Sunday, 31 March 2013

A perfect evening in Budapest: Café Gerbeaud and Tosca

If you happen to flip through my trusty lonely planet Budapest guide, you will notice a folded page at the entry about the legendary Café Gerbeaud which yours truly have highlighted and scrawled next to it in bold letters : MUST GO!!!. Yeap, three whole exclamation marks.

This exclusive café was quoted to be "the most famous of the famous cafés in Budapest". As a café junkie, not paying homage to Gerbeaud would be a grave insult to the great confectioners, Henrik Kugler and Emil Gerbeaud who both started this cafe more than 150 years ago. It has stood proud on the northern side of Pest's Vörösmarty Square since 1870, AND boasted the loyal patronage of the famous 19th century Hungarian composer, Franz Liszt! Princess Diana, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and stars like Madonna, Ralph Fiennes, Brad Pitt have also graced Café Gerbeaud's impressive guest list. 

Name dropping aside, I had to try some of Emil Gerbeaud's confectionery creations. Born in Geneva, Emil Gerbeaud came from a family of confectioners and acquired experience from his travels to England, France and Germany. He even has a pastry named after him- The Gerbeaud Slice.  

(It is obvious that I tend to find justifications of all sorts for my foodie excursions.)

Cappuccino* and cake in front of the 40-foot marble counter showcasing a vast array of classic Austro-Hungarian layer cakes and bon-bons.

* Dear Italians, please refrain from rolling your eyes at my 5 pm cup of 
Cappuccino. =)

We decided to enjoy a leisure coffee and cake session in Café Gerbeaud before heading to the Hungarian State Opera House for an evening of Puccini's Tosca. Do not be fooled by the understated entrance of this café, the interior décor is opulent and lavish. A gilded hall with hanging chandeliers, rich wood paneling, marble-topped tables with chairs engraved with the Gerbeaud name makes it a more than elegant spot to satisfy a sugar/coffee craving. 

However, in spite of the luxurious surroundings, there was nothing stuffy about the ambiance, or so I tried to convince myself as I mentally chanted: "I do not feel under-dressed at all" over and over again. Just kidding, I had a lovely time reveling in my sugar rush.

Now ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on some cake porn.

"Bailey's"-  French Linzer, cocoa sponge, coffee-dark chocolate ganache, marzipan-Bailey’s bavarois, encased in milk chocolate-Bailey’s icing

Delicate coffee mousse and chocolate sponge slice, I unfortunately forgot to jot down the name of this cake.

The famed Dobos torte- 5 layers tall quintessential Hungarian creation of sponge cake pastry layered with rich chocolate cream, and topped with caramel

Gerbeaud Slice, also known as Zserbó in Hungarian.
A delicate layer cake with with walnuts, apricot preserves, chocolate... that was created by Emil Gerbeaud. You can try your hand at making this delicious confectionery by referring to the lovely recipes from here and here.

The cake I enjoyed most from our visit was 'Bailey's'. The booziness was just enough to cut through the richness of the chocolate ganache. I know that this cake is not traditionally Hungarian, but, who does not love an exquisitely velvety icing made from a combination of milk chocolate and Bailey's??!!

You can also get light bites, pastries, as well as ice-cream sundaes and milk shakes made with Gerbeaud's own home made ice cream. I had my eye on the Caramel-Dried Plum Sundae, a colossal creation of: 2 scoops vanilla ice-cream + 2 scoops caramel ice-cream + dried plum ragout + caramelized hazelnuts + walnut croquant + whipped cream + caramel bonbon + walnut crisp". Oh my...

After the pre-opera cake feast, we hauled our sugar laden bums to the Hungarian State Opera House on Andrássy út. The neo-Renaissance building that was designed by Miklós Ybl in 1884 was one of my favourite structure in the city. The famed composer, Gustav Mahler was the director from 1887 to 1891. 

Very very cool least to me.

Hungarian State Opera House

We were ecstatic about having the chance to watch Tosca in this richly decorated building. The major plus was that we managed to purchase highly affordable student priced tickets. 

One of the few perks about having a valid student ID with my 'deer in the headlight' mug shot to flash around!

While waiting for the performance to begin, I took my time to admire the beautiful and ornate chandelier that was illuminating a magnificent fresco of the Greek gods in Olympus. The 3050 kg (You read that right, it weighs over 3000 kg!!!) bronze chandelier cast a warm glow over the plush gold paneled main hall. Watching Tosca in such an opulent surrounding certainly adds so much more to the already amazing experience.

Frescoe of Greek gods  by  Károly Lotz

Magnificent concert hall

Gold gilded panels with cherubs adorning the hall. 

After the final fall of the curtains, with the lovely melody of Tosca's aria still lingering in my head, we strolled leisurely along the Danube river back to our hostel. A perfect way to end a perfect evening in Budapest.

Café Gerbeaud 
051 Budapest Vörösmarty tér 7-8.
POBox: 1364 Budapest Pf. 211.
Tel: +36-1/429-9000

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Fat Rascals and Hog roast in York

I spent a lovely weekend in the beautiful English city of York, wandering through its well preserved medieval streets, stumbling upon the tiniest street with the city's longest name: Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate; visiting the Stonegate Teddy bear shop which sells all kinds of teddies, including the highly exclusive limited edition gem studded Steiff bear that cost up to £28,000. What!!! A five-figured teddy??? Well you can also opt for a non-limited edition Steiff bear that will set you back by a mere £100. 

Needless to say, I just ogled at them in disbelief.
From Saxon times, meaning "neither one thing nor the other".  Such a mouthful. 

Every type of bears, from Paddingtons to Poohs to satisfy your Teddy fetishes

I chanced upon an old school candy shop and was immediately drawn to a tray of delectably beautiful golden home made peanut brittle. 

Golden nuggets of crunchy caramel-ly peanut brittles

When in Stonegate, it is a must to visit Little Bettys. Walk in through the front door of this quaint little cafe and you will be greeted by the delicious aroma of freshly baked scones, cakes, and cookies that are displayed on antique dressers and cabinets. Up the winding stairs, the cozy cafe has an actual working  fireplace. Imagine sipping hot tea while enjoying buttery warm scones with clotted cream and homemade preserves next to a roaring fire on a blistering cold winters day. 


There are currently six Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, which are family owned traditional English tea rooms that was founded by a Swiss confectioner, Frederick Belmont in 1919. The nearby St Helen's Square Bettys Cafe has a much more refined and elegant interior as it was inspired by the magnificent RMS Queen Mary cruise liner that so enthralled Frederick Belmont when he went on its maiden voyage. 

Cute, old fashioned display windows 

Lovely packaged teas and cakes that will make great edible gifts. Photo courtesy of Bettys

Sultana scones and Fat Rascals!

After much deliberation, I settled on a beady-eyed ( or Cherry-eyed?) 'Fat Rascal' to go. The name and distinctive appearance of the 'Fat Rascal' is a registered trademark of Bettys. It is actually a Yorkshire tea biscuit, or round tea-cake with a rich brown crust made of juicy plump currants and candied peel. As I ambled along the cobbled streets, happily savoring the warm fruitiness of my rascal,the glutton in me couldn't help but wish that there was a pat of lovely salted butter to slather on each bite to add to its richness.

I next visited York's famous and iconic structure, the monumental York Minster. An entry ticket allows multiple entries on the same day, giving you access to the treasury, crypt and undercroft for a glimpse of York's Roman and Viking past.The York Minster is both a Minster and a Cathedral; a Minster is an Anglo-Saxon name for a place for missionary learning whereas a Cathedral is a later conquesting Norman term to signify the seat of a Bishop. 

I huffed and puffed my way up 275 steps and 230 feet (definitely burned off a significant portion of my Fat Rascal calories!) of the Central Tower to enjoy a lovely panoramic view of York's picturesque city centre.

York Minster- The largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps
View from the top of the central tower- Medieval pinnacles atop the Minster

Many of the stained glass windows, especially the Great East Window are under massive conservation and restoration efforts. You can book a space via the York Minster box office to see the glass conservators at work on a Bedern Glaziers Studio Tour, which I did and thoroughly enjoyed. 

Trust the nerd in me to try and make any trip just a tad more educational. Huzzah!

Working on an ancient jigsaw. Photo courtesy of York Minster

Check out the difference between an unrestored window (left) and a a much clearer and vibrant window that have been painstakingly reworked by the conservators (right). In ancient times, when the glass fragments shattered, lead was used to join the broken fragments together which led to heavily webbed windows with marred images dangerously buckling under the weight of too much lead. The conservators painstakingly cleaned every dismantled piece, being careful to not strip the original paint, and then made use of modern resources (i.e. thin copper/epoxy/silicon) to patch smaller fragments together so that less lead joints were required for the entire stained window.

The beautiful Chapter House in York Minster

I later allowed my nose and growling tummy to guide me in search of a bite to eat. The tantalising smell of spit roast pork was the definite path to follow. The York Hogroast is cheap, fast and delicious! I ordered a sandwich filled with leg of pork, apple stuffing and extra crackling. Yes, you read that right, Extra Crackling! The tender and juicy roast pork was hand sliced in front of me, added to that a dollop of sweet tangy applesauce, and the 'cherry' on top, salty and crunchy crackling all stuffed into a soft bun. So simple and absolutely brilliant! You can savour all that deliciousness for less than 4 quid. 

Dang! Should have tried the roast potatoes in dripping too.

Crunching through the crackling. Porky goodness in a bun.

My next stop was La Cremeria, which is a small cafe recommended by a friend for their yummy home made ice cream. This busy little cafe is a stones throw away from the York Minster, making it a popular pit stop for a spot of tea or hot chocolate with marshmallows. Mmmmm..... While perusing the ice cream display, the proprieter kindly offered me a taster of some of their more unique flavours such as Blueberry and liquorice as well as peanut butter and toffee with maple syrup and bacon crunch (Tres American?). They were nice but I finally decided on a vanilla cone. 

Don't you dare roll your eyes. The misconception of vanilla=boring is a grave injustice. People who say that clearly haven't tasted good vanilla ice cream. Luscious vanilla ice cream is like a blank canvas to dress up in an infinite amount of varieties. 

That being said, the overall taste of La Cremeria's ice cream was good. The texture was smooth but a bit on the airy side. I usually prefer thick and creamy versions. Then again, homemade ice cream after a warm crackly hogroast bap? I am a happy camper.

Queuing to get into the tiny cafe

Not gelato but it still made my day!

Dear readers, do you enjoy having ice cream on a chilly day as well? Fancy flavours aside (i.e. Ben and Jerry-esque Vermonster,Phish food etc), what is your go to classic ice cream flavour? Chocolate? Strawberry? Or are you a vanilla person like me? 

Little Bettys Cafe
46 Stonegate
Telephone: +44 (0)1904 622865

Bettys Cafe

6-8 St. Helen's Square
Telephone:+44 (0)1904 659142

York hogroast II    

La Cremeria

20 High Petergate, 
North Yorkshire YO1 7EH