In Wes Anderson’s film of the same name, the Grand Budapest Hotel is a striking art-nouveau building painted in pastel pinks and purples. A grey, boxy apartment building on busy Swanston Street might not have the same grandeur, but inside is a colourful, symmetrical nod to the American filmmaker’s signature style.
The Budapest Cafe is the second of its kind – owners Anna Chen and Homdy Zhong opened a similarly themed venue in Chengdu, China, in 2017. But while the original focused on neutral tones with pops of forest green, the Carlton version has a warm, rosy charm.
Behind both fit-outs is Melbourne-based interior-design firm Biasol (Kitty Burns, No. 19, Feast of Merit). But here it’s splashed pastels all over the walls – with swooping arches and stair-like accents for depth. The peachy tones extend to the bases of the stark white counters and long communal tables, while the velvet banquettes are stained a deeper cherry.
“Australia is about the beach and sunshine, so we wanted to bring the same concept [as the original] in but with a bit more warmth,” Chen says, before Zhong adds: “Customers in Chengdu said it was a bit cold, with the grey and green”.
Despite its name, the cafe’s menu draws inspiration from Asia. There’s a “tornado” omurice (Japanese omelette) with tomato rice, ham, vegetables and a demi-glace sauce; creamy udon with mentaiko (cod roe), lobster salad, kimchi and a 63-degree egg; and an eggs Benedict “garden” with spicy hollandaise, smoked bacon and a croissant.
On the sweeter side is a theatrical dish of pancakes layered with matcha cream and ice-cream and strawberry slices, plus a cone on top – it comes with a mallet so you can smash it to bits. Or there’s a three-cream-puff tower inspired by the Grand Budapest Hotel’s courtesan au chocolat – filled instead with vanilla, matcha and seasonal fruit custard – but packaged in a similar pink box with a baby-blue bow.
Industry Beans coffee is used in all the usual orders, as well as in an einspanner (a long black with sweet cream foam). Plus, there are fruity sodas decorated with flowers and a rose lemonade with mixed berries.
The cafe is currently trialling an afternoon tea with house-made pastries and the hybrid “croffle” (croissant dough cooked in a waffle maker) in four flavours, with hopes to open for dinner in the future.