail menu in line with Spago by Wolfgang Puck’s directions, but also clearly based on his own creativity. He is an open-minded but serious professional who mixes every drink from high-quality ingredients that subtly highlight the atmosphere of the venue, mirrored by their immaculate appearance.
The central idea of the current drinks list is travel, the low-alcohol cocktails inspired by different countries, 11 in all on the menu. In addition, there’s the signature house Duchess (HUF 6,500), a French-inspired champagne cocktail with a sous-vide fusion of herbal liqueur and cottage cheese, followed by cherry liqueur, vanilla and lemon for a lighter flavour. The sharpness of the citrus and alcohol nicely counterbalance the creaminess of the vanilla and cottage cheese.
We also tried Babushka, a deep-red Russian Lady, where the earthy flavours of the fusion of vodka and beetroot are offset by sugar, citric acid and Earl Grey tea, the cocktail showing a completely new type of freshness when bubbles are added to the mixture.
However, on our visit, we left the best till last. The Duchess Sour is actually based on the New York Sour, but here Benedek Pinot Noir is added to a blend of bourbon, milk and sugar. After the whey has liquified, the drink goes a delicate pink and receives a single floral decoration, as if about to be served to the ladies in The Great Gatsby lolling around the pool on a lazy summer’s afternoon.
Perhaps we could even venture to say that, thanks to the good offices of The Duchess, the people of Budapest can now reclaim the Matild Palace for their own – with the exception of the aforementioned signature drink, all the cocktails fall into the affordable 3,800 forint category. Smart-casual dress and table reservations are also in order.
In future, the cocktail offer might be expanded by obtaining certain licenses, with light dishes also lined up to accompany the drinks. After all the summery flavours, delicate pastel colours and the travel concept, we’re particularly curious about the new cocktail menu, due to arrive around November-December.