The Grand Budapest Cafe

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY BIASOL: DESIGN STUDIO / PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAMES MORGAN

In Sichuan, you’ll see more teahouses than sunny days.
—ancient proverb

By Makayla Gay

Vivacious greens and yellows quilt together the “Country of Heaven,” or the Chengdu Plain, whose fields provide China’s agriculture and whose reserve provides a lush home to 80 percent of the world’s Sichuan pandas. Enveloped on all sides by this exuberant greenery sits Chengdu, the brimming and trendy metropolitan capital of the Sichuan province. It is a place of imagination and innovation—home to the world’s largest building, a hub for high-end shopping, the latest marketplace for luxury international brands, the next getaway for the world’s globetrotters.

With heritage sites tucked amongst a growing number of culinary ventures and designer boutiques, Chengdu is a place suspended somewhere in time between its rich history and radiant future. Most newly constructed buildings are done in the traditional Sichuan style. It is the type of place where you can step from a Gucci shopfront and wander into an ancient temple only blocks away—a place where modernity and classicism cleave together in a brilliant display of craftsmanship. It is here that Chinese engineers envision the launch of an artificial moon to replace the light of street lamps. If all goes to plan, the satellite will begin to cascade a dusky glow upon the city in the year 2020. There is no lack of luxury lodging. At Chengdu’s center sits the Temple House, a hotel which melds two glass skyscrapers with a century-old restored building as its entryway. For travelers who crave nature and history, there is the Four Points by Sheraton in the southernmost part of the city, where you can take advantage of its golf course and proximity to the stunning Stone Elephant and Chaoyang Lakes.

Just outside the city are pockets of Nong Ji Le, or “happy rural homes,” which afford more rustic experiences in a growing market of “rural tourism.” A quiet stopover in the village of Pengzhen is a must, where the village noodle maker regularly hangs her fresh-cut creations out to dry, and where you can find the most authentic of beverages at its resident 300-year-old teahouse (reportedly the oldest in the country and untouched by historical revisionism).

It is clear that Chengdu, known for its relaxed atmosphere (and yes, the pandas), would make a superb habitat for a trendy new eatery. And so, restaurateur Homdy Zhong teamed up with award-winning Melbourne based design firm, Biasol, to open Café Budapest, an architectural tribute to the work of filmmaker Wes Anderson. It’s up-and-coming, it’s international and it’s a foodie’s paradise, melding the city’s classic “teahouse culture” and the ambiance of a hip Melbourne coffee shop.

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