Bratislava's best cafe? ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Avra Kehdabra

Wifi: Alright.

Even when I don’t write about Bratislava for a few weeks on here, something wells within me which I can only describe as a pit of hunger. Not hunger for food, per se, or for Slovak food particularly, but for kicking back in one of Bratislava’s charming little cafes or bars, imbibing the atmosphere (and yes, sustenance is likely to play a part sooner or later). Slovakia’s capital city inspires nostalgia in precisely this way: initiating withdrawal symptoms in the punters who have partaken of its cafes mighty quickly after they settle their bills and walk out the door. For Bratislava is about its cafe culture as much as its bar culture and probably more than its restaurant culture. Forget your over-crowded Viennas and Budapests if it is nursing a beverage for hours in chilled surrounds. Bratislava has been watching and learning of recent years how to concoct sublime coffee (and it never forgot how to serve tea in all its fabulous forms; just see our history of coffee and tea culture in Slovakia). And the city has become adept at fashioning attractive nooks to slurp your coffee or tea, too. Case in point (indeed, best case in point): Avra Kehdabra.

Ah yes, those two little words that have incited magic tricks a-plenty in their time denote, on one of Bratislava’s most enticing streets, perhaps the best example of a cafe in the Old Town. Stroll down Grősslingova, a model city thoroughfare lined with leafy trees and independent shops and restaurants and the eyecatching facade of Avra Kehdabra hits you, bright signs propped against pillars intimating of tea, coffee, wine and cake within. This den styles itself as a literary teahouse first and a cafe second, and it is the tea that is most in evidence: stacked on shelves for sale in packets and/or lovingly prepared in front of you by the knowledgeable staff. The tea – fruit, herb, white, black, green, with oolong and pu-erh tea from China – is served with ceremony, and you can prepare your cuppa yourself with the aid of various specialised pouring devices (no, not just teapots, but ornate percolators too). It is not going to be just refreshment you get here, but a veritable lesson in the origins of the tea you taste and its place in society, and the overall impression is that Avra Kehdabra is enthusiastically continuing that age-old association of Bratislava with fine tea-drinking joints. The coffee is sensational too, with the ristretto and lungo particularly impressing.

And what better place for such a crash course in delicious beverages could there be? Not since the days of the lovely, cosy Prešporák has there been a rival in the city for Avra Kehdabra in terms of antiquated elegance, where dark wood tables and stalls are complemented by Asian-style rugs and throws draped everywhere, by shelf upon shelf of books and, in an even more intimate room at the back, massive armchairs to curl up in and drink and read in. It will account for all the time that you are waiting for your drink to take in all the types of tea stashed in old medicine jars behind the counter. At some point as the hours slide happily by and tea number two is coming to its end, you might decide to order one of the light snacks (hummus with vegetable dipsticks) or graduate to a glass of wine.

It’s mostly young folks that will stop by during your reverie or loooong chat with friends or acquaintances: twenty-something couples, students skiving lectures, the odd intrepid visitor. And whilst the place can fill up in the evenings, there is never any rush for you to sip up and leave: relaxation is the raison d’être here. Rather, this Čajovna comes across much like the optimistic person’s drinking glass: it never appears as much as half empty of customers, and almost always feels at least half full.

And here’s a final thought. This place stays open until 10pm. At 8 or 9 in the evening, people are here socialising drinking tea. There is something beautiful in that. Something quite pure. In England, we’d likely already be on the fifth pint by then.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Grősslingova 49

OPENING: 7:30am-10pm Monday to Friday, 2pm to 10pm Saturday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Avra Kehdabra gets popular at odd times of the day: sometimes with work-shirking students, sometimes with visitors in wonder, like many of us, at the city’s tucked-away little eateries. But late afternoon to early evening on a weekday should see you grab a table without forgoing the buzz of the place.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Avra Kehdabra it’s 450m northwest to one of the city’s best bistros, Bistro St Germain

Waiting for tea ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Waiting for tea ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Fabrika

Fabrika is one of the words Slovaks use to describe a factory, and it’s the first thing would-be drinkers should understand about Bratislava’s latest pivovar (brewpub). The industrial chic concept might have hit other parts of the globe but it never really took off before in the Slovak capital: until now… Fabrika, with its motif of a smoking clutch of factory chimneys emblazoned on the exposed brickwork behind its looong swanky bar, makes no secret of the fact that this is the concept it’s going for. It’s Bratislava’s only real exponent of this genre of drinking/dining, and not only pulls it off the concept, but pulls in customers to near capacity on a nightly basis: for its looks, true, but also for its great beer and its superb US influenced food.

It was an audacious stunt to even try to open this place, what with another top-notch pivovar in Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar being so close. Like its competitor (and competition has been oh-so healthy for Bratislava’s expanding craft beer scene) it takes the American brewpub as the role model and straddles that divide between pub and restaurant. But whereas Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar embraces traditional Slovak food, Fabrika goes very much for the Americas with its menu options.

The huge Fabrika King burger, stuffed with a hash brown to boot, gets talked about a lot, but for the same price (11.90 Euros) the smoked cheeseburger, served with smoked Slovak sheep’s cheese, tomato salsa, red chard salad, aioli and egg easily outshines it. This Slovak interpretation of US “slow” fast food is one it would have been nice to see elaborated on: it’s almost like the food here teeters on the brink of voyaging into the “very creative”, and at the last moment falls back a notch or two into the category of “varied”.  Yet the steaks are incredible: a divinely-soft Uruguayan tenderloin with crusty potato strudel and ceps (see image below) is one the best constructed dishes in all Bratislava. Vying for your attention as well on the meat front is the ostrich steak set off perfectly by its cognac jus. Then there some inventive pasta options, such as the spaghetti with shrimps, dried tomatoes, chilli and baby spinach and a nod or five to southern US barbecue food on a starters and mains list that could almost be plucked from a classy eatery menu in Dallas or Austin (pretty new for Bratislava to have it done so well). Mains are all in the 11 to 19 Euro range.

But the main moniker Fabrika wears is “the Beer Pub” and in terms of the local craft beer scene it’s up there as a contender for THE place to quaff artisan beer, as it makes seven beers on site (see the steel tanks at one end of the large open restaurant area). Seven – incidentally – is more than Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar produces. A particularly strong Pilsner made with one of Europe’s four noble hop varieties, saaz, and a complex chocolatey dark beer are the stand-outs, along with a slightly fruity stout.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, it boils down to that question of environment – and it’s Fabrika’s cool surrounds which combine with its very decent beer and food to render the overall feel so pleasant.

On a quiet side street off the rapidly rejuvenating Štefanikova street that runs up from Michalská Brana on the edge of the Old Town to Bratislava’s train station, the nearby grandiose 19th-century architecture contrasts with this retro-cool modern oasis of craft beer and grub. But Fabrika fits in with all that, too. The attached Loft Hotel is decked up in the same style, but merges effortlessly into the also-attached 19th-century residence which President Woodrow Wilson once favoured on sojourns in the city (and where you can also stay today). Fabrika’s quiet-but-animated outside terrace, in fact, fronts both: abutting a 21st-century chic-industrial and a striking 19th century facade, which is quite something. And just like much of this deceptively relaxed, ornate, leaf-fringed neighbourhood of Bratislava, Fabrika wants you here for the long-haul, and to truly take some serious time out to contemplate some of the good tastes in life.

As the official restaurant of Loft Hotel it certainly goes down as Bratislava’s most lively and enjoyable hotel restaurant.

MAP LINK:

OPENING: 11.30am-midnight Saturday to Thursday, 11.30am to 1am Friday

RESERVATIONS: This place can get very busy because, amongst a certain sect, it’s pretty in right now (do not confuse that with generic, lacklustre tourist option, which it most certainly is not). So RESERVE HERE if you want a table inside at the time of your choice.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Best to come here on a sunny evening in spring, summer or early autumn, when you can grab your first drink outside on the terrace in the last of the day’s light before gravitating inside for more beers and a bite to eat from the extensive menu.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Fabrika, it’s 350 metres south to a great medieval-themed restaurant serving traditional Slovak classics, Traja Mušketieri.

Uruguayan steak, potato gratin ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Uruguayan steak, potato strudel… ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Krasňanská Kúria

If you were to ask me what was the best restaurant in Bratislava outside of the Old Town, my unequivocal answer would be the title of this post. If you were to ask me what the best restaurant in Bratislava was, my answer might very well be exactly the same. When you weigh up the wonderful ambience, the impeccable service and the high quality of food  served up at Krasňanská Kúria, in the Krasňany neighbourhood from which the restaurant takes its name, the place has few equals in the city.

You have to be in a certain mindset to fully appreciate Krasňanská Kúria, of course. You have to be in the mood for typical Slovak food, which hopefully a visitor will be. You have to be in the mood for a traditional environment, and in a less obviously photogenic part of the city : it’s locals that eat here, and in a restaurant redolent of the country’s typical rustic type of eatery, the salaš. First two boxes ticked? Then there’s nothing to hold you back from making the 20-minute tram ride from the city centre to eat here.

The atmosphere inside this low-level building on a quiet residential street corner is carefully constructed to transport you into a world of quintessential Slovak cosiness: a combination of wood and exposed stone with tables occupying a number of nooks enlivened by ornaments worthy of a visit in their own right: old wood-whittled figures and animals, a vast collection of old coffee grinders, paintings evoking mountain and forest scenes, screens resembling old castle gates to divide up the different areas, plants everywhere. In spring and summer a courtyard with an real fire also opens up. Everything gets treated stylishly here: the children’s high chair is an old wooden one; the only play apparatus for kids is an old rocking horse. The whole place is candlelit in evenings, too.

The menu boasts all the Slovak classics, but no dish is casually thrown together and each is Krasňanská Kúria’s own tasty take on tradition. The cabbage soup is so thick on cabbage and replete with seasoning; the sauerkraut salad conjures up tastes of China and Germany simultaneously with its intelligent flavourings, and this is one of the few restaurants to have the pickled encian cheese – a camembert-like affair laced in onions and gherkins: delicious!

Dessert! ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Dessert! ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Of the many meaty mains, the shining star is the potato and meat platter, a feisty sausage, chicken and vegetable concoction. Beef stroganoff and Slovak trout (pstruh) also come highly recommended. For desert, the obvious choice would be the šulance in plum and sugar sauce – but then again the ice cream in raspberry compote is pretty damned good also. They do a particularly good Viennese coffee to finish with.

We all know Bratislava is no Paris when it comes to service, either, so in an off-centre district it’s worth mentioning that the treatment of guests here is exemplary, and you will feel as well-looked after as you would at the finest restaurants of a much bigger city. Waiters go out of their way to prepare food according to your own dietary requirements: almost any dish on the menu can be made gluten-free, for example, and you’ll always get free tasters of drinks you’re not convinced you’ll like – just to give your tastebuds a try.

There are several restaurants in the centre which offer high-quality Slovak food – Traja Mušketieri for example. But Krasňanská Kúria is a fraction of the price (you’ll pay five to ten Euros for a starter and a main course here, so at least half as expensive), and the atmosphere is every bit as enjoyable.

It would be premature to suggest Bratislava has any more than just the one central restaurant district. This restaurant, however, is making a very good case for getting out of the Old Town for dinner once in a while.

MAP LINK:

GETTING THERE: Tram numbers 3 (from the big Tesco’s on Špitálska) or 5 (from outside Martinus on Obchodná) run from the city centre (end destination Rača) to Pekná Cesta. Get off and head left up Pekná Cesta, then take the second right, which brings you to the restaurant in 200m. Krasňany, the name of the neighbourhood, is really part of the bigger area of Rača which forms Bratislava’s most northeastern district.

OPENING: 11am to 11pm Monday to Saturday; 11am to 10pm Sundays. In practice, they tend to close a little earlier if there’s only a few people eating in the evening.

RESERVATIONS: If you have a big party, it does get quite busy at lunchtimes and on some evenings, so you can book a table (although communication in English may be difficult).

BEST TIME TO VISIT: 8pm on a cold weekday evening when the cosy conviviality of the joint will warm your soul towards Slovak cuisine.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Krasňanská Kúria it’s a 200m walk to Pekná Cesta and the start of some of our top Bratislava walks, including the Pilgrimage to Marianka

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The Cork Wine Bars… First Bratislava, Now Poprad!

Wine Bars in the High Tatras? You’d Better Believe it – Poprad’s Going Posh!

Saturday night, party night? (not for me, I’m sitting here writing this, but for you, dear reader…) In Bratislava, Cork Wine Bar was and still is, after one acclimatised to the serendipitous vibrant-but-relaxed, understated-but-suave cafe and bar culture permeating the city, exactly what you might hope to find strolling the Old Town streets to get that party started in. A veritable oasis from the bustle of Panská, that most lively of central Old Town streets, it was and is, with its burnished wood and bare brick interior, firstly a quiet respite and sloooooowly, as glass after glass of that spectacularly agreeable wine trickles through you, a place to segue, in sophisticated style, into the party-yet-to-be.

Now Michal, and his business partner Miro, have just opened the Cork Wine bar, take two: in Poprad. Yep, in the High Tatras – where you might hold out hopes of finding an outdoor shop or a koliba (rustic Slovak eatery) but would never have imagined until recently that you would run into an elegant wine bar.

©Eric Wiltsher

©Eric Wiltsher

The opening hours in the new Poprad bar (opening at 8am every morning, as opposed to the Bratislava bar’s far later 5pm start) intimate that this is going to be an even more chilled affair than the branch in the capital and indeed, so it seems: a place where the emphasis on the phenomenal cheeses, Italian meats and the snacking of other daytime treats as well as the wine and where the vibe is far more intimate. It’s rather like walking into your own home-from-home, actually – oozing warmth and positive energy.  A few more words about that cheese. It’s some of the most heavenly Englishman in Slovakia has ever tasted from a Slovak producer (Slovaks make great mild sheep cheeses but have never really made progress producing strong cheeses that could be described as “packing a punch”). Try the cheese at Cork Poprad, and you will consider your taste buds well and truly punched. Seriously, it puts many of the world’s copy-cat cheddars to shame. We’ll ratchet up the rave one notch: this range of cheese is very simply world class. Delve beyond it deeper into their deli selection and you will just everything you could want to compliment quality wines.

To chat too much about the wine would be to steal the limelight from the enthusiastic owners and staff. Michal is keen to share that Cork (initially Bratislava and now Poprad) was an extension of his passion/hobby for wine. He left the rat race of finance to pursue that passion because good wine meant more to him than money, and that passion shows. The wines on offer scan rather like the Who’s Who of wine but, the way Michal talks about them, like the much-loved members of a family, too. What’s more the team at Cork Poprad have ALL been to wine school prior to the venue opening here – yes, they have studied wine.

Cork Poprad's Owners ©Eric Wiltsher

Cork Poprad’s Owners ©Eric Wiltsher

The Cork Wine Bars were originally set up to supply quality wines from around the world to hotels and restaurants, and the Poprad bar is a natural progression for the owners. You can tell you are in the right place when you walk in. The welcome is fantastic, with staff all able to converse in English and eager to find the perfect wine to match your palate’s particular preference (such a level of service is still worth commenting on anywhere in Europe) . Cork Poprad seems reminiscent of the excellent initial wine bars in the UK, opened by those passionate about great wines and quality foods, but offering an inviting and inclusive overall experience that has you champing at the bit to return.

 

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Poprad

 

Places to Go: Poprad’s funky contemporary art gallery in an old power station

Places to Go: Poprad’s lavish Aqua Park

Places to Go: Nine reasons to linger in Poprad

Places to Go/Getting Around: Taking the Mountain Railway into the High Tatras from Poprad

Places to Stay: A cool travel-friendly B&B in Spišská Sobota, Poprad

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s trendy burger joint

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s dignified Café La Fée

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s gourmet chocolatier

Going Out: Poprad & the Manchester United Connection

Arts & Culture: Dedicated traditional Czech & Slovak music radio station now based in Poprad

Getting Around: London to Poprad Flights

Getting Around: The Poprad to Ždiar to Zakopane (Poland) bus

Top Ten Medieval Towns in Slovakia

 

MAP LINK: (Poprad) MAP LINK: (Bratislava)

LOCATION: Levočská 15 (Poprad) Panská 4 (Bratislava)

OPENING: 8am to midnight Monday to Thursday, 8am to 2am Friday, 5pm to 2am Saturday and 5pm to midnight Sunday (Poprad, which does indeed have much longer hours than the original Bratislava branch) AND 5pm to midnight Monday to Thursday, 5pm to 2am Friday/Saturday and 5pm to midnight Sunday (Bratislava)

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Cork Wine Bar in Poprad it’s 400m west to the lovely Café La Fée (although coffee THEN wine might be the more logical way round of doing it)

 

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Image ©Eric Wiltsher

 

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Bratislava’s Best Pivovar (Brewpub-Gastropub)

This site does not usually seize on the obvious (recommending places people are more likely to know about anyway) but there is a way to subvert every trend (for example, writing about somewhere people are less likely to really know about because those people won’t be expecting me to write about anywhere people are likely to know about). Nah, I’m a contrary type on occasion, but not so contrary as all that. The reason I want to write about Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar is because it sets the standard of craft beer in Slovakia very high – and praising this establishment will achieve my ultimate aim of hoping others follow suit.

As I intimated, it’s hardly as if this pivovar, or brewery pub, is unknown: with its location right under the Crowne Plaza just off Obchodná. Even if it was less central, the audacity (OK, ingenuity too) of its design would bring in the crowds from miles around. The immediate impression is that it looks akin to some of the cool new craft brewery bars you see in the southern USA: voluminous (by the standards of the average Bratislava drinking establishment) and with high vaulted ceilings. Stairs then usher you up to a separate, more intimate dining area on the right and up again into the vaults themselves, with stalls and smaller tables arranged to form another large bar area.

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As is often the case with brewery pubs, it doubles up with food that very nearly matches its beer, making it the perfect place for those business dinners, or for men that need to meet up and would feel awkward, perhaps, in a more formal restaurant. It’s got the blend of casual/formal just right here, too (although the service could be marginally more attentive). But as I’ve lamented on this blog before, in Slovakia there are precious few eating places which are either informal with quality food, or decent quality and non-pretentious, so it’s nice to see this joint fill the gap.

So groups of guys down Ležiak (the lighter lager) or Bubák (the dark beer) in the relatively sophisticated dining area whilst Bratislava intellectuals (OK, mostly male again) browse newspapers in suave solitary beer drinking mode downstairs. And, a Meštiansky special: why not try a half light, half dark beer, mixed? It sounds crazy but strangely works (the Slovaks have never had inhibitions about mixing drinks other countries would never dream of doing – just ask them what they do with wine sometimes – but in this case they pull it off). If you ask in advance, you can get someone to show you around the brewery part of the enterprise, too – although earlier in the evening is better for this as, being a fairly well-established venue, the crowds can descend later on…

Serving beer!

Serving beer! ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Whilst the menu is diverse, though, I’m still going to personally recommend going for one of the myriad sausage options (like a simple-but-satisfying utopenec, a sausage seved with pickles and chilli). Slovaks feel at home preparing sausages. And start off with a grilled sheep’s cheese hot from the capital of sheep’s cheese in Slovakia, Liptovský Miklauš. Main meals are between 8 and 21 Euros, with the top end reserved for a rather overpriced double steak tartare.

Now we’ve dealt with the booze and the food, it’s certainly worth mentioning the history. “History” might seem like an odd word to bring into a conversation about one of the Slovak Capital’s best-designed modern drinking and dining establishments, but there is a precedent here. Actually, whilst everyone bangs on about the Czechs and their beer, Bratislava has a proud brewing history that goes back to the middle ages. Back then, of course, Bratislava was known as Pressburg (in German) as it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the town’s burgesses then strove, come the mid-18th century, to create one of Europe’s original brew-pubs (!) – a well-to-do restaurant attached to a working brewery that would rival the very best of Bavaria’s beer houses: and… they succeeded. Thus was born Bratislava’s original Meštiansky Pivovar (in a different location to the current one).

Bratislava’s best pivovar? Yes. The competition is not as stiff as it first appears, and even if it were there’s a high chance this place would still come up trumps. It’s a great place to come and show off to visitors one of the city’s stylish sides.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Drevená  8 – see the website for reservations (recommended on weekday evenings)

OPENING: 11am-11pm Monday to Wednesday & Saturday, until midnight Thursday/Friday, until 10pm on Sunday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: After work through to closing time, but get in early before the main rush (say 5:30) to guarantee a good pew.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: An 800m walk south from Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar is Verne

NB: Shortly after this I went to Zamocký Pivovar up near the castle thinking hey – seems everyone’s opening great craft breweries in Bratislava! Wrong. Zamocký Pivovar is a disappointment: terrible food, mediocre beer and despite deceptive first impressions are surprisingly bland atmosphere (3 big no-no’s) – and it will not, until it improves, get a further mention on Englishmaninslovakia. Which makes me relish Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar more.

Image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The New Bistro St Germain

Wifi: slow.

My memories of the old St Germain are fond, I must say (even although the old location is now ancient, and the new one no longer quite so new). Previously tucked into a cosy little courtyard off bustling Obchodná, this dinky but dignified spot with its elegantly old-fashioned Frech decor, from the black-and white figures on the wallpaper to the ornate iron-and-stained-glass bar and tiled floor, was Bratislava’s first true bistro – and a match for a lot of what Paris could muster in quality.

RELATED POST: See which coffee shop is now locating into Bistro St Germain’s old premises

The problem with the old location was space. They were always full – especially so at lunch time – and customers were being turned away a lot of the time. With the new location there is no such issue. On the same pedestrian street as the cool art house cinema, Kino Lumière, the new location is spacious.

And for first-timers to Bistro St Germain, the effect is impressive.

The decor is the same, and provides a welcome oasis of originality in the somewhat bland environs of Špitàlska behind the monstrous Tesco’s – a bland area but a necessary one to visit if you want to do some supermarket shopping, or catch a movie. The service has actually improved. Staff are friendly as ever and perhaps a little more attentive.

The food is still great. St Germain remains one of a handful of Bratislava cafes where lunch is a real pleasure and salads are good. The burgers (7 Euros) – tanked full of avocado – are equally as delicious as in the old venue, you can’t get better ciabatta (5 Euros) or quesadilla (4.50 Euros) in the centre of town. And the cake selection (really good cheesecake) is phenomenal – in a multi-tier attention-grabbing glass counter by the bar. Besides really good coffee, their homemade lemonade is also notoriously popular for a reason. A lot of Slovak red and white wines are on offer, too: Frankovka modrá on the reds front and Château Topoľčianky on the whites (tip – the nation makes OK red wine but really delicious white). Despite the above, there’s a lightly-seasoned French feel to the menu to add to the timelessly Parisian ambience.

Indeed, for a quality-price-ambience trade-off you couldn’t do much better in the area (the only other place to rival it would be near-by Obývačka). In fact, whilst St Germain still treads a tightrope between “cafe” and “restaurant” (and is arguably both at different times of the day), in its new location it is leaning increasingly close to being more a restaurant, just like Obývačka.

And yet… the cosiness isn’t there any more. Bistro St Germain have done the best job they could in replicating the atmosphere of the old spot in a larger premises. And hey – pop in for lunch or drinks before catching a movie across the street (they are open until late). But it’s not the same. Just as many of the best Parisian bistros are in secluded serendipitous locations that you would have difficulty finding if you tried, so the St Germain of yore retained a hidden-from-the-masses magic. Now it announces itself to the masses. Why, oh why, could they not have at least retained the old locale as a second branch? Because without it, the magic has marginally diminished…

MAP LINK: Tip – The address is Rajska 7 but actually the entrance is a block back, across from the Kino Lumière cinema.

OPENING: 10am until 11pm (Monday to Friday), midday to 11pm at weekends.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Late morning or early afternoon, say eleven thirty to twelve thirty, when idling a while with one of their great coffees, a cupcake and – should you wish – an early lunch, is perfectly acceptable and a totally guilt-free activity.

BEST DISH: The burgers. But you should definitely have a cake too.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Round off refreshing yourself at Bistro St Germain with a walk 900m west to the Bratislava City Gallery

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Kava.Bar

Wifi: Good.

I ducked in out of the afternoon murk of Obchodná, one of Bratislava’s main shopping streets, the other day, into the convivial warmth of the Martinus Bookstore.  As I slurped a coffee in their street front cafe, watching the trams creak by and perusing my Slovak for Beginners book, I noticed that the menu claimed the establishment I was drinking in was striving to recreate the atmosphere of those Parisian cafes of the 1920s – a platform for animated discussion and creative thought, etcetera. Interesting. But there’s a lot of cafes making claims these days. One stop up on the number 5 tram in the direction of Dubravka, Kava.Bar is perhaps most refreshing because it makes no claims whatsoever. It just quietly goes about serving some of the city’s best coffee, in an unpretentious street corner location on the way up to the castle.

The view out ©englishmaninslovakia.com

View out ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So effortlessly serving coffee that is concocted with skill rather than a “close your eyes, press the button of the expensive Italian machine and hope” approach is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Many times over the last few months, in cities that purport to have a coffeehouse culture far greater than Bratislava’s (Budapest, Vienna) I have been served, with the sombre theatrics of airs-and-graces bow-tied waiters in ornate chandelier-hung surrounds which prepare you for food and drink far better, coffee that is barely acceptable, and that – were it not for the fact that I was in those coffeehouses where you need to behave – is 100% returnable. Kava.Bar brews espressos thick with crema, and macchiatos where the milk enhances the flavour of the coffee rather than concealing the fact it has not been made well enough.

Bratislava’s cafe scene reached a peak probably some time during 2014. The closure of Prešporák that winter brought it down again a few notches. It’s somewhere like Kava.Bar that seems set to get in back to that pinnacle.

Blackboard art… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Blackboard art… ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Black-and-white Art Deco-esque tiled floor, big blackboards, displaying intricate sketches and fun messages, championing daily specials, just a cluster of small iron tables but plenty of higher-up window seat perches: Kava.Bar is definitely not about main meals and much more about people watching with a cake, quiche or beverage (they also make really nice tea, plus the joint lends itself well to a glass of good wine in the evening).

It’s not quite designed for lingering like the city’s best cafe of recent years, Prešporák, was. They would certainly never claim their coffee was the equal of Hangout Cafe’s and there’s none of the cafe-for-the-masses feel of Panta Rhei’s Café Dias or the amenable mini coffee chain atmosphere of Stur. Kava.Bar is a proudly independent joint that merely tries to be itself, and does well at it. Its location, on the main route up to Bratislava Castle, will always win it visits (although currently it doesn’t appear to be receiving as many as it deserves). But it has the added merit of having more extensive opening hours than a lot of the other cafes around. I don’t know how they manage to get up so early on Sunday mornings, actually. But I’m very glad they do.

I’m just not sure about the name… it sounds a little too modern. When inside, in fact, kava.bar is much more akin to those Parisian cafes of old that other places wax lyrical about emulating.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Right on the corner of Zamocká and Skalná, just over the dual carriageway from the old town centre.

OPENING: 8am-10pm daily

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A wintry Sunday morning when almost every other good place for coffee is shut.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Kava.bar it’s a 600m walk southwest to Bratislava Castle, one of the city’s best viewpoints

Obývačka

It’s a fairly simple, but mind-blowingly effective recipe. Take breakfast (three-cheese omelette, eggy bread or pancakes, perhaps, alongside one of Bratislava’s best possibilities for a good macchiato). Take lunch (maybe the Obývačka special, a tasting platter of aubergine dip, feta, olives, grilled courgette, shrimps and a dash of chilli). Take dinner (the chicken and mozerella salad or the grilled river fish cooked in saffron and white wine sauce are simplistic and divine, but just a standard salad is crisp and complemented by at least three types of leaf when Slovakia’s standard is precisely no leaves whatsoever). Mix well into one effortlessly fluid, incredibly informal blend that begins with the early morning commuters and culminates with the afterwork partiers and the romantic dinner seekers.

Obývačka, which translates into English as “living room” or “living space” is, above all, relaxed. The ethos is clearly the “cosy” Slovak eatery of old mixed with a liberal smattering of youthful, trendy Bohemia. Typical Slovak cuisine, in other words, made somewhat cooler by good coffee, healthy salads, gluten-free options, decent wine and all those bright young twenty-somethings gabbing either downstairs or up top. It’s a rarity for an eatery to follow through from breakfast to lunch to dinner and come up trumps in all departments and the laid-back attitude (the staff are young, multi-lingual and eager to help or recommend the ever-changing specials) is key to this.

Let us contextualise, as we ever need to do in Slovakia. It’s not every cafe-bar-restaurant that opens for breakfast, let alone decent breakfasts with good espresso. It’s not every trendy lunch stop that offers such good-value lunches. Creative salads and good wine are far from being ubiquitous, even in Bratislava. Friendly, courteous service at dinner is not a guarantee. And the Obývačka-like interior – a bar hung with beads, retro wallpaper covered with flowers (in the design of the typical rural krčmy, or pubs, only more hip), an upstairs decorated in opened books, their pages rustling in the breeze – is conducive to lingering. One could go so far as to say it comes closest to providing anything approaching Slovak fusion cuisine in Bratislava. And it’s brightening up the ever-more lively Dunajska street in an area of town the average visitor wouldn’t stroll into unless, well, unless Englishmaninslovakia had recommended it, really…

Nothing in Obývačka is stand-out. There are better restaurants around. But for the price-quality trade-off (meals here are all between 4 and 9 Euros, about mid-range for Bratislava) – and particularly for their decent range of gluten-free options, the Old Town has few better places. And of course everything is very, very cosily convivial. Much like your living room, really.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Dunajská 54: that’s the street leading west from the big city-centre Tesco’s. Head three blocks west on Dunajska and you’ll see it. The website is Slovak-only but staff speak good English.

OPENING: 8am until 11pm (Monday to Thursday), 8am-1am (Friday), 11am-1am (Saturday) and 11am-11pm (Sunday)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Mid- to late evening, say around 8:30pm, for a glass of wine, then dinner and more drinks.

BEST DISH: The zubáč (a freshwater fish) in our humble opinion – pictured above in a saffron and pine nut garnish.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 600m southwest of Obývačka is Tulip House Boutique Hotel

The Train Station Cafe – Vestiges of Old Glamour

Wifi: Non-existent  (regrettably, given the name of the joint)

On a visit to Budapest recently I was reminded again of just how many glamorous cafes of old there are in the city – Ruszvurm near the castle, for instance, that Austrian Empress Elizabeth used to send for cakes from, or New York Cafe, that all the famous turn-of-the-century Hungarian writers like Ferenc Molnár once hung out in.

Bratislava cannot really boast such a pedigree of coffee houses – not ones with this kind of colourful history. On Hlavné Námestie there is Kaffee Mayer (which, it is true, used to count among its patrons the colourful city character Schöner Náci – statue outside the doors). There is the nearby Caffe Roland. And these cafes do admittedly lend a touch of that bygone elegance – but the ambience is someone detracted from by the numbers of tourists and the service as frosty as a layer of wedding cake icing.

But there is a touch of that bygone cafe glamour of old – just a touch – in the unlikeliest of Bratislava locales. Yes, the otherwise shabby Hlavná Stanica, Bratislava’s main railway station. The station forecourt might be a mass of decrepit snack stands but, up the steps by the departures/arrivals screen and next to the Slovenská Sporitel’ňa bank ATM, there is the inconspicuous, unassuming and somewhat puzzlingly named Caffe Internet.

Its name, one imagines, was not always thus – and, as the ailing computer terminal has now been removed – should perhaps no longer be. But there are the worn leather-upholstered booths, the ancient dark wood furniture, the stately old mirrors, the swinging chandeliers and the ceiling with the motif of an eagle alighting on a globe – trappings from another very different age. The service, a stoic old lady who gets confused if you order much above coffee or a beer, is not reminiscent of the glory days. But something in the ambience certainly is.  The ghosts of train travellers of yore, you feel, flit around the walls of this place. A shadowy bowler-hatted character from a Graham Greene novel could be behind the unfurled newspaper someone – who knows who? – at the next booth is holding aloft.

And the thing about Caffe Internet is that you are obliged to pass by its creaking old doors when you get your train out of (or into) Bratislava. It’s my most-visited coffee shop in the entire city for that reason. So take the extra twenty minutes out to stop in for a cup of the fairly decent espresso and imagine yourself transported decades back to train travel at the height of its sophistication – when young men of means took their “Grand Tours” to Austro-Hungary and when waiters in restaurant cars wore suits. It’s a step up from the disconsolate Pumpkin cafe chain that peppers many railway stations in the UK, at least…

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Hlavná Stanica railway station.

OPENING: About 6am-9pm daily

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Any time you need to take a train…

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Bratislava’s Hlavná Stanica station, it’s a 2km walk north to Kamzík, at which point you are all set to embark on a pilgrimage to Marianka

The Tea Tent in Medická Záhrada

Wifi: None.

The first time. It’s important, right? On my first time – with the tea tent in Medická Záhrada, that is – a bare-footed, bearded man engaged me in an interesting discussion about birdwatching in Slovakia: besides recommending then serving me with a very good iced tea…

It’s illustrative of the ease – the slightly Bohemian, but very serene ease – with which “Tvoja Čajovna” (your teahouse) has operated, now, for several years.

In Medická Záhrada, possibly Bratislava’s best-kept city park (Záhrada means garden), this double marquee (the larger of the two tents is for sitting, in far-Eastern style on the floor or cushions, and sipping; the smaller of the two is for the kitchen) announces the start of summer proper when it opens its doors – or perhaps more accurately lifts its flaps – at the beginning of May. And it does so in the gentlest, least assuming way that a place which by now has the deserved status of a city institution possibly could.

It would be easy for Tvoja Čajovna to put on grand airs (being quite simply the city’s nicest eatery to be actually enclosed within a park) or to serve unappealing Slovak stodge for food (it serves healthy platters of hummus, pita bread and salad) or indeed to charge high prices for the privilege of the beautiful location (they don’t).

Instead this veritable encampment (because there’s also two other covered drinking/dining areas separate from the main tent) concentrates on attentive service: particularly where tea is concerned. You can even order a Japanese tea ceremony here!

©englishmaninslovakia.com

©englishmaninslovakia.com

It’s not Bratislava’s finest čajovna, but when you factor in the location, and the beautiful Moroccan-style interior, it’s also not that far off. And when the sun beats down in the 35-degree midday summer heat, it’s the best place to cool off – whilst remaining relatively sophisticated:)

Relevant civic authority: don’t screw up and make it hard for Tvoja Čajovna to return next year, OK?

MAP LINK:

OPENING: 10pm-around 8pm May until October – in fair or good weather only (so don’t come here hoping for shelter in a thunderstorm)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A sweltering hot June lunchtime

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 4km east of Medická Záhrada is the neighbourhood of Ružinov

Štúr (the Cafe)

Wifi: Good.

I like cafes. And perhaps part of the reason I like them, over, let’s say, restaurants, is because I like sitting in them with a coffee and a laptop, eking away hours stealing subtle glances at newcomers to see if they could become characters in my next book, or will at least add some interesting colour to the article I’m working on (all things that are very hard to do in restaurants). Looking like a writer in them, basically.

In a cafe like Štúr that’s easy. The very theme of the joint is, after all, the father of the Slovak language, Ľudovít Štúr (Shtoor, as it mistakenly gets spelt by some, is NOT the correct way of writing it). Štúr is Slovakia’s national hero, but unlike most national heroes he did not heroically prove himself in some conflict or other. Štúr’s war was with words. That was the crusade he fought. The crusade – whilst Slovakia was a reluctant but increasingly proud and distinct part of the Hungarian Empire – to get Slovak recognised as a language.

RELATED POST: MODRA: THE L’UDOVĺT ŠTÚR TOUR (coming soon!)

Štúr the cafe has been successful enough to build up its own mini-coffee-chain in Bratislava – a novel thing in itself for a city which, to its credit, has none of the soulless international coffeeshop chains like Starbucks. I always patronised the original branch on Panská (pictured above, alas now as you will see this image will become a piece of cafe history), sitting at street level as close to the huge bearded likeness of Ľudovít as I could in order to gaze out at the crowds milling about on the cobbles. Yet, in the rapidly evolving world of Bratislava’s cafes, this branch has lamentably closed. Nevertheless, the caffeine tinted gleam on the horizon is that the mini-chain’s two other locations in the city centre are wonderful: near the Tulip House Boutique Hotel at Štúrova 8 (nice touch to have it on the namesake street) and, better yet, in the former location of Bistro St Germain in an atmospheric little courtyard back from Obchodná 17 (very peaceful and cosy). Map links below!

I certainly think that the Slovak national hero would have approved of the Štúr the cafe. You can usually tell a good cafe from its unassuming facade, in my experience, and the old-fashioned pink-brown sign with Štúr’s solemn countenance staring balefully through the window glass is the very antithesis of flashy (this is also the reason those not in the know might stroll by it oblivious). The waitresses that take your order are effortlessly urbane and welcoming simultaneously which lends the cafe a cosmopolitan feel. You don’t feel bad nursing your delicious espresso a couple of hours. No one will tell you it’s time to move on (even though the place does get busy and tables do fill up). The decor is simple, yet beautiful wooden chairs and tables are evocative of a decade – maybe quite a few ago now – of glamorous cafes frequented by artists, and writers of course, and people who thrashed out ideas as they hung out with drinks. And Štúr would undoubtedly approve of how the menu is laid out: in old Slovak, or in other words the nation’s language as he established it (none of the Czech-, German- or English-isms Slovak has today).

Regular double espresso is 2.20 Euros but there are some fancier, sweeter Štúr specials for only a fraction more (iced caramel and vanilla latte, as an example). Of the light lunches available, we love the cheese and spinach quiche most, whilst the cake selection (normally at least three types of cheesecake, including a chocolate one, and a divine lemon cake) will waylay you as you pass the counter on the way in long enough to have queues building up outside.

Štúr was 200 years old in 2015. Honour him with a visit here!

Štúr the Cafe’s Current Locations in Bratislava Old Town:

1:Right near the Tulip House Boutique Hotel, at (appropriately) Štúrova 8… MAP LINK TO ŠTÚROVA BRANCH

2: Bratislava’s cool mini coffee chain has also recently nabbed a very cool location – in those old premises of Bistro St Germain, in an idyllic little alley-courtyard off Obchodná (No. 17). In my view it was a mistake for Bistro St Germain to let this premises go.. MAP LINK TO OBCHODNÁ BRANCH

OPENING: – 8am-midnight Monday to Friday, 9am-midnight weekends

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Any time in daylight: not because it’s dangerous afterwards, but because daylight shows up the place for what it is: a wonderful street cafe with an eye out on the bustling activity of the city centre.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY:  25 metres further down from Štúr the Cafe’s Obchodná branch (following Obchodná, that is) and you’ll hit the crossroads with Poštova: from here it’s another 25 metres north up to the Panta Rhei bookshop/cafe and 40 metres north to the Austria Trend Hotel or, one block further down Obchodná, a full 50 metres from Štúr the Cafe’s Obchodná branch, there is the cool Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar.

Verne

It’s always the way, right? You come to a beautiful city centre, you see the key sights and then you build up a thirst – or even a hunger – for after all, being a tourist or a traveller or a wanderer or whatever word you choose to use for it is, sometimes, draining. And of course when you are in afore-mentioned city centre in x country you realise nearly all the places to eat are fearfully expensive, devoid of atmosphere and certainly devoid of locals: the last places, if you are anything like me, that you would ever wish to eat.

This is where a joint like Verne comes in. You’ve come down to the Old Town through the beautiful Michael’s Gate, taken a picture (for some reason) of the compass on the cobbles, checked out each of the quirky statues in the city centre (like the bronze man emerging from the manhole) and amiably strolled through those gorgeous medieval central squares. You’re bang in the centre of things and you want lunch (or indeed dinner). Verne is there to help out… if, that is, you want your city centre meal to be the opposite of what’s described above (i.e. somewhere reasonably priced, brimming with ambience and always bustling with local clientele.

Verne is on the north side of Hviezdoslavovo Námestie, my favourite of Bratislava’s squares because of its length, leafiness and the gorgeous Slovenské Národné Divadlo (Slovak National Theatre) at one end. Its entrance, as with most under-the-tourist-radar places, is not obvious: in the hot weather they have a few tables out front but otherwise you have to descend some steps within an ornate tree-shaded building on either side of two far brasher bar-restaurants that, if you weren’t know, you’d end up in. (Fear not – with the Englishman in Slovakia, you are IN the know.)

I’ve been going to Verne on and off two years now.

This wine was actually pretty good :)

This wine was actually pretty good :)

When you come into the bar area, you’ll see why, too. In its own understated way this place exudes elegance. Namely normal, everyday Bratislava folks tucking into their food in a dimly lit underground dining area that looks a bit like the aftermath of a party in a sumptuous aristocratic house about, say, 1880: old slightly crooked standard lamps, lavish but rumpled tapestried seats, cupboards stocked with old wines that look like they’ve been sitting in the same positions since Slovakia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A carefully orchestrated atmosphere of ailing grandeur, in other words. And, unlike quite a few city restaurants I could mention, people talk here. Conversation fairly ricochets off the beamed ceilings. But the talk is almost 100% locals – families, large groups of friends… it’s a popular ex-pat hangout too (those slightly-drunk older guys speaking about city politics in English loudly at the bar, you know).

Steak on a bed of rice… a Verne staple

Steak on a bed of rice… a Verne staple

The atmosphere is why to come to Verne.

The food is very reasonable price-wise but don’t expect top quality. The steaks are too well-done. The salads are heavy on the grated carrot which reminds one of typical English pub salads (so ask for the feta and tomato salad instead, which Verne does very well).

But there is variety. It’s the ideal place for a breakfast the morning after the night before (good, well-cooked comfort food). The soups are very tasty. The stuffed chicken with mozzerella always goes down a treat. There are a lot of different tasty pasta options (the spinach lasagne is my favourite).  The cooking mixes up the more typical Slovak fare (dumplings, potatoes and sheep’s cheese) with plenty of healthier veggie offerings. The wines? They veer from OK to wince-ably acidic.

But you’re always going to have a good-enough meal here and with prices this cheap and an atmosphere this good, the overall experience is going to be better, and a fair bit more authentic, than anywhere else in this part of Bratislava.

And if you want dinner before heading for a concert at the wonderful Slovak Philharmony or opera at the afore-mentioned Slovak National Theatre, this place is the perfect choice.

MAP LINK: The pinpoint on Google maps goes to Kogo Bar, which doesn’t exist; nevertheless this is the approximate location of Verne

LOCATION: Hviezdoslavovo Námestie 18 – there’s no website (just the Facebook page given above) which means pre-booking is tough. In any case, it’s unnecessary. Verne is a veritable rabbit warren inside with lots of tables, and it’s rare to find it with no free space. So just turn up. This is Bratislava, remember, not London or Paris.

OPENING: 9am-midnight Monday to Friday, 10am-1am Saturday, 10am-midnight Sunday.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Come in for dinner about 9-9:30pm to find this place at its liveliest – or mid-afternoon/early evening in summer you can grab a pew on the outside tables overlooking the pretty Hviezdoslavovo Námestie.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Precede a visit to Verne with coffee at Kava.Bar, a 700m walk northwest

Traja Mušketieri

It had been a long time in coming. Circumstances had thwarted us from visiting Traja Mušketieri, Bratislava’s medieval-themed Slovak restaurant, on many an occasion. Now we were to be thwarted no more… although its location, on one of the elegant old back streets behind the Presidential palace, can be hard to find.

As you descend into the vaulted interior to be greeted by courteous waitresses clad in medieval garb you might be forgiven for thinking of the anachronism: the traja mušketieri (aka three musketeers, of course) were 17th century, right, not medieval? OK – so let’s call the theme here “century-old” or “swashbuckling days of yore” perhaps.

As you pull up a pew at one of the heavy-set banquet tables inside, though, you’ll soon start to focus your attention on the food itself. Or let your eyes wander over the swords mounted on the walls, the old tapestries, the very fetching (but definitely medieval-looking) tankards… the cosy old-world charm, in short. And the service – which is anything but medieval. It’s actually one of the things that make the place. These staff are – by Slovakia’s “on a learning curve” standards and by English standards too, which certainly fall in the lower echelons of European table service – profession, polite, friendly and competent. They know the menu, they know which meals to recommend for dietary requirements, they know which wines to recommend for which dishes, they’ll speak English too.

Onto the food. Pretty expensive by the city’s standards but if my bank balance permits I have no problem with paying for the extra quality. I went for a deer in cranberry sauce with chantarelle buns; my dining companion for a thick juicy fillet of steak with those delicious soft-roasted rosemary potatoes Slovakia does so well. The food was really good – those chantarelle buns particularly were divinely fluffy. And for a starter, Traja Mušketieri’s pate is justifiably renowned. What I liked best is that this restaurant is happy to offer Slovak classics with a touch of classy creativity, rather than compromise and have a menu peppered by, say, French dishes which is a trend in many good Bratislava restaurants.

Deer in cranberry sauce with chantarelle buns

Deer in cranberry sauce with chantarelle buns

It was, overall, a really good eating-out experience in Bratislava. What I would say, though, is that I do not understand why you have to pay prices that would not look amiss in a central London restaurant (12-20 Euros for mains) to get good food and courteous service. Because when you start paying much below that in Bratislava (the average main meal cost in the city is probably 5-8 Euros) one of those two essential tests of quality start slipping a little when you’re talking about evening meals. So well done Traja Mušketieri for getting it right, and here’s to hoping more will follow the high standards.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Sládkovičova 7 (see the website for map and reservations – although reservations I would say are only necessary on Fridays or Saturdays – the place was only a third full when we were there in mid-evening)

OPENING: 11am-10pm Tuesday to Saturday.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Mid-evening, around 8-9pm.

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Dined? Time, perhaps, for drinks at Starosloviensky Pivovar, a 600m walk east

Bratislava Castle Restaurant

Slovak cuisine tastebud-tickling time. And this, primarily, for those who have been asking me about classic places to eat really good Slovak food in Bratislava Old Town.

On first examination, the question itself appears bizarre – what other kind of food would restaurants in the Slovak capital be serving up? Well, the current trend in the city centre seems to be leaning towards the international=cool approach. But traditional Slovak cuisine? More the domain of the old folks and the tourists (the old folks aren’t so bothered about gourmet, the attitude goes, and the tourists, ha, they can easily be conned into what constitutes good Slovak food), with the result that, outside of a few dingy krčmy (pubs) and a clutch of high-in-price, far-lower-in-quality joints around Hlavné námestie (the main square), really good typical Slovak restaurants are fairly elusive.

RELATED POST: Bratislava Christmas Market – A Great Op for Trying Traditional Slovak Food

©englishmaninslovakia.com

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So, dearth of top-end Slovak cuisine-oriented restaurants revealed, it was both shocking and heartening to discover that one of the very best in Bratislava is actually situated right next to Bratislava Castle. Shocking because who expects a really good showcase for national cuisine right by one of the most touristy spots in the whole country? Heartening because – well – we know that however much we celebrate off-the-beaten-track places on this site, it’s those big attractions where foreign visitors often gravitate and if they do, we would much rather they had the option of seeking refreshment in a decent restaurant (we know it’s easy to resort to the fast food stand or conveniently-close-to-where-hunger-strikes-but-bland eatery, but don’t). And one that can stand in, with some panache, as a showcase for Slovakia’s culinary offerings.

You will come across Hradná Hviezda in the stately cream-yellow courtyard buildings immediately on the west side of the castle (the side furthest away from the city centre, in other words). With a name translating as the Castle Star, it’s the sister restaurant of Modra Hviezda (Blue Star) a little further down in the Jewish Quarter near the Clock Museum – but it is the more dazzling of the two sisters. The setting exudes refinement, although inside, whilst the interior is pleasant enough with its walnut wood furniture and chandeliers, this is hardly what impresses. Nor is it the service (although, poised somewhere between the luke-warm and the congenial, the service is more than adequate). No, Hradná Hviezda will only have you planning your next visit back when you taste what it can do (cook well).

Deer and plums go so well together… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Deer and plums go so well together… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

There are seven or eight choices of typical Slovak main courses, and each whets the curiosity (and the palate). The meat, always soft, flavoursome and embellished by rosemary and thyme, is hardest to resist. There is the mangalica (the wild boar that roams in the forests above Bratislava) with a pumpkin sauce and chestnuts – chestnuts being a typical accompaniment to Slovakia’s game-centric meat dishes. There is a rabbit served with paprika sauce and dumplings – rabbit is a common meat for country folks who regularly go out bagging them but in Bratislava it is far rarer, and enhanced here by a combo of traditional Hungarian and Slovak sides, the paprika that sets Hungarian food a-blaze and the dumplings which prop up typical Slovak food. Jeleň (venison) is also offered – with the sauce concocted from Slovakia’s signature fruit, the plum, and a rich, creamy potato puree. But Hradná Hviezda also does a mean strapačky (dumplings with sauerkraut) and one that’s enticingly presented in contrast to the sometimes colourless versions of the dish served up elsewhere.

Presentation (generous portions, yet thoughtfully arranged on the plates) is key with Hradná Hviezda’s food. The chefs clearly know exactly what they are doing. A meal here, consequently, is not cheap (mains are between 13 and 22 Euros, which puts it in a similar price bracket to one of our other favourite city centre Slovak restaurants, Traja Muškietieri).

It would have been nice to wash down the delicious food with a choice of better Slovak beers (only offering Zlaty Bažant and Krušovice, two of the dullest beers in the country, is a definite shortcoming). It’s definitely recommended, therefore, to sample their wine list which in contrast goes overboard to offer a wide variety of Slovak wines. White wines in Slovakia, especially those from the Small Carpathians (Male Karpaty) Wine region, can rival the world’s best, and the dry white from Rulandske, in the Limbach/Pezinok region, is a true delight here.

Perhaps a glass of the latter would have been better paired with their trout… But we have only ever had eyes for Hradná Hviezda’s game. You’ll spend a lot longer than the walk up here takes if you were to keep to the lower reaches of the city centre scouting around to find game that compares to that available in the serendipitously twinkling Castle Star…

MAP LINK:

GETTING THERE: Directions are the same as for the castle, and this is an easy stroll up from the very centre, but for those with walking difficulties there is trolleybus 203, catch-able from Hodžovo námestie (and get out at the stop conveniently called “Hrad”).

OPENING: 10am-10pm. Sometimes it can be a good idea to book –  as the restaurant caters to tour groups (locals too, but also tour groups).

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Oh, a dark wintry lunchtime when huddling by their cozy fireplace seems pretty much the best thing to do. Hradná Hviezda’s best dishes are the heavy, hearty, wintery kind. And a visit in out of the cold means the perfect excuse to sample one of their oh-so-typically Slovak fruit brandies… mahrulovica (with apricots), borovička (with pears). The list goes on.

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Hradná Hviezda it’s 2km north to another restaurant on a great viewpoint, Kamzík

Hanging Out at The Hangout

Wifi: slow but steady.

It’s a Friday evening, just around six, and the Hangout Cafe at the beginning of Kapucinska is uncharacteristically quiet. All day it’s been buzzing with cool young things, busy on their laptops, on their speedy business lunches. And now it’s just us. It’s a rarity. Normally, day-time, Hangout Cafe is full. Heaving would be the wrong word. Just pleasantly full. In a casual, metropolitan kind of way. Maybe it’s because Lukáš the owner is not here. He does, admittedly, add a certain gravitas to the place. He is the one, after all, who claims to make Bratislava’s best coffee, which is quite a claim these days.

But first, the place. It’s right on the main street which leads from the big church on the corner of Hurbanovo Námestie up towards the castle – an ideal location – and is perfectly poised for those middle-of-the-day or after-work business lunches. Indeed it is a place which seems to be the “hangout” of men – often single, well-dressed men, sometimes groups of two, comparably well-dressed men. They’re always well-dressed, and they’re invariably men. What do they like about the place? The high window-facing tables? The seats at the bar? The free wifi? The partial industrial vibe, created by large, obscure pictures of brightly-coloured cars whooshing through various monochrome but ultra-modern cities?

Who knows? We came in with two girls in our party and caused a stir. Everyone else left. But that was cool too. It was prime, after-work time in Bratislava and we had a stylish hangout all to ourselves. And their house red wine is some of the best in the Old Town too! It made us linger. As for the coffee, it was better than most of the other top cafes in the Old Town (and an espresso is a mere Euro). But I am going to say something controversial here. I’ve tried better in Nitra. Having said that, there’s few places in the Old Town that so stylishly oversee the transition from daytime cafe to evening hangout.

Evening Hangout

And often, especially now in these days of savvy web searches to plan where you’re going to go to grab a good glass of wine, “hangout” is an understatement of what the evening scene is like here. “Positively humming” might be nearer the mark. But if you want to come away from the evening having learned something about wine, come when Lukáš is around. He knows a thing or ten, and he isn’t reticent to share his knowledge…

Still, this joint is still (just) more cafe than bar. Its great coffee sets it apart from the competition more than its good wine.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: – Zupné Námestie 9 (beginning of Kapucinska near tram stop no 5/8)

OPENING: – 9am-10pm daily, until 1am (semi-unofficially) Friday/Saturday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Early to mid evening, for a damned good espresso or an afterwork glass of wine.

LAST UPDATED: (Spring 2014) Same vibe, but met the owner this time (and the coffee was way better as a result, not that it had been bad before). A few words are worth a thousand pictures, to twist an old saying: Lukáš told us all about the type of coffee bean he was using (Kimbo, from Naples) which creates a potent, richly oily brew. That’s the bean that was his favourite when he was working as a barista in Italy. As for the opening hours, he said that, true to the Italian style, weekend hours were more like whenever the last customer left… (April 2017) Place is firing on all cylinders, especially come night time!

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Hangout Cafe it’s a 1km walk east to more good coffee at Bistro St Germain

Update March 2014:

 

Starosloviensky Pivovar: Where the Foam Comes Free

So there I was, all ready to start writing a post about Slovak wine. I even have a glass of wine in my hand, for Goodness sake. But I remember someone saying to me the other day I hadn’t written enough about places to go for a drink in Bratislava yet (which is surprising, because I like drinking a lot) and this place seemed the obvious candidate, namely because I spent an evening there last week getting wasted.

Inside the Pivobar...

Inside the Pivovar…

So there we go. Starosloviensky Pivovar is a place that sticks in your memory – boozily veering between the sophisticated and the raucous, but with a beer selection that most locals say is better than Bratislava’s Meštiansky Pivovar and with food that’s certainly way better than Slovak Pub (to equate it to another nearby boozy Bratislava joint serving food).

Starosloviensky Pivovar, if you still have time for a beer having uttered its name, is on Vysoká, which is the street that loops around the back of Obchodná and comes out again by the Austria Trend Hotel. The location is great. Vysoká is an infinitely nicer street than Obchodná on which to hang and, what with the Film Hotel on the same block has a kind of antiquated Broadway-in-the-1920s feel to it. It’s got an outside area of decking (nice when the temperature gets into the plusses) and big rustic wooden tables inside.

The beer selection? Great – the delicious hoppy Stupavar, brewed just north of Bratislava, and the Pressburg – particularly the weisenbier and the radler – were two very complex beers – a relief from the Zlatý Bažant-dominated beer scene in Slovakia. I can recommend it as a decent after-work (or, if you’re a tourist, even after-breakfast) spot for a drink in this area of town (compared to the other pivovars in Bratislava this one is more laid-back and popular with a younger crowd) but what got me was that, for a place that has its own brewery, they have no idea how to pour beer. When the first glasses came with a leaning tower of pena (foam) we queried it, got the response that the barman did not know how to pour drinks, and promptly got served two more with equally foamy heads. Foam, let me tell you, that represented nearly a quarter of the glass. A way of economising? Bad service? Whatever the reason, be warned that for every four glasses of beer you buy, one will be foam. And despite this I liked the place.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Vysoká 15

OPENING HOURS: Until 11pm

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the Staroslovensky Pivovar, it’s a 650m walkk north, over Hodžovo Námestie to the cool Fabrika brewpub-restaurant

An article about Bratislava’s Pivovars

My chapter on the Slovak beer scene for the brand-new Lonely Planet Global Beer Tour

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Top Ten Bratislava Cafes (March 2017)

Fun at the Hangout Cafe... after hours when there's less peeps hanging there

Fun at the Hangout Cafe… after hours when there’s less peeps hanging there

OK, so this list is subject to change – when I hear of a new entry worthy of the list or of one of these entries deserving a different position I’ll update it. But as of right now, here we go:

10: Café Dias

Only come here for coffee and cake. These two items on the menu are pretty damned fine. The coffee at Café Dias is fair trade, often from Africa, and you’ll salivate over choosing your cake from the many-tiered display cabinet. It’s in the bookshop, Panta Rhei, and the other reason it goes in at number 10 is as a great people-watching spot.

Location: Poštová under Austria Trend Hotel

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9: Next Apache

Next Apache does good coffee, including its own special blend, amidst one of the best selections of English and Slovak language second-hand books in the city.

Location: Panenská 28

Website: 

8: Caffe l’Aura

A great hidden-away little spot by St Martin’s Cathedral: at front it doubles as the Old Town’s coolest antique shops, at back the café, decorated with quirky knickknacks, is a place where you can sit and sip and never be rushed.

Location: Rudnayovo Námestie off Panská

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7: Corny Café

Another hidden-away place in an interesting area just east of downtown near the Blue Church. There’s a small outside garden, and the inside is lovably, cosily retro: you could imagine Communist leaders making breakfast business deals here. The coffee is great (fair trade, with produce from coffee growers around the world available, and in my opinion a candidate for the city’s best) and the cake selection is very good. It’s slipped down the list a tad of late because sometimes if you go in it can be quiet, and this can detract from the atmosphere.

Location: Grösslingová 20

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6: Caffé Trieste

This little place at Floriánske Námestie goes in at 6 for the quality of its coffee. It is up there with the city’s best, and for the quality/ price ratio (an espresso costs just €1) for a caffeine fix it could be top. It falls down for having a poor cake selection and for there being a lot of competition for seating: you often feel rushed. It’s so popular though that the outside seats are taken even in winter!

Location: Floriánske Námestie 1

Website: 

5: Avra Kehdabra

And indeed, perhaps you will feel as though uttering the classic incantation to incite magical happenings (the name is the Slovak way of saying Abracadabra by the way) really can occasionally work, when you clap eyes on this cute, tucked-away place on Grösslingová, which styles itself as a literary teahouse, but also serves incredible coffee amongst heavily book-stacked shelves. Places come, and places close, but this little joint has become a permanent fixture in the Bratislava hot drinks scene and comes the closest to replacing the lamentably departed Prešporák – my all-time favourite Bratislava cafe (but watch this space for an interesting update on that score).

Location: Grösslingová 49

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4: Bistro St German

Most people know about Bistro St German now, tourists included. But that’s because it’s a great place: with an atmosphere reminiscent of the Parisian bistros of old, formidable cakes, including a gluten-free option, decent (although betterable) coffee. The soups and lunches (a delicious burger, a succulent quiche) are worth a stop too.

Location: Rajská 7 (It’s now moved as of May 2014 to this new location from its former one off Obchodná – it’s new location is not QUITE as atmospheric which means its position on this list has now changed.)

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3: Štúr

A bit of an institution now but a pretty good one,  has a menu in old-fashioned Slovak (faithful to founder of the Slovak language, Ľudovít Štúr, after whom it takes its name) and great baguettes and lunches. The cakes are also very good, and it’s open until 10pm.

Location: Štúrová 14

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2: Hangout Café

The owner claims he does the city’s best espresso and he could well be right; the word on the street often backs him up at least. It’s a nice interior: bare-brick walls, seating at the bar or at window tables and a nice big blackboard touting the specials. It only doesn’t get a higher entry because the quality in the centre is getting pretty high.

Location: Kapucinská, right by the tram stop.

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1: Kava.Bar

Kava.Bar was treated with much excitement by englishmaninslovakia.co.uk when we spotted it on a walk up to the castle a couple of winters back. It’s a small place, but huge blackboards and cute window seats and a liberal decoration with various curios make this very eye-catching as cute cosy cafes go. The coffee is great, the cake selection not bad, but  I would also have liked to see a little more in the way of food. But the ambience is perfect.

Location: Skalná 1 

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Panta Rhei And Café Dias (Central Bratislava Branch): Good Coffee, Great Books

Café Dias, next to Panta Rhei Bookstore

Café Dias, next to Panta Rhei Bookstore – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Wifi: Alright.

I’m always a bit dubious of cafes in, or affiliated with, bookstores. So it was with some trepidation that I snuffed out Café Dias the other night after a spot of Christmas shopping. Would it be another dreary collaboration of the Borders-Starbucks or Paperchase-Caffé Nero ilk, full of depressed, angry people so utterly out of keeping with what a bookish cafe should be like?

Not a bit of it. Café Dias might rather grandly advertise itself as a place where “Great Adventures Live Forever” but in the waste ground of good, welcoming places to eat/drink at this end of town between Obchodná and Hodžovo Námestie, it’s a nice find.

Not that locals think of it as a “find” – Panta Rhei, the bookstore adjoining the cafe, is hardly a secret. It’s a massive bookstore. It is a way above-average bookstore, actually, with a really great selection, American Christmas classics on repeat right now and my favourite bit: a wonderful craft and design section of the DIY variety. They also have a decent selection of cards (in a country where card-giving is not the standard practice it is in the UK) and gorgeous notebooks (I love browsing various shops’ notebook selections).

But back to the cafe. No one would ever think Dias would be so good, being surrounded by that fierce, vigorous brand of commerce which can all too often turn outlets into piles of direness. Yet there it is: cosy, tribal-themed décor, big wide windows from which to spectate on the scurrying passers-by heading to the Billa supermarket in the snow (currently a sweet old 15cm deep), and, of course the most important, innovative food and drink.

Café Dias Food and Drink

After a careful scrutiny of the cake section (there was fruity cheesecakes and a zesty apple tart which I also ended up trying), I opted for the chocolatiest option – chocolate sponge topped by a couple of layers of lighter, creamier chocolate mouse and a fruity dark chic topping (I like chocolate) and a mulled wine. The only problem with this was that I didn’t sample the coffee, which a friend had recommended me as excellent – the same one as introduced me to the now lamentably-closed Prešporák actually but I can’t reveal my sources :) – but I did smell it, and it smelt good. What Dias has is a selection of plantation brews from the likes of Guatemala, Indonesia, Peru and the rest of the world’s coffee kingdoms-on-high – and each one comes with a tempting description and general tips on appreciating coffee: for a reasonable 2 to 5.35 euros.

The service was, well, courteous but on the slow side. I had to beg to be allowed to pay the bill. As I was waiting, I found out that the cafe takes its name from Portuguese explorer Bartholemeu Dias, the first-known man to sail round the coast of Africa. Café Dias might not quite take you to a place as strange and new as that. But in an absence of other enticing eateries in this neck of the woods, its well worth the voyage here (and the wait for the table).

It should be noted that the Café Dias-Panta Rhei double act is not unique to this part of the city centre. Elsewhere in Bratislava, in the big shopping centres of Aurpark and Avion,  as well as in other city shopping centres in the likes of Piešťany, Nitra, Žilina and Košice, a Panta Rhei along with a Café Dias sitting plumb in the corner of it, will be found. But these are shopping centres. And whilst they seem pretty popular places to eat in Slovakia, they are vacuums as far as atmosphere goes. This store – call it the flagship Café Dias-Panta Rhei combo – is a bit different. It has personality. A more-or-less guaranteed delightful book- or stationery purchase. And great people-watching ops whilst you peruse afore-mentioned purchase over that coffee and cake…

An adventure that lasts forever? A pleasant diversion from the daily grind that seems set to stay a fixture in Bratislava’s Old Town, for sure…

MAP LINK

LOCATION: – Vysoká 2, by (indeed, on the ground floor of) the Austria Trend Hotel (seen on the map), and attached to Panta Rhei. It’s right outside the other side of the underpass when you’re coming from Hodžovo Nam.

OPENING: – 8am-10pm

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Late morning or early lunch, for a good coffee and cake after a book purchase.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: On the next street, Drevená, 100 metres southwest, is Bratislava’s best brewpub, Bratislavský Mestiansky Pivovar

LAST UPDATED: April 2017