A one hour journey by train from Vienna stands the Slovakian capital on the banks of the Blue Danube. Actually, on the day I visited it was far from blue. If anything is was ditchwater colored, but Strauss jr. wasn’t in the market for factual accuracy, and his music wouldn’t be near as celebrated if his compositions had included the words ‘sludge’, ‘grimy’ or ‘murky’ in the title. I immediately headed for the old town, having little interest in modern office blocks and Communistic architecture (if I wanted imposing buildings with no character I’d do my daily shop in Croydon town center. Either that or move back to Stoke). This is where the history and soul and spirit of the city resides, so it stands to reason that I would aim for this compact yet charming area to seek out quality food and delightful desserts. I was not to be disappointed.
Ashoka Indian Restaurant
(Hodžovo námestie 568/2, 811 06 Staré Mesto)
When considering where to go for traditional Slovakian food, an Indian restaurant located in a Crowne Plaza resort doesn’t immediately spring to mind. This was a case of necessity over want. Trying to walk from the train station into Bratislava’s old town I was caught in a rainstorm of Biblical proportions (I had to ring out my tights in a restroom sink) and dived into the nearest hotel that offered hot tea and sanctuary. I had been saving myself for Bryndzové halušky, a dumpling dish I had read about which closely resembles gnocchi, but the allure of meat and rice and spices was too tempting to resist, and when I discovered that a certain dessert was on the menu I soon dumped the idea of dumplings into the dumpster (always avoid alliteration by backside!). There was a warming cream of mushroom soup to start, the perfect dish for someone damp from the nostrils down. This was followed by a flavourful chicken biryani and poppadums that was easily enough for two people to share, but the pièce de résistance for me was the stunning Gazar ka Halwa, a dessert of mashed carrots and milk filled with sultans and cashew nuts. All washed down with a cup of green tea with honey and ginger to keep any pesky colds at bay. Outstanding food and at only 24.20 euros great value for money.
Cajovna v Podzemi – Underground Tea Room
(Ventúrska 265/9 811 01 Staré Mesto)
With the tagline ‘Have your tea in a bomb shelter’, this was all the sales pitch I needed. Divided into different ethno-themed sections, this is a cafe where it is possible to take tea in the middle of the Serengeti, inside a Bedouin tent, or crossed legged on cushions in a Japanese tea house. I opted for the latter option, as to take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a long held ambition. Of course, this is not going to replicate the same level of spectacle, but the amount of care taken to create a unique and joyous experience made this one of the stand-out moments from my entire trip. Curled up in my little nook, I decided to go all-out and order the special Tea Around the World option (17.50 euros), a selection of six teas to try from around the globe starting with a creamy Taiwan Gaba and finishing with a smoky American Mate Rancho with stops in China, India, Japan and Africa along the way (I also indulged in a separate pot of Rum Cream fruit tea, a marvelous melange of berries that blended beautifully with the rich alcoholic taste of the rum). Each tea comes with a card detailing its origins and the various tastes and aromas one can expect from each brew. The presentation is beautiful and each jug holds a surprisingly large amount of tea to satisfy even the most hardened teaholic. I adored it. From the taste of each tea (brewed to perfection during the 15 minute prep time advised on the menu) to the decor to the general sense of fun, I passed a happy two hours sampling teas from around the world, eating walnut orechovés and soaking up the unique atmosphere. The only down side was an elderly Englishman who came in, stared at me on my cushions as though I was a living display in a museum, pushed back a chair and told the staff that ‘we English only ever drink tea with milk. Fetch me a proper cup of tea with milk!’. I left a tip large enough to show my appreciation and to apologies for his ignorance. Apart from that, a wonderful experience.
Zeppelin cafe and souvenirs
(Sedlárska 364/10, 811 01 Staré Mesto)
A vintage tea room selling a vast array of tourist tat, Zepplin is a cosy nook with comfy chairs to collapse into and a good selection of cakes and coffee to tempt the tired traveler. Charming, reasonably priced and with banging selection of 80’s tunes to hum along too.
(Suché mýto 4808/6, 811 02)
Naming your restaurant Great isn’t always such a great idea. Great is setting the bar high, and can lead one to question whether the name is ironic if their experience wasn’t as great as the Great in the name implies. Personally I thought it was fair. Good, even. Great would be stretching a point. The tomato and Parmesan soup was rather nice, and the tagliatelle carbonara was nicely cooked, but the sauce was too rich and after a heavy lunch it seemed that my stomach wasn’t prepared for something so dense and creamy. Even so, this is a trendy, vibrant place and if my eyes weren’t quite as big as by bulging belly I’m sure I would have enjoyed it far more.
And so ends our brief tour through Solvakia’s beautiful capital. Of course, there is only so much grub one person can eat in one day, and obviously a longer stay would reveal more of this city’s glorious food and national dishes, but for a whistle-stop visit I would highly recommend this charming place and its diverse selection of restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes and budgets. Pop back soon when we will be heading back to Vienna and taking a calorific trek through Salzburg, a place where the mountains are big but the desserts are much, much bigger. until next time, folks xx
Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx