An afternoon break for a cup of tea and a slice of cake is a tradition that may seem particularly English in nature, but it’s certainly not limited to that country! The Swedish have their fika, and the Balkan countries are fond of their mezze which is meant to be eaten over the course of an afternoon as you sip on glasses of wine or rakia.
The Balkans have adopted some more traditional afternoon tea practices though, and the iconic Hotel Moskva (Hotel Moscow) in Belgrade is one of the leaders in afternoon tea for both locals and tourists alike. Their old-fashioned cafe is located on the ground-floor and serves a selection of cakes, ice-cream sundaes and other desserts alongside a number of different coffees and loose leaf teas.
There’s only a handful of hotels in Belgrade that can compete with Hotel Moskva in sheer opulence – and none of course, can hold a candle to its long history as one of the iconic hotels of Belgrade. They’ve played host to well-known individuals who can be recognised by surname alone – Einstein, De Niro, Hitchcock, Arafat, Gandhi, Nixon, Pavarotti, Geldof, Sartre…for decades, Hotel Moskva was the place to be seen in Belgrade, and it still holds onto that old-world glamour.
Luckily this glamour doesn’t translate into a snobbish attitude towards tourists wearing jeans and sneakers – we were welcomed warmly into the cafe and shown to a table promptly. No reservations are needed, but do be prepared to wait for a table during peak times.
We started with a fresh drink each – freshly squeezed orange juice for me (a little tart on initial taste, but with an underlying sweetness), and a pineapple juice for K.
We hadn’t had lunch yet, so we both ordered some sandwiches to start before we got stuck into their dessert offerings! I chose a Club Sandwich, one of my go-to options whenever it’s offered on a menu. Quite frankly you can’t go wrong with a sandwich that offers a bit of everything – crispy bacon, grilled chicken, tasty cheese, and a nod to healthy eating with a few slices of lettuce and tomato. It’s a winning combination, especially when the cheese is beautifully melted and it’s served with crispy hot french fries on the side.
K chose a Panini with Njeguska Ham which came with the most beautiful grill marks. Njeguska ham comes from Njegusi, a village in Montenegro, and is essentially like a prosciutto – in this case, a particularly salty prosciutto that was offset well by the creamy cheese slices and fresh tomato. It’s worth paying an extra 100 Serbian Dinars for this ham sandwich rather than the plainer ham sandwiches on the menu! Distressingly for my OCD, one of the slices of bread wasn’t placed the same way as the other two slices…a minor issue, but it does speak to a lack of attention to detail.
Onto my second drink to go with my dessert – the house hot chocolate. The waiter will ask you if you want cream – and the answer is yes, always yes. I did qualify my response with a “just a little bit?” which just meant that it came to the table with just an inch of whipped cream on top, rather than three inches of whipped cream. The hot chocolate itself is surprisingly not too sweet, but it does have a gorgeous rich and velvety chocolate flavour that’s just enhanced by the thick creamy texture. Do yourself a favour though, and ask them to bring a glass of water with it to help cleanse your palate for the main dessert.
K has only just discovered a love of Earl Grey tea at the age of 30, so that was his choice. It came served with a little pitcher of lemon juice and a packet of honey on the side – lemon to enhance the natural citrus flavours of the tea leaves, and honey to sweeten if necessary. No milk pitchers here to dull the aroma of good bergamot!
While I was highly tempted by the many delicious looking cakes and desserts at the counter, I decided to order a dessert off the menu instead – a Moskva Cup sundae, in honour of the hotel where we were having our tea. Two scoops of ice-cream (vanilla and hazelnut), topped with a mixed fruit selection that seemed as though it was out of a can, topped again with whipped cream and some ladyfinger biscuits. This would have been an excellent dessert if the fruit had been fresh and if the mix had worked better with the ice-cream flavours provided. As it is, getting a mouthful of canned pineapple with hazelnut ice-cream is more than a little bit strange.
K’s Reform Torte was a much more conventional dessert choice with flavours that actually worked well together – it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate and walnuts! However, it was a lot sweeter, stronger, and creamier than what we would have expected, with the cream to sponge cake ratio almost equal. This is a personal preference though – some may enjoy creamier cakes, but I prefer a lighter and more aerated sponge with just a touch of cream.
Hotel Moskva is an institution in Belgrade, and will continue to feature as a destination for a special afternoon treat for locals and tourists alike for years to come. Their signature cakes are very much in the local style with an abundant use of cream, so it’s not an ideal location if you’re sensitive to lactose! Their sandwiches are excellent though, so I would even consider stopping in just for a sandwich and a cup of tea- and perhaps a cream-free biscuit as a treat.
Hotel Moskva is located at 20 Terazije in Belgrade, Serbia.