Valentina Kasper Rosputinská

If coffee is your jam, then Bratislava is your city. At least that’s the opinion of Valentina Kasper Rosputinská, co-founder of natural wine pop-up, Humbuk, as well as an international ambassador for Slovak wine. Not only is the Slovak capital home to a network of cool cafes where staff take their craft very seriously: coffee drinkers are also likely to make a friend or two along the way. These are her favourite places to recharge and reflect in her hometown.

Humbuk Bratislava
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Bratislava: A Specialty Coffee Haven

It’s quite unusual for a small city to have a specialty coffee scene as strong as ours. There are probably more than 20 specialty coffee shops in Bratislava. Many great ones can sometimes be a 15-minute walk from each other and all manage to survive because most people switch up between their favourites depending on their vibe for the day. A batch brew has kind of become the norm in most places. It was only when travelling to other places that I realised how coffee-forward we were. I think it was a confluence of many things that led to this. Standart Magazine, for example, is actually a Slovak project. Like many other Slovaks, Miška Koklesová – one of the people involved from the very beginning of Standart who’s also one of the co-founders of Humbuk – went to find opportunities in Prague, which was always bigger on tourism, and chose to come back to Bratislava. I think this expat effect helped coffee explode here. You get people from different parts of the country coming to the city to work in this sector. I tend to gravitate towards the places run by very passionate people who go deeper into coffee matters such as sourcing and packaging and are willing to keep improving things right throughout the supply chain. Coffee is a way of life for some of these people. 

Coffee + Great Pastries, Artisanal Beer and Natural Wine

Soren was recently opened by a barista that used to work at another bistro. He’s also the baker there and makes the most unbelievable pastry. I’m always so jealous because I’m the worst baker ever, but I love pastry. He’s very professional at what he does and sells a bit of natural wine and some artisanal beer as well. I love going there.

Coffee + A Roasting Operation

Triple Five Coffee does its own roasting which isn’t common here. It used to only supply roasted coffee to other shops around town, but ended up opening its own space right next to the Presidential Garden a couple years ago. What’s fascinating is that it gets such a mixed crowd but they all gel so well. You’ll see a lot of mums with their kids from the park alongside hipsters and people that work in big corporate companies.

Coffee + A Cinematographer’s Touch

Mandľa was opened by a friend called Jakub who I met through our Humbuk pop-ups. You can tell how important design and visual aesthetics are to him just by looking at the café. The place is an oasis of beautiful materials and every coffee experience you have there is a celebration. They make delicious vegan pastries that you can’t find anywhere else and serve them on nice little ceramic plates decorated with things like raspberry dust. But it takes its coffee very seriously and the coffee is fantastic. The team travels a lot to get inspired: you can buy some Empirical Spirits cans there, for example. The coffee shop is in a mixed area outside of the city centre and is surrounded by residential lots and some offices so, again, you get a super cool mixed crowd.

Coffee + Strangelove 

Mono Cafe is located on the ground floor of an apartment building in a very residential area. It used to be one of my most frequented spots before Luna, my first baby, was born. It combined a more professional, working atmosphere with this cosy, laid-back wooden interior that allowed for productive but fun meetings. It’s run by a woman called Iris who loves Depeche Mode, has short, platinum blonde hair, is very assertive and makes a killer cup of coffee. It’s really a manifestation of her dreams and she’s an integral part of the coffee scene and absolutely loves doing it.

Coffee + A Sense of Ownership 

Svag to Go is one of the few places in Bratislava that has more than one location. One shop is by the Medická Záhrada (Medical Park) and another is in a central, residential area called Palisády and is busy all the time. It’s just impossible to go there without running into people. The staff is super friendly and dedicated: you really sense a sort of ownership atmosphere. They also sell killer pastry with their own spin on things. Their cinnamon bun is by far my favourite in the city. I have such fond memories of going to buy one while Luna was still a baby. I would stop by there basically every single day on our way to the Medická park. It was a highlight of my day each time. Both cafés are high on my list of favourites and they just feel like home. 

Flat Whites on Wheels

Our strong specialty coffee culture manifests itself in different, quirky ways. Pán Králiček, which translates to “Mr. Bunny”, was one of the first people to ride the specialty coffee wave. The café is located in a neighbourhood adjacent to the city centre. People go there to work because it’s one of those places where you can sit for three hours without being thrown out, which is nice. It gets a lot of foot traffic for take-away as well. It was actually instrumental in the upsurge of coffee bikes around the city. Coffee bikes are big here and are these bikes with espresso machines on little trolleys that ride around serving proper coffee. You’ll be on some random street or square and can pick up a great flat white. Pán Králiček was one of the first to run these bikes and became famous for it. The owner Martin works in banking in Austria, but decided to open his own coffee place back home. In Bratislava, there is a big tendency to open your own coffee place because it’s your dream without really knowing how much work is behind it. This is not one of those cases. It’s actually been one of the most popular cafés in town for many years now.

Straddling Bistro-Coffee Place

My second Humbuk co-founder Robo started a project called Otto. It was a reaction to not having a place in town to drink and eat that represents the way we think. He labels it as a regional cuisine bistro. It’s very much driven by his vision of what a modern place in Bratislava is supposed to be and it’s one of the few bistros in town that I think nails the modern bistronomy style. It takes old regional recipes, revamps them, and serves them alongside a natural wine-only list alongside really good specialty coffee and great breakfast options. Robo himself comes from a food background. His family owns Polievkáreň (“soup kitchen”), and it’s the most fantastic soup place in a different town called Nitra. Soups and broths are generally very popular in Slovakia and make up many of our staple dishes. Robo has been cooking all his life. He’s also a WSET diploma holder, so at Otto he’s more on the wine and service side of things even though he co-creates the dishes with the chef. I remember trying a modern take on a traditional breakfast dish called kaiserschmarrn – the Slovak translation “trhanec” means “torn apart”. It’s like a deconstructed strudel made with a fluffy kind of pancake that’s ripped into pieces and usually served with cooked apples and vanilla sauce. Otto replaces the apples with unusual toppings made from locally sourced ingredients. Another example of a revamp is their kôprovka. It’s something between a soup and a sauce that we traditionally make from dill. Otto turns it into a foam and serves it alongside the meat instead: it’s breathtaking. Bread is a staple ingredient in Slovakia, so during the COVID lockdowns the kitchen came up with different pâtés, put a Slovak spin on kimchi and fermented lots of things that grow here. Though it’s all very experimental, most of it is very delicious.

A Crash Course in Slovak Food

Although Slovakia isn’t a very old country, its cuisine has been shaped by plenty of history. It changes quite a bit depending on where you are geographically. Down south what we’re able to grow is very similar to Hungary, so the food is quite influenced by Hungarian culture. It’s very spicy: think lots of red pepper and earthy ingredients like pumpkin. The region’s fish soup, halaszle, is just fantastic. Towards the Austrian border, you see a more Pannonian style of cooking. People joke that the base of most things is always potatoes and bread, just because that’s what we’re able to grow and make steadily everywhere. We serve potatoes in all kinds of forms. One heavily contested dish is called halušky which is essentially like gnocchi made from potatoes and flour that you whip into these tiny dumplings and top with lots of bryndza – a special kind of cheese – and bacon. Historically, its origins can be traced to Poland, but it’s a popular dish nationwide. We also serve sour pickles with a lot of things – they’re like the bee’s knees here – but it’s not my cup of tea. Then there’s čalamáda, which is pickled cabbage that we preserve with some of its brine. Historically the diet was very carb-heavy, but that’s starting to change thanks to local farms popping up. I think the global agricultural Renaissance – especially with young people considering farming as a legitimate career and lifestyle – is slowly making its way here. 

Modern Restaurants to Zero In On

Seeing as we don’t have very unified historical traditions, a modern Slovak cuisine is taking some time to form, but places like Baroza are doing a great job redefining the Slovak dining experience. The bistro is located outside of the city centre, but it’s only a 15-minute cab drive: nothing drastic and definitely worth it. Chef Peter Slačka worked in Australia in the past and does really cool and tasty takes on a bunch of local dishes. The prices are nice too. I highly recommend it. Lukáš Hesko, one of the best chefs in Slovakia, recently opened his own-fine-dining restaurant in Bratislava. If there’s anyone in Slovakia who can achieve a Michelin star, it’s Lukas and possibly in Irin. The tasting menu and killer wine list already has people travelling here from abroad for the experience. Fach is a another great place to eat bistro-style food and also to take some great bread home. Next door it has a juice and salad shop that only makes vegan stuff and cold-presses juices: it’s super tasty as well. And what’s better than great dessert after a good meal? Le Miam is a French style café-slash-patisserie, where they make really unique and incredible desserts alongside classic pastry. Dessert there is an art and worth every penny spent.

More Bread Worth Mentioning 

Kruh is a recently opened artisanal bakery. They make sourdough bread, focaccia-style loaves and croissants. The place is huge. They’ve invested a lot into the equipment and they’re currently also supplying a bunch of the coffee shops I’ve mentioned. So if you go to Soren or Mandla you’ll have pastries from them or sandwiches made using their bread. The bakery is currently my most visited place because it’s close to where we live. There isn’t much space to sit down, but people still hang out for a cup of espresso outside, which is really nice. Yeme is a supermarket but one of their main staples is the baking part of things. I really love it. They bake fantastic sourdough breads and a very traditional style of bread called rohlik: a bread roll that comes in multiple sweet and savoury varieties. I like the one with poppy seeds on top.

Where’s the Wine At?

Unlike coffee, natural wine is still very under-represented: there’s less willingness to learn about and work with natural wines. Most places don’t yet have the conviction that this is a better way to make wine and a better way to promote the culture. We are a winemaking nation and have Austria and Moravia next-door – so there’s a lot of wine around, but it’s very conventional stuff mostly. The culture of wine drinking here wasn’t ever very sophisticated, and I don’t mean it in a derogatory sense – I completely understand the cultural barriers. When you have that as a baseline, it can be very challenging to convince people to pay €20 for a bottle of wine that tastes like nothing they’ve ever had before. That’s one of the reasons we started the Humbuk pop-ups and why we’re channelling our efforts to get people to appreciate these kinds of wines for the right reasons.

Restaurants and Bars With a Great Wine List

There’s a wonderful restaurant called Bistromony with a very natural-driven portfolio. It’s run by a guy called Denis who also distributes wine to other places. I’ve actually known Denis for years, but from a very different crowd, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him get into wines and work with them on such a professional and dedicated level. Bistronomy has more high-end cuisine vibes and sources mostly local ingredients, which translates into beautiful dishes. Viecha malych vinarov is a bar with multiple locations around town and you can find natural wine on all their lists but one of their locations, the one in Stará Tržnica, is dedicated to natural wines only. You can also find natural wines in Wine Not.

Some Slovak Winemakers To Watch

We have quite a large community of winemakers that make natural wine, but because there isn’t much demand locally, they end up exporting most of it. These winemakers ship to Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Paris, New York, Tokyo and around Italy. It’s really remarkable and I’m so glad the world gets to see their beautiful wines. Visiting the wineries requires a car ride as they’re not close to the city, but most are located in very picturesque locations surrounded with nature, so it’s worth the trip. To name a few: Strekov 1075 holds a special place in my heart. Zsolti, the winemaker, and I met at a wine fair where one of his sparkling wines, Rozália, completely captured my attention. Zsolti thought I was weird for liking it. He is one of the godfathers of natural wine in Slovakia – he has been making wine in the Southern part of Slovakia for nearly 20 years. Although a lot of people say he has progressively gotten more “radical” in his approach, I think it’s just a testament to his growth as a winemaker and finding a closer connection to his vines and his land. Zsolti’s name itself “gives away” his Hungarian roots. He’s a wonderful example of how the two cultures meet somewhere in the middle. He doesn’t really give a damn about what anybody thinks so to me, he’s one of those people spearheading the movement. Michal Bažalík is on the opposite side of the spectrum, so to speak, but a wonderful example of what’s possible. He recently turned 30, went to a conventional wine school and used to make quite conventional wines. He only started experimenting with a more natural style a few years ago and has completely fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole. He’s super passionate about winemaking, learning more, and you can really see the progression with his wines. Michal is a wonderful example of how things can turn and you can start doing things differently. I love the fact that the community is giving him the space to do it and not chastising him about his “conventional past”. He’s got quite easygoing, fresh wines, but very drinkable, so he’s one of those people who are giving natural wine a more approachable side amongst consumers as well. They’re the kinds of wines that are good to lure people to ‘the other side’ with.

Slovak Winemakers (Continued)

Pivnica Čajkov is one of a couple of natural wineries with vineyards on volcanic soil and they grow a lot of the pesecká leánka (feteasca regala) variety. It’s unlike anything else – in a peculiar way it’s kind of furmint-meets-chardonnay – and very delicious. Slobodné Vinárstvo’s name actually translates to “freedom wine” and it’s a winery with a crazy story. In a nutshell, the family used to own 300 hectares of land that was taken by the communist regime – they managed to rescue a large part of it back. The winery today is run by Agnes and Katka – two sisters whose family were the original owners of the property – and their partners Andrea and Miso. They all worked completely different jobs and had no real contact with winemaking for more than 30 years before becoming winemakers, so it was truly a remarkable move. They have been making wine for 10 years now and very quickly skyrocketed into natural wine echelons. They have a complex portfolio, ranging from easy-drinking ‘table’ wines to more serious, age-worthy bottles. Their blaufrankisch, for example, is absolutely phenomenal, as well as their experiments with sauvignon blanc. They’re my dear friends, so I’m biassed, but I love them.

What’s Good at the Market

The old market hall called Stará Tržnica in the city centre is a fantastic spot that’s worth visiting. They have a vegetable and delicatessen market every Saturday. It’s usually accompanied by a vintage book fair and other exciting things. Something with a direct connection to Bratislava is this sweet called Bratislavske rozky, which translates to “Bratislava rolls’. It’s a sweet, hoof-shaped pastry filled with either a sweet nut or poppy seed filling. They’re delicious and although it’s difficult to find really good ones, you can find some at the market in Stará Tržnica. Our markets are generally great places to buy produce, Fresh Market is one example, Tržnica Žilinská, the vegetable market on Zilinska Street is another one. I also recommend checking out some shops like U Babicky for a great selection of local products.

Good Coffee Inside the Market

Brew Bar is located inside the Fresh Market and, true to its name, makes a killer brew. The market hall is outside the city centre, but accessible by public transport. A not-so-touristy thing to do is to make your way there to buy some local produce, have lunch and enjoy a great cup of coffee. There’s a small lake nearby, called Kuchajda, that’s worth checking out when it’s nice outside. 

Street Food Park

I recommend timing your visit to Bratislava with an event called Street Food Park that runs every two or three months in front of the old market hall in the city centre. It’s super fun and there are usually around 10-12 trucks doing a bunch of different styles of food that you can grab all day long. Two trucks I’d point out are Bao Brothers and Foodstock: both created by people who used to work for a super fine-dining Asian restaurant called Foo-Zoo in the past and both serving really delicious, accessible food (bao and gyoza respectively). Langoš is a typical local “street snack” and is basically sourdough in the shape of a mini pizza, quick-fried in oil and finished with various toppings: ketchup and mayo, usually, although those are not my favourites. It’s the kind of snack you would find especially by swimming pools in the summer and near kids’ playgrounds. There’s a venue in the old market hall called Langoš Bar that’s reinvented this street food and puts all kinds of inventive toppings on it like pecorino cheese and bacon or shrimp cocktail.

An Essential New Opening in Bratislava

Rous Bistro opened recently and is a must-visit. It’s located in the basement of a newly reconstructed hospital which sounds creepy but the setting is actually lovely. It’s accessible directly from the street and also features an outside patio. The generous space is decorated in luscious retro furniture which beautifully balances out the otherwise white, minimalist interior. The kitchen is led by two cooks who used to work at iconic Bratislava restaurant, U Kubista. I used to go literally every day as I lived just two blocks away, so visiting Rous felt a lot like coming home. The food is a blend of dishes from all around the world, but with a focus on local ingredients with truly delicious seasoning. They have a fixed menu but also do daily lunch specials, which really caters to the working lunch culture in Bratislava. They have a really interesting selection of mostly natural wines: some of which you won’t easily find anywhere else in Bratislava. Another thing not to be taken for granted is good taste in music. My entire evening there was filled with delightful jazz that’s just to my liking.

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