The recent developments around the Matild Palace have added so much sparkle to the southern corner of downtown Ferenciek tere, it’s hard not to get lost in all the glamour. Now comes yet another surprise, because after the Duchess cocktail bar and Spago restaurant, a further special experience awaits locals and tourists. The Matild Café & Cabaret is now open! The olive-green and gold Art-Nouveau space of the former Downtown Café, once frequented by renowned Hungarian novelist Gyula Krúdy, has finally regained its old glory, the kitchen offering carefully prepared traditional dishes and the best Esterházy cake you’ll taste in a long while.
We have already written about the beautifully restored Matild Palace and its fascinating history, integral to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Few know that the graceful twin palaces built by Princess Clotilde were exemplary not only because of their innovative architectural solutions, but also because life in their luxurious spaces was integral to the varied urban fabric.
Here, everyone could find the right entertainment for their personality and budget. Upstairs, members of a mysterious decadent movement of nobles chased luxury and pleasure, downstairs were shops and offices for the middle class, and the Downtown Café on the ground floor was a popular meeting place for contemporary bohemians. According to legend, famed Budapest chronicler Gyula Krúdy wrote his legendary novel Szinbád here, as indicated by the bronze statue in front of the building.
The newly opened Matild Café & Cabaret reflects
the original variety of yesteryear, bringing it back to this illustrious venue.
The elegant hotel may attract tourists to the Matild Palace, but special
gastronomic experiences here have locals in mind.
The concept has been developed thanks to the US-Austrian star chef Wolfgang Puck and his team. At Spago, you can sample his exciting creations while dining in elegant fashion, then on the roof, in the cocktail bar The Duchess, you can admire the city over drinks and bar food crafted under their guidance. Now at the Matild Café & Cabaret, you can relax during the day with traditional dishes and great cakes.
And who wouldn’t want to relax in these wonderful surroundings? Before the war, the Downtown Café was a favourite place for writers and poets, and after the Siege of Budapest in 1945, it was one of the first places to reopen, making use of the few remaining bags of coffee despite the broken windows.
In recent years, the former Matild Palace slept away like Sleeping Beauty, so few would have thought it would return to this breathtaking state. After all, the olive green and gold tendrils and leaf decorations redolent of Art Nouveau required painstaking renovation, consuming a lot of time, work, money, because they wanted the end result to be as close as possible to that seen on postcards and photographs.
Of course, when you walk in, you’re not aware of the amount of labour all this has taken, you’re immediately captivated by the bohemian café atmosphere, the feather logos on the tableware, and the ascending and revolving stage centrepieced by a piano evoking the Gatsby era.
It’s as if you’re watching Ferenciek tere from behind the scenes, seeing life go by from the elegant interior – you can even relax on the terrace if weather and mood so dictate.
The dishes follow traditional lines, the menu showcasing the work of chef Attila Fehér along the guidelines set by Wolfgang Puck and his team, striving to use as many ingredients as possible from local sources. So much so that behind this elegant, bourgeois milieu, sausages are filled by hand in the kitchen. Of course, we tried them straight away and were not disappointed. In addition to the traditional spices, a little coriander is added to the filling, and the apple-celery salad and the horseradish and mustard dips perfectly complement the flavours.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, first we started
with the duck-liver pâté. The three layers of the classic dish were separated
by a thin charcoal mantle, adding some minerality to the flavours, the colours were
provided by a little beetroot, and we rediscovered the true taste of apples thanks
to the jam with which it was served.
Our favourite was the stew, which is made from butter-soft and special-textured beef cheek, and its juice – thanks to the extended cooking time – releases the usual wonderful flavours. It comes with a real spätzle, Austrian noodles, and home-pickled cucumber salad.
We thought that they couldn’t top this, but then the cakes arrived. The classic Rákóczi and the Esterházy varieties hark back to historic times, but the truth is that you haven’t really tasted versions of these classic desserts such as those served here. The Rákóczi features light layers of cottage cheese balanced with a perfect amount of jelly made from sour apricot jam – it’s recommended for warmer days.
Tasting the Eszterházy, you feel the excellent ingredients and homemade flavours, the fusion of more rustic walnut pieces and cream – this is recommended for colder days. The house signature dessert should also be mentioned. The Matild cake is a real hazelnut bomb that also contains peanut liqueur, recalling a drink that was fashionable in Hungary’s Golden Age, in cafés between the wars.
In addition to coffee, you can also sip special signature drinks at lunch. Here the bohemian world of Hungary’s Golden Age comes back again, either a drink called Szindbád, or Mr Krúdy’s Cocktail, which combines pear brandy, gin and Cointreau, fused with a little milk punch and a soupçon of tonic, providing summer freshness.
And if you want to take the Matild experience home at
the end, the house also makes its own bonbons, which you can buy in nice packaging.
And you will want to take this experience home, as the Matild Café & Cabaret is a wonderful place to visit for at least a cake &
coffee, if not for more.
After all, you can still feel the classic café culture of Budapest, and it was definitely about time that it imbued one of the city’s most central squares, Ferenciek tere, with the atmosphere of Hungary’s Golden Age.