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OUR PICK

Bystrica: A view with a catch

A word to the wise: if you have a problem with heights, you might want to pass up eating in this shaky, moving, Communist-inspired monstrosity.
The New Bridge (Nový Most) was built 24 years ago, and with its revolving Bystrica restaurant was an architectural marvel in its day. It's unfortunate that no one has thought to refurbish the inside of the restaurant since then. If you're lucky enough to find the entrance (go to the river, locate the bridge capped by a UFO-shaped disc and follow the graffiti across a pedestrian walkway over the Danube), and if you manage to survive the elevator ride (which ascends as much laterally as vertically and costs 10 Sk a head), you'll find yourself stepping back into 1974.

Address: Nový Most, 851 01 Bratislava
Hours: 10 - 10, every day
Cuisine: Slovak, Hungarian, Austrian
Prices: Expensive!
Reservations: Yes, Tel: 07/850-042, 814-746
English menu: Yes (German)
Credit Cards: Leave your credit cards at home, cash only!
Recommended: Great view, forgettable meal.


A word to the wise: if you have a problem with heights, you might want to pass up eating in this shaky, moving, Communist-inspired monstrosity.

The New Bridge (Nový Most) was built 24 years ago, and with its revolving Bystrica restaurant was an architectural marvel in its day. It's unfortunate that no one has thought to refurbish the inside of the restaurant since then. If you're lucky enough to find the entrance (go to the river, locate the bridge capped by a UFO-shaped disc and follow the graffiti across a pedestrian walkway over the Danube), and if you manage to survive the elevator ride (which ascends as much laterally as vertically and costs 10 Sk a head), you'll find yourself stepping back into 1974.

Once beamed up, we walked cautiously around to find a table. Bratislava in all its oddness lay at our feet, distorted by windows that were almost opaque with age. Indeed, the view was the only impressive feature of the restaurant. On a beautiful sunny day, even Bratislava can masquerade as a beautiful city, as long as one doesn't look south towards the Slovnaft oil refinery.

We had come to the restaurant because of the wonderful things we had heard about the view of Bratislava, but had to settle for a table overlooking Petržalka, since all the good seats were taken. I spent much of the meal trying to discern whether the smoky appearance of the city was due to a haze of pollution over Bratislava, or simply to the fact that the windows were filthy.

Turning to the unassuming and unrewarding decor, I couldn't help but notice that nothing had changed since my previous visit 12 years ago. In fact, I am quite sure that nothing has been updated since the heady days of 1974, including the table linen and the USSR- stamped cutlery.

Still, the view and the tableware far outclass the food. The menu offers an eclectic collection of meat dishes. They have been translated into English and German, but this doesn't help much, since the names of the advertised specialties - the "Castle Lady" and the "Flowing Axe", for starters - roguishly omit to specify their ingredients. I was impressed to see flambés and Chateaubriand available. However, I wouldn't recommend spending over 500 Sk for either, since even the fare at McDonalds is cheaper and tastier.

We ordered onion and garlic soup, both of which missed their mark by a laughable margin. The Bystrica onion soup, with its bland base, bore not the slightest resemblance to the hallowed concept of Onion Soup. It was impudently billed "onion soup with cheese", willing diners to expect French-style onion soup. But any Frenchman worth his beret would have exploded in Gallic indignation at sight and taste of the three shirt buttons of cheese that floated in a broth of unknown origin. The garlic soup was equally thin, and judging from its lack of zip, flavor and warmth, I would wager that the cook concocted it by adding a reluctant pinch of garlic powder to a cup of hot water.

It was also a challenge to feel at all comfortable in the restaurant, not only due to the low chairs, but also because of the fact that we were in motion. This was rather disconcerting, since there was only one place to go, and that was down. We each privately questioned the strength of the structure as we chewed our food nervously.

After the soup experience, I harboured great reservations regarding my main dish, the Slovak Specialty Goulash. Having eaten goulash in Hungary the week before, I had a feeling that Bystrica's version might fall a bit short of authenticity, but even the most indulgent of palates couldn't have accepted the plate of slop that was actually served.

The sauce had either evaporated or never existed, the meat was tough, chewy and impervious as leather, and the vegetable garnish was a withered excuse for greenery. Someone else had ordered the beef medallions, with what should have been cranberry sauce. Between the four of us, we weren't able to discover exactly what kind of berry sauce was smeared on the grey, tasteless slices of what I hope was beef. I was able to ascertain that the sauce was not composed of cranberries. The only half decent entree was the "Castle Lady", a turkey breast cordon bleu. But the garnish, again, was cold veggies served without taste, flavor, or imagination.

We contemplated dessert, but since the waiters had disappeared, presumably in shame, we decided to get our feet back on stable ground. Lunch talk centered around what we would do to improve this place. Our unanimous thoughts were as follows: a complete overhaul of the decor and bathrooms is necessary, along with a new cook, proper parking, and a way to keep the bridge from shaking.

The cost of this culinary catastrophe for four was 2,000 Sk, which is quite expensive for a heavily obscured view of Bratislava. It's a shame that this restaurant is designed for tourists, who never come back.

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