In the “Aria Hotel Budapest”, the City’s Only Year-round Rooftop Bar Pairs its Cocktails with Highly Imaginative Bar Food
By Monte Mathews
The Danube divides Buda from Pest. Buda, the leafy green side, covers the hilltops with Palaces and Cathedrals. Pest is where the iconic Parliament Building sidles up to the river and where the business of Budapest takes place. It’s here that you’ll find a remarkable hotel with bars to match. It’s the Aria Hotel Budapest, the work of a Czech American hotelier, Henry Kallan. He’s generally considered to be one of the world’s most innovative and successful hotel owners.
One look at the Aria will tell you why. Originally an Insurance Company headquarters, with its lavishly designed 49 rooms, the Aria might be called a “Boutique” hotel were it not so grand.
“The entire hotel is an homage to music. Every room is named for a musician ranging from Mozart to Michael Jackson. They’re divided into four musical traditions: Classical, Opera, Jazz and Contemporary.”
Impeccably decorated, they’re the kind of hotel rooms you hate to leave. But you’ll be drawn to the buffet breakfasts and the afternoon’s wine and cheese parties that are all included in your stay. In the afternoon, every day from four to six, a local artist will take over the 130,000 Euro piano that sits in the lobby. The music plays on in Satchmo’s Bar after that. And there’s pretty well music everywhere—the hotel even employs a Music Concierge who will put together individual playlists. Small wonder The Aria was named “Best Hotel in the World” by Trip Advisor last year.
For the Cocktail enthusiast, there’s nowhere better to head than to the hotel’s High Note Sky Bar. Billed as the only Year-Round Rooftop Bar in Budapest, it’s a rooftop garden with take-your-breath away views of Budapest, most particularly of neighboring St. Stephen’s Basilica. The hotel says it often draws business from visitors touring the Church and glimpsing the beautiful landscaping on its roof. But once there, the draw quickly into a wildly inventive cocktail menu of 12 signature cocktails. They’re the work of two Bar Managers, Péter Gózon and Richárd Mihály. When we visited Richárd was helming the bar and producing the drinks. The pair team up with Chef Gergely Kövér to match some truly extraordinary bar food offerings with unique cocktails whose flavors and aromas complement the food. On the menu are both sweet and savory offerings. Paired with both, the artful and whimsical presentation of the drinks adds another layer of panache.
The Cocktail menu is heavily influenced by the season with brown liquors warming Fall and Winter nights and paler spirits make their appearance in Spring and Summer. We had a chance to sample five of these extraordinary combinations.
“Our first cocktail was Mihály’s “Garden of Secrets” and its Cod Fritter accompaniment. Here Martini Ambrato, Torino Italy’s favorite vermouth, is infused with Chamomile, blended with Elderflower Liqueur, Cherry Bitters, Citrus and Egg White. Topped with a garden of edible flowers, it’s a perfect complement to the Cod Fritters, crisp bites accompanied by chipotle mayonnaise and pickled cucumber.”
“Fuego” packs quite a punch, explaining why it’s named Fire. It’s mezcal alright but chili liqueur heats things up and the cucumber and citrus keep the party going. “Little lamb” pastillas with sour cream and baby gem lettuce are a perfect foil for this drink’s blast of heat.
Duckling is a favorite Hungarian dish. High Note’s Duck-Stuffed Gyoza are paired with “Ginmaicha”…a clever play on the Caribbean island. The Mixologists here love to try totally unexpected combinations like this one: gin, powdered green tea leaves (matcha), roasted brown rice, tonic and lime. The Gyoza, the Japanese version of a pot-sticker, are accompanied by a mango dip seasoned with coriander and marinated ginger.
The bar’s take on Tacos – the flavor here is beef with yogurt, cheddar, greens and a slice of pickled jalapeno. The tacos a perfect foil to another innovative beauty: Fruto del Sol, a mixture of rum, falernum liqueur—the sweet Caribbean syrup, bitter lemon and citrus and topped with a slice of pear.
Finally from the sweet side of the bar food menu, the hotel’s Pastry Chef, Zsuzsanna Szabo, has turned out a perfect Mango Mousse combined with passion fruit, elderflower and dusted with coriander. This is paired with a drink that would look very much at home in Hawaii. It’s called the Mirage and it’s a glorious mix of tequila, sherry, agave, lime, bitters and guava.
The High Note’s Mixologists are constantly inventing new and unique combinations and an everchanging seasonal menu of Bar food. Who knows what will await us on our next visit.
But we do know it will be a uniquely Hungarian take on drinks and food pairings.