2001 marked a new era on Budapest’s gastronomic scene, when Szimpla Kert, the pioneer of the new trend that swept through the city, opened. Szimpla established the state-of-the-art concept of ruin pubs, where the setting is an abandoned building with a design that follows one notion: the more run-down it is, the better. Imagine a table from an old Trabant car, mismatched shabby chairs within dilapidated walls, and random memorabilia scattered around the room – this is what Szimpla is best known for. Nevertheless, ruin pubs are more than just drinking spots: they established a new type of cultural venue by organising open-air cinemas screening self-produced films, art exhibitions, evening concerts, or bicycle fairs. Some finds it bizarre, some astonishing, but one thing is sure: ruin pubs are part of Budapest’s landscape, and Szimpla is certainly the pioneer among them.
Szimpla Kert, Kazinczy utca 14, Budapest, Hungary, +36 20 261 8669
Grown from a family business into the district’s most bohemian hub, M. Restaurant is a little hidden gem a few streets away from the heart of the area. The father-daughter led restaurant opened in 2004 and its original décor, a combination of wrapping paper and felt-tip pen, was designed by Serbian designer Alexander Denic, who has previously worked with cinema mastermind Emir Kusturica. M. is a small, artsy and laid-back spot where friends can meet in an intimate atmosphere while enjoying the rich selection of Hungarian wines and a daily changing, creative menu. Some of the specialties include rabbit leg, duck leg or grilled cod, all freshly chosen at the local market. The owners, occasional chefs themselves, keep an eye on the tiny details ensuring a friendly, steady, yet never boring spot.
M. Restaurant, Kertész utca 48, Budapest, Hungary, +36 322 3108
As the freshest jewel of the Jewish quarter, Vintage Garden justly stands out among its surroundings. Inspired by the owners’ flower shop, Vintage Garden opened in the spring of 2014 and quickly earned its place among the top restaurants in the district. A clean, light, vintage décor with a modern and lively ambiance await guests wishing to escape from the city’s hectic atmosphere, and enjoy a land of peace. Each and every corner is carefully designed, with guests occasionally adding their own touches to the antique collection. Though the garden and the somewhat romantic concept attract many, the venue is also known for its Vintage Garden Burger and cocktails that are among the sought-after specialties. A friendly and close-knit team makes the experience all the better.
Vintage Garden, Dob utca 21, Budapest, Hungary, +36 30 790 6619
Doblo Wine & Bar
Nestled in a renovated building from 1830 is Doblo Wine & Bar, where authenticity and modernity go hand-in-hand, giving the venue a unique ambiance. Within a setting of brick walls, vaulted ceilings, and a traditional wine cellar, Doblo serves over 200 Hungarian wine varieties accompanied by a rich selection of pálinka and signature cocktails. In line with the owner’s original concept, the venue focuses on emerging winemakers who are yet to make their mark on the market but already producing wines of the highest quality. In addition to the weekly changing wine selection, the menu offers wine-tasting packages chosen by palate and budget. Supplementary cold plates are available for hungry guests, while emerging jazz artists provide great sounds throughout the month. Though opening hours are fixed, closing times depend on the last guests, so make sure you enjoy Doblo to the fullest.
Doblo Wine & Bar, Dob utca 20, Budapest, Hungary, +36 20 398 8863
Spíler is run by the famous Zsidai family whose name is synonymous with the highest quality of gastronomy and hospitality in Hungary. One of their most recent venues, Spíler, was launched in 2012, becoming downtown’s favourite dining spot in no time. And with a laid-back, sociable atmosphere combined with an industrial vintage design and a rich selection of top-quality food, it’s no wonder that the venue is so popular. Spíler offers the best of eclectic street food (from burgers to Hungarian pizza) accompanied by the country’s best microbrews and wines. Though the venue already has a vibrant atmosphere during the day, it becomes even hipper at night, when live DJs set their tunes, and Spíler becomes a thriving hub for locals and foreigners alike.
Spíler, Király utca 13, Budapest, Hungary, +36 1 878 1320
New York Café
‘The most beautiful café in the world’; this is the label commonly attached to Budapest’s most historical café, located in the magnificent former New York Palace. For 120 years, this building has been a Budapest landmark and contributed to the city’s legendary café culture by serving as a melting pot for the country’s most prominent journalists, poets, writers and cultural figures. Though the World Wars damaged the Palace and its reputation, thanks to a marvellous restoration by the Boscolo Group, today it basks in splendour once again. Frescos, Venetian chandeliers and golden stucco transport visitors to a different time, but you shouldn’t stop at the décor – the café offers an all-day-long kitchen with a great selection of essential Hungarian gastro food and continuous live piano music. New York Café is an unforgettable, upscale venue, where history, great food and top-notch service meet in harmony.
New York Café, Erzsébet körút 9, Budapest, Hungary, +36 1 886 6111
Gozsdu Sky Terrace
With the district’s recent face-lift, especially in the illustrious Gozsdu Courtyard, there seemed to be little place for novelty. This assumption was proved wrong by the opening, in May 2014, of Gozsdu Sky Terrace, which joined the group of New York-inspired rooftop bars in Budapest. Though the entrance is not easy to spot, follow the signs via the Holló car park and the stunning view will more than make up for the effort. Besides offering a great selection of microbrews, lemonades, light lunch and dinner options, the Sky Terrace has a well-curated programme of cultural events too. The beginning of the week is for lighter jazz concerts, fashion shows, and reading evenings, while the weekend is all about underground and electric music. Be it an after-work drink, a romantic evening or a meeting with friends, Sky Terrace is the perfect place to be in downtown Budapest.
Among the plentiful options for the younger tastes, Spinoza Café is the district’s gateway for diners of all ages. A café-cum-restaurant with a small theatre and art gallery in the back, Spinoza is an eclectic little spot, where daily piano music, weekly Klezmer concerts and frequent cabaret shows add a cultural flavour to any visit. In a homey, wood-dominated décor, all-day-long fresh breakfasts, as well as a selection of traditional Hungarian and international dishes await hungry guests. Its name well-established among locals and visitors, Spinoza lives up to its reputation, making it a must-visit cultural hub.
Spinoza Café, Dob utca 15. Budapest, Hungary, +36 20 464 2241
Just a few steps from the Seventh district’s prominent synagogue, what else could evoke the Jewish roots better than an authentic Hummus Bar. This spot is the area’s favourite, inexpensive, quick and healthy dining option, enjoying great popularity since it opened in 2005. Although the bar boasts multiple locations today, each has a slightly different vibe. Simple yet clean design, inspiring quotations on the walls, and friendly staff are all characteristics of the Hummus Bar, while the choice of traditional foods from the freshest ingredients follows old, tested recipes. Whether you choose to sit in or take away, get ready to enjoy some of the best hummus, shakshuka and falafel in Budapest.
Along the lines of hipster venues lies Fausto’s, a high-end, exclusive Italian dining place that under one roof combines two atmospheres: a bistro and a restaurant. Either one you choose top-notch quality will accompany your dining from the first bite of their Italian specialties till your farewell. The design is similarly luxurious and modern; yet with an artistic twist. Fausto’s concept is to fuse gastro and art; therefore quarterly changing contemporary art exhibitions welcome eyes and soul. Run by the multiple award-winning Italian chef, Fausto di Vora, this elegant and contemporary venue stands in its continuity for 20 years now; while never losing sights of novelties; thus effortlessly certifying Fausto’s place among the Michelin-suggested restaurants in Budapest.
Fausto ‘s, Dohány utca 3-5, Budapest, Hungary, T: +36 30 589 1813
By Virág Gulyás