You rarely get the chance to observe the Zsolnay tiling and raven sculptures of Matthias Church as closely as you can, while sitting in the comfortable chairs or strolling around the terrace of the White Raven skybar & lounge, opening this Saturday on the Hilton's rooftop, while enjoying delicious cocktails and tasty finger food. Of course, the church is not the only astonishing spot, as stepping out of the lift, you're surrounded by a view that makes you wonder which way to look first. From the rooftop, you can almost see the entire Margaret Island and the Buda hills, the city stretches from Megyeri Bridge to the National Theatre, and the longest section of the Danube is also visible from here. However, we are especially pleased that, in addition to the panorama-cocktail-food combo, the same emphasis was placed on sourcing ingredients from local small-scale producers.
It's always a special experience to "climb" to the top of the buildings, gaze at the sky, admire the city, and try to identify the mountains. It's a similar pleasure to discover Budapest's iconic buildings and personal favourites from the heights. Except for this case, you don't have to climb to the top of the Hilton, as the lift takes you straight to the gates of the White Raven, where you'll be treated to a view so magnificent that'll have you stand frozen for a few minutes.
When we realised that we were on the same level as the roof of Matthias Church and could see its colourful tiles so close up, and even spot the raven statues, which you wouldn't normally see from below, our excitement was only heightened. We were lost in the panorama for long minutes, in exploring the Buda hills and finally seeing the Neo-Gothic building of the Toldy Secondary School in its entirety, and obviously, we also spotted the editorial office.
Hopping in the comfortable chairs, which are specially arranged to enjoy the panorama from each one, you can spend hours admiring the view, but isn't it nice to share it with others, along with special cocktails and food? We know that there are countless rooftop bars all over Budapest, but in the Castle District, the White Raven is the first, and Danubius Hotels has been cherishing this dream since the 90s.
Being a World Heritage site, it wasn't possible to build just anything up here, and a lot of regulations had to be met to create a site that wouldn't change the skyline at all – walking along Elisabeth Bridge, for example, we couldn't spot anything on the roof of the Hilton. The cocktail bar, by the way, is on the site of a former operational part of the building, so its height served as the benchmark for the design. While the building was designed by KÖZTI, the same architectural firm as the Hilton, the interior was dreamt up by Spanish hotels architect & interior designer Nathalie Rottenburg.
Those with a keen eye will soon discover that not only is the Matthias Church a direct neighbour, but the 3D ceramic mosaics covering the walls and bar are little sisters of Zsolnay ceramic tiles, while the bar's drinks cabinet is reminiscent of the church's stained glass windows. And King Matthias' ravens inspired the name of the place and the cocktails, in addition to the interior design.
Bar manager and creator of the drink menu Mátyás Barta borrowed the character of White Raven's cocktail specialties from the legends of the raven's tail feathers, so the drinks' colour, mood, and presentation are no coincidence. We didn't taste all 7 signature cocktails, but the few we did taste gave us such a new sensation of flavours and experiences that we couldn't find the words to describe these progressive drinks.
A great choice for a light summer lounge or as a prelude to dinner, the Faith (HUF 4,500) is a delicate blend of mango, pineapple, banana liqueur, vodka, tonka bean, and green grape juice – from Attila Gere's winery – that is reminiscent of a fresh juice that is pleasantly sweet but doesn't cross the line into being sticky-sweet. Arriving with cotton candy, the red Strength (HUF 4500) is quite deceptive, as instead of concentrated sugar, you get a distinctive, smoky yet pleasant combination of flavours in this essentially dry, tequila and mezcal-based cocktail. And the role of cotton candy is not just a decorative one: we can vary the sweetness of the drink ourselves, which also has a touch of tomato, mint, pomegranate, and cinnamon.
Our favourite is the Courage (HUF 4,500), which caught our attention even when we were just browsing the drink menu – which, when opened, forms the raven's tail feathers! –, as it has beetroot in it, but with its bright cyclamen and red colours, it couldn't have denied that we were in for something really special. It's a cocktail you'll definitely order twice, as you'll be treated to a true orgy of flavours. While the tart, sour notes dominate at first, the different ingredients come together later on: gin, white cocoa, blackcurrant, strawberry, verjuice, coconut water, and beetroot-coconut foam. You'll end up sipping a pleasantly smooth drink while contemplating the Margaret Island.
The gastronomic experience of the skybar is enhanced by the dishes invented by culinary director Imre Maráczi and his team. When creating the menu, the emphasis was not simply on creating finger food to accompany cocktails, but on setting trends and favouring local ingredients and domestic small producers – of course, there are signature ingredients imported from abroad. As Maráczi has travelled extensively around the world, and has lived in Aruba and Egypt, he has incorporated his experiences, expertise, and flavours from there into White Raven's dishes, combining them with Hungarian ingredients.
The taquitos (HUF 4,500), stuffed with pulled chicken and Hungarian vegetables, served with homemade salsa, evokes Caribbean vibes. The length of 12 and a half centimetres is no coincidence, as this dish is inspired by Cuban cigars as well as Caribbean cuisine. We think it's worth closing your eyes while savouring the marinated Atlantic salmon (HUF 5,900), as this is the way to really indulge in the flavours of the sea. Marinated for 72 hours in sea salt, citrus, and spices, the salmon arrives on a wakame seaweed salad, accompanied by tapioca crackers.
There are also two vegan options, and one of our favourites comes from this line-up: the Raven salad (HUF 4,100) is made with three types of ripe cocktail tomatoes, fresh mango, arugula, topped with pickled purple onion, and crispy rice noodles. The trio of Levantine spreads (HUF 6,900) of muhammara, hummus, and moutabel takes you to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. We don't necessarily have a sweet tooth, but we couldn't resist one of White Raven's iconic desserts, the mango cream-filled, snow-white macarons in golden dust coat (HUF 2,400).
The White Raven skybar, a World Heritage site, has everything you need to get away from it all and indulge in a moment of bliss for at least one evening.