Torte for the day

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

STICK to my healthy eat­ing plan of no su­gar, lit­tle dairy and a smidgin of al­co­hol for medic­i­nal pur­poses only? Sorry, just not pos­si­ble. Here I am in Bu­dapest sur­rounded by whop­ping great cakes, but­tery pas­tries, pop­py­seed strudels and cream-crowned drinks, and there seems no al­ter­na­tive but to turn into a tart and let loose.

In­stant sweet treats stalk my ev­ery step in this lovely city of cafes and, in sum­mer, leisurely out­door din­ing when pa­trons idle over ‘‘light meals’’ such as ‘‘small’’ schnitzels that turn out to be the comfy size of hot wa­ter bot­tles. Bev­er­ages? There are mar­ti­nis dusted with pa­prika and doses of for­ti­fy­ing palinka spirit in flavours such as pear, quince or black cherry. Palinka ap­par­ently is known as ‘‘Hun­gar­ian peni­cillin’’.

In the cush­ioned bar at the fab­u­lously re­stored Four Sea­sons Gre­sham Palace, drinkers are pre­sented with lit­tle badges that mark them as sur­vivors of the sig­na­ture cock­tail, which comes with its own mixol­o­gist, stylish serv­ing tray, coloured glass­ware and swiz­zle stick.

At the fa­mous old Cafe Ger­beaud on Voros­marty Square on the Pest side of the Danube, founded in 1858 and as ap­pro­pri­ately dec­o­ra­tive as a wed­ding cake, the choco­late tortes come with at least six lay­ers.

Two ma­trons at the next ta­ble snap their fin­gers for more whipped cream to pop on top. I spy a mo­jito be­ing served with a scoop of ice cream. I ask for some­thing that’s not too sweet.

‘‘Cot­tage cheese cake,’’ says the wait­ress with brisk ef­fi­ciency. ‘‘For you, I put the cream on the side.’’

On my way back to my ho­tel, I am way­laid by a van sell­ing chim­ney cake. It’s im­pos­si­ble not to pause and watch the rosy-cheeked ven­dor as he twirls a doughy mix­ture around a dowel-like spit un­til it crisps; then he rolls the hol­low con­fec­tion in cin­na­mon su­gar and crushed al­monds and wraps it with a stiff twist of pa­per. It looks like a crunchy Cornetto cone, with­out the fill­ing.

My ho­tel mini­bar fea­tures one of each of the fol­low­ing, lined up in a row like plump lit­tle sol­diers about to burst their but­tons: Kit Kat, Snick­ers, Mars Bar, brown pack of M&Ms, yel­low pack of M&Ms and a sack of Haribo lol­lies that in­cludes enough gummy bears to cause a stir at Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park.

That is the front row; be­hind, be­tween the salted nuts, crisps and pret­zels, is an elab­o­rate cake in a pink box and a lit­tle note from man­age­ment re­mind­ing re­cal­ci­trant guests like me of its im­mi­nent ex­piry date.

The lat­est craze in Bu­dapest is the ‘‘ruin pub’’ con­cept. Th­ese lively pop-up drink­ing spots are housed in aban­doned ten­e­ments, dis­used fac­tory build­ings, retro cine­mas, park­ing lots or roof gar­dens, mostly in Pest’s sev­enth dis­trict near the Great Syn­a­gogue.

The decor is thrift shop, the vibe ca­sual, the art­work of­ten psychedelic, the food rea­son­ably priced and the drinks en­cour­ag­ingly large.

I must ad­mit I haven’t tried one of th­ese fun places yet, the word ruin be­ing rather too per­sonal for a trav­eller who must now in­vest in trousers with gus­sets af­ter just three days on the loose in Bu­dapest.

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