see also: European Cafe Watch
Five years after I lived in Luxembourg for six months and wrote a Diary of an International Assignment, I went back to visit. I thought I'd visit a few cafes while I was there because, like Cambridge in the UK, Luxembourg is a tiny city with a big cafe-factor.
Bistro Journal, avénue de la gare
This no-frills cafe is a real gem: the simple but old decor and traditional feel are not what the bland facade and horrid plastic terrace furniture would lead you to expect. Unfortunately, cafes with this lovely lived-ambiance are not all that common since few are so old, and not all old cafes are nice to be in.
The menu is varied and functional, but nothing special. In a way, that sums up the cafe - there's nothing special the first time you go, but it is a nice place to get used to and the sort of place I'd like to have as my local.
This is one of the larger and posher Grund restaurants, which has a classical Italian menu with main courses for €10-25. It's good in a conventional kind of way - expensive but safe. The interior style is a bit mixed - bare brick and smartly laid tables - but pleasant.
Books and Beans, avenue de Liberté
Luxembourg is the kind of place you revisit after five years and find completely unchanged, so finding a new cafe is something of a shock, especially when you learn that it's already been there for two years like this one. Anyway, this is Luxembour's best new cafe for years; after the chic and pretentious places of the nineties, like Péché Mignon, here's a more North American-style bookshop-cafe with a more relaxed intellectual feel and lighter decor. This is the place to spend all afternoon.
This place has many of the details right: good coffee, nice cups, little chocolate on the side, slightly battered but comfortable bistro chairs, friendly service, books to read and put back (or buy), unobtrusive lounge music that avoids being lift music and a tempting menu. I'm not the only one who noticed; although it was quiet the first time I went in during the afternoon, it was packed at lunch time the next day.
Cafe New York, rue Philippe II, tel. 224102
Modern in a kind of seventies black and chrome retro way, this is one of the better cafes in the centre of town. It's clean and smart but there are a few visible signs of age, such as the yellowed and slightly broken window ventilators, that give the place a kind of credibility that is pleasantly consistent with the dated music and decor. It is more as though it evolved than if it was conceived. All in all a pleasant place to hang around.
On more practical matters, Cafe New York scores well with good Illy coffee served with a small jug of fresh milk and comfortable chairs and benches.
Chiggeri, rue du Nord
Chiggeri is a rather unusual cafe-bar, with striking decor and an interesting menu. The decor features dark-blue walls and ceilings, with painted sun, moon and stars, and plenty of gold and yellow paint around the edges. I seem to remember that it looked better five years ago and hasn't aged very well. It's still interesting though.
The cafe's menu is good, and icludes excellent and good-value Luxembourg-style tartiflette, which is oven-baked potatoes, bacon, onions, cream and one of a choice of cheeses. One of the the more distinctive things about the cafe is the wide selection of decent wines, served by the glass or carafe.
Good for: South-american dishes for €17-21 and cocktails
Il Fragolino, Montée de la Petrusse
This restaurant, which is slightly out of the way in Luxembourg city walking distance terms, is a fairly conventional Italian joint, in a slightly upmarket Luxemborg kind of way. The food is good, if I remember rightly - pizza and pasta dishes for €7-12.
Remake, Utopolis (Kirchberg)
Not a bad cafe for one in such a purely commercial location, this is just about somewhere you can relax. The decor is a good mix of modern colours and fittings, and traditional bistro furniture. This would be enough to create some ambiance if it weren't for the bland pop music.
Sul Palco, 28 rue Philippe II
This modern Italian cafe offers a sharp contrast to Cafe New York opposite, with its slick pine, brushes steel and purple scheme, and customers to match. Styles aside, its the same good Illy coffee and just as good an atmosphere, if somewhat busier.
One oddity is the small mezzanine, with a handful of armchairs.
La Table du Pain, 37 avenue de Liberté, tel. 295663,
This foody place is one of a small chain of bakery-cafes, with branches in Bordeaux, Nancy, Barcelona and two more in Luxembourg. The menu is breakfast, salads and fancy sandwiches, which are good enough to make up for the soulessness of the pseudo-rustic decor. This all compares well with the near-identical chain Het Dagelijks Brood/Le Pain Quotidien in Belgium and France, with differences being more about the cusomers - this one in Luxembourg catching the lunchtime chic office crowd.