Thursday, November 15, 2007

Budapest: Café Gerbeaud and Dobos Cake

I needed to attend a meeting last Friday in Budapest, so I flew over on Thursday morning to do some sightseeing. I stayed in a very conveniently located Starlight Suiten Hotel on Merleq utca, unpacked and headed to town. I had been to Budapest before, but that was dozen years earlier, so it was nice to wander the streets again - it's a rather grand city. And just like Vienna, Budapest is famed for its cafe culture, so I headed to one of the heavy-weights, Café Gerbeaud in Inner Pest.

The place is indeed opulent, as Rick Rogers states in his Kaffeehaus - all golden wall decorations, heavy curtains and fancy chandeliers. There were four large salons, some smoking, some non-smoking, each packed with locals and tourists alike (Gerbeaud can sit up to 330 guests in its salons, and another 300 on its open-air terraces, so we're talking about a huge café here!). As it was 4pm by that time, I decided to have both coffee and my dinner, so I ordered a home-made goose liver terrine with Tokaj wine, roasted endives and walnut dressing (above) to start with, and the famous Hungarian cake, Dobos Torte (below), to finish. The goose liver terrine was very nice - I liked the sweet Tokaj dressing that it came with, as well as the light-textured small brioches. The portion was too large to my liking, however - goose liver is quite a mouthful to eat, so I could only finish two slices (and I was hungry, believe me!).

But the cake? Well, I was expecting something much more impressive. The cake sure looks grand - it consists of five thin discs of vanilla sponge cake, layered with chocolate buttercream icing. The cake is then covered with wedges of caramel-glazed cake. Beautiful! My favourite bit was the caramel-coated top layer. Other than that I thought the cake was too sweet, too rich and utterly non-interesting. I'll choose a slice of moist Estonian layered honey cake any time :)

But seriously, now. Was I disappointed because the Dobos Cake as such isn't to my liking? Or was the chief konditormeister at Café Gerbeaud not doing the job properly that day? Unlikely, considering that their website mentions Dobos Cake as one of their specialties, and Rick Rogers claims that "In Hungary, the name Gerbeaud is so famous as a sign of quality in baking that it is worth millions". I will still pop by in Café Gerbeaud next time I'm in town - the atmosphere was very much to my liking, their boozy María Teresa coffee excellent, and I didn't even get to sample their pretty handmade bonbons - but I'll opt for Esterházy Slice or Gerbeaud Slice instead.

However, if somebody could tell me where to get the best Dobos Cake in Budapest, I'd appreciate that. I may be back soon.

Gerbeaud House
Vörösmarty tér 7.
1051 Budapest


Anonymous said...

Try the Szamos Marcipan Confectionary and Café, Erzsébet krt. 43-49. Everything of theirs is delicious, and the place is much more welcoming than Gerbeaud. Also, the cheap places where you have to stand to eat can be very good. Can't remember any names or addresses, though, sorry.


Eva said...

I've never had a Dobos Torte despite always eyeing it in various baking books. When looking at the picture though, the ratio buttercream/pastry would simply be too rich for me - even if it should be that way.

Jeanne said...

Well, at least the cake LOOKS spectacular. I do love that mirror-glaze caramel top to the cake! And I also love the mini brioches with the liver terrine. Must make a plan to get to Budapest!

glamah16 said...

That goose liver looks divine.Its banned here in Chicago. I went to Budapest a few years ago and all the food was senstional, but very rich.Ironically I've never tried the Dobos torte. Your experince sounds like mine the first time I had a Sacher Torte in Vienna . Good, but didnt get the hype.

lobstersquad said...

I didn´t like it much last time I was in Vienna, either. I think this is a project worthy of the Daring Bakers.

Helene said...

Can't help about the best Dobos torte in Budapest but I know where to get a good one (according to Hubbs) in South Carolina. I made it for the first time over a decade ago, nt hinking twice about cutting a caramel layer in the middle and one on top of the cake....but it worked and made the cake that much more interesting. I soak the layers with a honey liqueur that I bring back from France. I agree that most of the time, it is rather bland and heavy.

Maarja said...

kui ma alul su lugu lugesin, siis ei vaadanud restorani pilti, kuigi nimi tundus tuttav. täna aga painas see mind ja siis voila! sama koht kus viimane kord Budapestis käies sõime.hoolimata mälu pingutamisest, et suuda ma meenutada, mida seal sõime-jõime.

Anonymous said...

Actually nowadays the very best place, where you can get nice cakes is a little place in Bp, on Szépvölgyi út 50, the name is Daubner Cukrászda. A few weeks ago we had our grandmother's birthday so we ordered a Dobos cake from there and it was really delicious, BUT Dobos cake has to be a simple, sweet and heavy-creamy something, so dont't expect a very different experience. And also, if you go there, you HAVE TO TRY something, as i see your very lovely recipes, i think you'll like it. This thing is called 'szilváspapucs'. The pastry is kind of salty, baked with greaves and the filling is our traditional plum jam, which is very sour, dark purple and creamy. This combination of salty and sweet is just perfect (and these tastes always remember me when i was little :)
Keep posting about these wonderful foods, you really give inspiration and new ideas for me!
Anna from the not so far Budapest

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh WOW it looks so marvelous. That's really a disappointment to hear it's so uninteresting.

chili&vanilia said...

Dear Pille,
the Gerbeaud Café is unfortunately very touristy, we never go there (and nor do other locals). (Well, in fact,I'm also not that crazy about Dobos torta, there are so many better Hungarian cakes). I agree: Daubner, Szamos are very good. Hope you will have the chance to try some more authentic places next time. Cheers, Zsofi

Anonymous said...

Hej Pille,
I was in Budapest in October and was at Gerbeaud and imbibed the atmosphere of an old-world coffee house. No cake nor coffee though as hubby and i were short of time, but noticed the drink that mostly ladies were taking, could be apricot liqueur?

I think Szamos is overrated. I was not impressed with the quality of their marzipan.

What I liked were the lunch shops that sold small open-faced sandwiches, similar to the Danish smörrebröd. A variety of toppings including goose-liver and herrings.

The market off the St. Stephen's Basilica has a good assortment of local foods and lunch restaurants patronised by locals. The shop that sells home-made yogurt is worth a visit (try the Afonya (cranberry flavor) - yummy! And so does the lady that sells pickled vegetables. Try the spicy mixed cabbage/paprika - great with grilled sausage!

Anonymous said...

Oooh I'm jealous . . . Budapest is one of my favorite cities! I can't help you with the cake, but we went to a great wine bar/restaurant that I'd highly recommend -- it's called Red and White in English and it's actually not far from the Gerbaud. I also had an incredible venison Tokai stew at a little dive on the backstreets behind our hotel (ArtHotel, on the Buda quai), but I can't remember the name of it. I can't wait to go back . . .

thepassionatecook said...

i love dobos torte.. although your specimen DOES look rather heavy on the chocolate cream side - the layers of fluffy nut sponge should be predominant. as with everything, there's good and there's bad and i have had more good than bad.
please. pille, promise me you'll come to austria next summer - if you come to vienna with me, i'll show you some of the best pastry around - i promise, it'll be cake night and day!

thepassionatecook said...

oh and: sachertorte IS the most overrated thing ever!!! most of the time the chocolate sponge will be WAY too dry and way too dense... hardly a decent jam layer in sight and a cheep chocolate ganache on top... not worth getting out of bed for! there are so many better cakes out there, i think it's only famous because it's one of the few cakes that travel well and keep long, so they can be shipped overseas!

Shaun said...

Pille ~ How fortunate that you were able to go to Budapest. It is a city that I am drawn to when I look at the architecture of the world's cities (when I'm in a dreamy phase). Perhaps Dobos just isn't for you. I'm sure there are many more Hungarian delights for you to try next time...Thanks for the review of the cafe, though. I have had Rick Rogers' book on my Wish List for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Tere Pille,
Next time you come you must give notice in advance and let a long-time Hungarian reader of yours give ideas and escort. Hungarian cuisine and particularly cakes do tend to be on the rich side and Gerbeaud has profited more from its glitzy do-up and as-central-as-it-gets location than the excellence of its cakes. Do write when you are in the neighbourhood next time. Greetings from Budapest, Eszter

Pille said...

Tuuli – thank you for the tip! I actually saw their sign somewhere, I believe. I’ll check it out next time!

Eva – I’ve got one Dobos Torte recipe, and will maybe give it a go one day to see how it compares.

Jeanne – yes, it was a lovely layered cake, and the caramel layer was pretty!

Glamah16 – the cuisine of Eastern and Northern Europe is often quite rich, but then the harsh cold winters have probably something to do with it :) I’ve made Sacher Torte myself, but haven’t tried the real thing in Vienna. Soon :)

Lobstersquad – what a great idea!

Tartelette – mmm. If I hadn’t had that very boozy coffee with the cake, I might have wanted a boozy cake layer instead :)

Mann – no ju ei olnud too elamus mäletamist väärt..

Anna – thank you so much for the detailed information. I wish I had asked on the blog for tips BEFORE going to Budapest..

Tanna – I do suspect it was this particular version that was uninsteresting..

Zsofi – I wish I had a chance to meet you in Budapest, but then I remembered you are actually based in Brussels. (Aren’t you?) I’m pretty sure there were many locals in the café, but that doesn’t mean the place isn’t touristy..

Rowi – I loved the café atmosphere – very elegant and ‘old-world’ indeed. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to check out the markets this time..

SwirlingNotions – Budapest is rather grand indeed!

Johanna – I WILL come to Vienna and do expect a guided tour of all the must-visit places there :)
Shaun – it’s easy to travel various cities when you’re based in Europe – nothing is really too far. The only sad thing is that there is no direct flight to Budapest from Tallinn (but then there’s a direct flight to Prague, which I like even more than Budapest).

Eszter - I will announce my future Budapest visits on the blog first, I promise :) Estonian cuisine is rather heavy & rich, too, but our cakes seem to be a wee bit lighter than Hungarians, perhaps?

Anna from Budapest said...

Hello Pille,
sorry about the late reaction. As another Anna from Budapest, I also vote for Daubner (which is a bit off center) and can wholeheartedly suggest the Auguszt cafes (yummy - salty and sweet alike)! (here's a short overview of Budapest cafes I wrote: With 'Dobos Torta', & Sacher the snag is that I usually don't really like the scenario of sponge with cream/ chocolate itself (whichever version). But I can swoon at a fabulous sour cherry pie and grand cafe latte (I know it does not sound too imaginative, but that's like the Food critic in Ratatouille - taking me years years back to a perfect harmonious land of tastes, smiles and lovely warmth). Yes, please let us know in advance when you come to Budapest again. :)

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Daubner here! And try "Eszterházy Torta" and "Rigó Jancsi" as well. Szamos is less and less good, unfortunately.