A gastronomic tour of Budapest

Chris Carter enjoys the splendour of Budapest's grandest hotel, and samples some of Hungary's finest cuisine.


The Grand Hotel ballroom: a remarkable survivor from the days of revolution

By some miracle, the ballroom at the Grand Hotel Royal in Budapest survived the Soviet tank barrage during the Hungarian Revolution of November 1956. But when the smoke cleared, the rest of the hotel lay in ruins. Since then, the hotel has been lovingly restored as the Corinthia. The Grand Ballroom remains its heart and soul, as it has since the hotel first opened in 1896.

In its early years, the ballroom hosted the European elite, who danced to music conducted by the great Hungarian composer Bla Bartk. Later, in 1928, the scandalous American-born jazz dancer Josephine Baker raised eyebrows and temperatures in the Orfeum Club downstairs. So it was among the shadows of the writers, artists and musicians that I sipped my Szilva Alexander (a local twist on the classic cocktail) in the bar, working up an appetite. There's no better way to start your stay in Budapest than with goulash soup in the Corinthia's Brasserie and Atrium restaurant. Follow that with a hearty grilled tuna with lobster bisque sauce. Don't shy away from the wine menu either. Hungary produces many excellent wines, including the famous sweet Tokay.

The following day, I headed to Gundel, another Budapest institution, for lunch. Its founder, Kroly Gundel, came from running the kitchen at the Grand Hotel Royal. His protgs at Gundel included Victor Sassie, who later owned a restaurant in London in 1953 serving traditional Hungarian fare the famous Gay Hussar, still to be found on Greek Street. Gundel died in 1956, three weeks after the revolution was crushed, but his restaurant continues to thrive, these days under the supervision of chef Gbor Merczi.

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Lunch didn't disappoint. The baked veal tenderloin and truffle-infused mash was rich and moreish, while the Victorian dcor conjured up the old-fashioned magic of fine dining. A tour of the city was in order to walk it off and I headed to Buda Castle. From up in the hills, you gaze down on Buda and Pest, the two parts of the city like two lovers separated by the mighty river Danube. My guide, Julie from Microcosmos, told me that many a local girl steals her first kiss upon these heights.


After returning to the Corinthia, there was just time to nip to the hotel's luxurious Royal Spa (above). The spa predates even the Grand Hotel Royal, having first opened in 1886. Restored to all its glory ten years ago, its creamy marble pillars seemingly melt into the turquoise waters of the curvaceous swimming pool.

Jacuzzis, saunas, a steam room and showers both Vichy and sensation are tucked away about its sides. Above, a brass-railed balcony leads you to the massage rooms, where every kind of indulgence awaits from Swedish to hot stone pampering. I can personally vouch for the 50 minutes of aromatherapy heaven.


Quite restored, a little sleepy even, it was into my tuxedo for the evening's gala ball to toast the hotel's 120th anniversary beneath the chandeliers that the violins could sway, but not the bombs destroy. As Bartk once said, art "is a matter of evolution, not revolution". Having survived two world wars, and the events of 1956, the Grand Ballroom stands testament to that.

A hidden gem in the Jewish Quarter


The family-run Rosenstein restaurant is tucked away in Budapest's historic Jewish Quarter. Owner Tibor Rosenstein (far left with family), who lost both his parents in the Holocaust, was raised by his grandmothers, and it was from them that he learnt the art of cooking. He opened his restaurant as a small buffet near the railway station in 1996.

Today, Rosenstein's restaurant is a deservedly sought-after dining spot that he runs with his son, Robert, and is known for traditional Hungarian food with a modern twist. An assortment of entres featured their famous light and crispy goose scratchings and a spicy egg-rillettes. Then it was onto a dish of tender braised beef cheeks in a vegetable ragout, and a Hungarian dessert made with cottage cheese, that reminded me of our lemon meringue pie. Should you find yourself in Budapest, Rosenstein is well worth seeking out.

(Budapest, Mosonyi u. 3, 1087 Hungary See Rosenstein.hu)

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.