THE BEST GOURMET & GASTRONOMIC RESTAURANTS IN BUDAPEST
A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO HUNGARIAN CUISINE:
Paprika characterizes the Hungarian cooking: used generously in typical dishes like Gulash ( beef, potatoes and gnocchi soup), Chicken Paprika, and Stuffed Cabbage (a transylvanian delicacy). Salami is palatable, and should come from Szeged ("Pick" and "Hertz" seem to be the best labels). Goose liver is a must; though not as sophisticately cooked as in France, it is still very good value for money, indeed. Pancakes (Palacsinta) are a favourite dessert; together with the Somloi Galuska (biscuit with chocolate, nuts and whipped cream): escape from the latter if you don't wish to gain weight ! Among best local alcohol, you can experience "Unicum"(bitter aperitif), "Palinka" (a very strong brandy), and the very succulent "Tokaj" wines. Our favourite remains the "Tokaj Szamorodni Edes": sweet, it goes fairly well with desserts. Local sparkling wine ("Peszgö") can be experienced, providing it is "Dry" or "Extra-Dry": "Törley" is one of the preferred labels.
ICON (*****L): Located in the fantastic Hilton Budapest, in the fairy-tale atmosphere of the Buda Castle District, next to Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion, this grand restaurant (it has a capacity of 220 persons) astonished us with its unexpected intimacy: the separation between each table is large enough to comply with the secrecy of a business discussion... or a romance, sitting beside one of the 16 huge windows with the best city view ever of the Fisherman's Bastion, the Parliament and the Buda Castle District.
Our second surprise was the value for money of a place which, a decade ago (it was then called “Dominican”), was one of the top 5 most expensive restaurants in Hungary. Totally redesigned into a trendy, pleasantly luxurious though informal style, it seems that Icon now targets a younger, more casual category of gourmets. The quality flies high, but with an average EUR 40 – 50 check (this was the price of our dinner, more or less), the new menu price remains ground rooted. We had a great selection of Hungarian wines at an average of EUR 8 by the glass; which is amazingly cheap in a five star deluxe hotel, frequented by politicians (the Japanese Imperial Prince was in the hotel the week of our visit), famous opera singers and movie stars... But we are in the magic Hungary, where all miracles can still happen.
The cuisine is classic and classy; inventive enough to create the WOW factor which started with the “Cheese Brulée with Portobello-Vinaigrette Salad, Pigeon Ballotin & Papaya Chutney”, paired with a glass of “Icon Egri Welshriesling 2008, Juhasz Winery” produced specially for Icon. A lighter version of the “Hortobagy Palacsinta”, certainly one of the best Hungarian specialities, our “Pancake Stuffed with Chicken Breast, in Paprika Cream Sauce and Warm Garden Salad” is a yummy best seller. Have it with one of our favourite local wines: “Szeksardi Pinot Noir 2007, Vida Winery”. We have been served “Pazmandi Cuvée Kemendy Selection 2005”, from the Törley winery (well known for its reputed sparkling wines) with our “Venison Mignon, with Chili Chocolate Sauce, Asian Duck, Sweet Potato Purée, Fillet Mignon of Veal and Smoked-Roasted Tomato Cream”: a nice looking, mouth watering assortment of the best meat specialities available in this restaurant, which was the first one in all Hungary to become a member of the “Chaîne des Rôtisseurs” in the late 70's. Roasting delicate meat, poultry and game remains a home-speciality. Desserts are actually inventive. Icon has got an expert pastry team: cakes are displayed in the hotel everywhere, everyhtime: breakfast-buffet, executive lounge, tea-room, catering... We would like to recommend the “Blueberry Ricotta Mille-Feuille with Walnut Cream Cake, Mint -Strawberry Salsa & Roasted Sorbet”. Or the “Delice from Somloi” (the famous “Somloi Galuska”): a rich sponge cake raisins soaked in rum, with chocolate, ground walnuts and whipped cream. Unless you are on a diet, just go for it, with one glass of fruity, as sweet as honey “Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos 2006, Andrassy Winery”.
Icon offers an attractive three courses Saturday Lunch (at HUF 6900 / EUR 26 per person) and, for the same savvy price, a Sunday Brunch much attended by families for its sumptuous buffet with unlimited consumption of sparkling wine, wine, beer, soft drinks and coffee!
A five out of five atmosphere, food and service in a superb, splendidly managed hotel.
ICON (Hilton Budapest Hotel): 1014 Budapest, Hess András tér 1-3.
PHONE: +36 1 889 66 00 , +36 1 889 6757 FACSIMILE: +36 1 889 66 44
to the Hotel Castle
strategically located opposite the Becsi Kapu (the main entrance of the
Castle district), this fine though informal restaurant opens to the
terrace-garden in Central Buda: much frequented by tourists and returning
locals, from Springtime till Autumn.
yummy dessert, the «Panna
Cota with Chocolate Brownie and Strawberry» (HUF 1,090 / EUR 3.5) is close to
(*****L): Settled in the
ground floor of a small baroque palace, opposite the Hilton and
Matthias Church, this restaurant is a landmark. More discreet than
Gundel, and therefore much less touristy, it remains since decades the
most exclusive fine dinning alternative
Budapest. Traditional and classy, it could somehow be compared to La Tour
d'Argent in Paris. New great restaurants
nowadays make Budapest a wonderful gourmet destination; this was a
pleasure to visit some of them time after time, neglecting little bit
Alabardos which we rediscovered with pleasure in Spring 2014. The
dinning room is still homey and comfy. The service still one of the
best in Central Europe. Last but not least, the already splendid
cuisine improved quite a lot: with more inventive, lighter dishes. The
management sent his chefs travelling around the world: they came back
more inspired than ever... but remaining so Hungarian in the use of
fresh, 100% local products from the best farms!
Open Monday to Saturday (Mon-Fri: 19:00-23:00, Sat: 12-15 and 19:00-23:00).
BUDA (& LEFT BANK RESIDENTIAL AREA):
NANCSI NENI (****): When Hungarian seamen (it exists, indeed!) step ashore, what do they do? Some, like Frigyes Schädler, open a restaurant. Back to his roots, the owner of Nancsi Neni (which means "Grand'Ma Neni'), didn't dedicate his concept to seafood, as one could logically imagine; nostalgic of the rich, mouth watering though quite simple dishes his grand mother Neni cooked when he was a child, he developed a concept where everybody would feel at home. Much affordable Hungarian delicacies are served by an anticipating staff, in a dining room decorated with traditional items. You feel like miles away from Budapest: in a "vendeglö" (traditional peasant inn), in the heart of the bucolic Hungarian countryside, or on the Balaton Lake shores. In reality, the restaurant stands in the Buda hills, and can be reached by a 10 minutes tram ride from the city center. Even better: it is located at the Hüvösvölgy terminus of the "Children's Railway": one of the most picturesque and exciting attraction in town.
The place had it all to be a tourist trap; it is not, indeed. Nancsi Neni is known by word of mouth, and a vast majority of the guests are local people and foreign residents. Even when visiting, like us, the place during the low season, you won't sit alone. When tourists come from Spring time until October, there is no hustle at all: this is when the green, pleasant terrace starts operating. You therefore don't feel like any stressing noise or excessive proximity. Just some waves of enthusiasm and enjoyment.
We got into our hands what seems to be the most complete menu in Budapest. Our choice was therefore as appetizing as difficult to make. Entrées are well balanced. The fantastic "Fresh Goose Liver with Steamed Grape" (HUF 2,980 / EUR 10) which was the highlight of our last visit, in August 2014: a genereous portion of liver is marinated in Sherry during a night, then seared over the grill, while the marinade is used to prepare a delicious sauce in which stoned grapes are steamed. Served on coated milk-loaf, this starter caters two people at ease. Those who would like to do in Hungary like the Hungarians do, would rather ask for a soup. We suggest the "Fresh Bean Soup with Vegetable and a Few Smoked Ribs" (HUF 1,380 / EURO 4.5): Grand'Ma Nani liked to cook it once a week for her gourmand family. Bean Soup is one of our cheapest sins: we must say that this one was close to perfection: if you put some cream inside, and if you dare adding some paprika (their is very authentic, and therefore quite hot!), perfection will turn to ecstasy. A light alternative? Try the "Sunday Chicken Broth" (HUF 1,050 / EURO 4): pleasantly flavoured soup, made from Guinea-Fowl, with Carots.
As we have explained, Nancsi Nani is not a seafood restaurant; which didn't mean that fish couldn't be enjoyed here. Salmon, sole, monkfish, shrimps and dory (more precisely John Dory) are part of the new menu. Residents sometimes just come for it, as the chef is expert in that still "exotic" food: don't forget that Hungary is a landlocked country, inhabited by one of the most "carnivore" people in the world. Landlocked; but with one of the largest lake in Central Europe, called Balaton. Originated from the lake, the "fogas" (local name for pike-perch) is one of the most refined fish on the whole planet. It could sometimes be better that monkfish, or even lobster. When it comes from Balaton, you are 90% sure to receive the most splendid quality in your plate. So, just don't miss it. And it is not expensive at all: HUF 95.- / EUR 0.3 /dkg!. Those coming with friends or family should straightly order the whole "fogas" ("The One and Only Pike-Perch"): following a recipe by Hungarian food writer Mari Lajos, the fish is deep fried, so that it curls into a crescent shape. Crispy outside, smooth inside, served with boiled potatoes, lashings of butter, parsley and Hungarian sauce tartare, this delicacy is actually well worth the trip!
Lot of meat, of course. From the bourgeois "Cordon Bleu" to the peasant "Boiled Beef in Hunter's Sauce" (HUF 1,520 / EURO 6), the choice is wide and wise. We had the later: our beef was tender, from top-quality oxen, served with a sweet carrots and kitchen garden's vegetables sauce, and fresh dumplings. A good choice; thought we even preferred the wonderful "Crispy Duck Leg" (HUF 2,370 / EURO 10). "Hard to beat!" said the menu: which is true! Those who have been lucky enough to enjoy once in their life a real confit of duck, made just like in the South West of France, will on the spot recognize the signature of a well trained chef. Whose skill is permanently favoured by the tips from his much travelling owner, very much aware of the French cuisine. Our noble palmiped had been sacrificed to Epicure. We would also warmly recommend the "Oven baked crispy trotter" (HUF 2,450), served with roasted potatoes, and home-made mixed pickles „csalamádé”. This is, with the "Fogas", one of the master dishes on the menu. We loved the extremely popular "Veal Stew with Gnocchi" (HUF 1,960 / EURO 8): the Hungarian call it "Pörkölt", and it is as deep rooted as the "Gulash" in the local culinary traditions. Ours was melting in our mouth, cooked with a generous dose of Paprika. Wonderful like simple things can be.
We spoke extensively about Epicure, patron of our visit; but now what about Bacchus? The stylish wine list was as appealing as the menu. Fitting on the season (we received the"Spring-Summer" list), it started with the white or red "House Wines" (HUF 260 / EURO 1, per 1dl glass), reaching up the still affordable extremity of HUF 8,990 / EURO 36 for full-bodied, complex, red "Mayer Kopar 2000, Villany". An average HUF 2,000 - 4,000 (EURO 9 - 18) goes for most of the wines. To make sure you get the best value for money, order the waiter the list of elegant wines which the Schädler family grows in the region of Balaton.
Yummy desserts! The "Somloi Galuska" (HUF 1,050 / EUR 4) is one of the best in town: if you don't know yet how orgasmic this chocolate biscuit can be, try it without hesitation! It is even better when paired with a cup of robust, sweet, classic, fruity, and spicy Italian "Caffč Manuel". The "Floating Islands" (HUF 490 / EURO 2) are a pure delight, with their bursting fresh vanilia aroma. Don't miss the local apricot brandy ("Oszibarack Palinka"): it fits ideally the "Vargabéles" (HUF 980 / EURO 3), sweet noodle cake with curd cheese available only on the week-end menu.
for gourmets, managed by gourmets.
KISBUDA GYÖNGYE (***): The soul of Budapest stands in this small bistro, located away from the tourists’ paths, in the outlying historic Obuda. A short taxi drive from downtown, it is easily reached by the public transportation.
All nations and all social classes sit along side one another in the small dining room, decorated with lovely 1920’s Hungarian antique furniture, animated by a gifted and talkative pianist who seems to be familiar to most of the clients… Dining at Kisbuda Gyöngye is not an individualistic experience; we felt like we were part of a family banquet. With friendly guests, a warm anticipating staff, and one of the most generous and delicious tables in Budapest, we enjoyed a leisurely evening.
The extended multilingual menu features the best Hungarian recipes, with a touch of personalization. Closer to perfection than to sophistication: authenticity quite well depicts the rustic cuisine served by Alice, the owner, in person. Or by Laszlo, the good humoured manager and maitre d’hôtel since the opening in 1990.
Our recommended starter is the solid “Cold Meat Hors d’Oeuvre from the Pantry”: a rich selection of natural, smocked, and pan fried guaranteed home made goose liver. It costs HUF 3280 with a glass of Tokaji Szamorodni Edes 2002 “Hattyus”. We also liked the “Pheasant Consommé, with home made Noodles in a Cup”, fresh carrots and quail eggs (HUF 1280).
Don’t miss the “Crispy Catfish & Spicy Tagliatelles”. A pure delicacy, quite spicy actually, enriched with pure truffle oil, and a wonderful paprika sauce. Those considering the catfish a non-edible, poor river fish, will be positively amazed by the aristocratic flavour of this plebeian meal. Many clients ordered it the evening of our visit, and it seems to be a regular favourite. From the long wine list, we selected a “Somloi Juhfark 2004, Csardas Fodor Winehouse”. A dry, expressive, refreshing and pleasant white wine: a good value at HUF 6500 a bottle.
Meat reaches its highest level with the “Hungarian Tournedos with Goose Liver” (HUF 3480). The smooth beef filet comes covered with a high quality home made “Lecso” (mashed paprika and onions) , far different from the liquid industrial sauce sold out in the Hungarian groceries. Thicker, also spicier, it doesn’t cover but develops the juicy taste of the prime quality of meat. It comes with thin sliced grilled potatoes. A gourmet would travel to Budapest for such a delicacy! Have it with a heady “Szekszardi Chateau Kajmad, Cuvée 2002, Lizt Pinceszét” (HUF 6200): a subtle redcurrant taste –some even find chocolate in its complex aroma- makes it one of the best red Szekszardi wines we ever had in Hungary.
The good desserts, like the “Sweet Chocolate & Chestnut Dream” (HUF 1680), as tasty as caloric, will oblige you to exercise quite a lot to lose the extra kilogram(s) gained in this lovely Kisbuda Gyöngye.
We finished with a local “grappa”: the “Törköly Palinka, Varda Drink” (HUF 2400), which must be enjoyed well chilled, develops this unique, noble musty taste imported from the Tokaji wine cellars. This is a must, even better than the traditional Apricot palinka.
There is air-conditioning, and a charming summer garden. Open 12:00 – 24:00. Closed on Sunday.
where you will like to come again and again.
REMIZ (***): In the elegant Zugligeti, a green area at the foot of the Buda hills, displaying lovely villas and green parks, five minutes by car from Moskva square, this temple of gastronomy is under the same management as Kisbuda Gyöngye. Awarded by the prestigious Zagat, member of Prosper Montagné and La Chaîne des Rotisseurs gourmet clubs, this is a smart yet simple restaurant, with a summer garden, housed in a former coffee shop frequented by the pre-WW II society. The coffee shop is not here anymore; but the cakes sold out at Remiz are among the most remarkable in Budapest.
We have been recommended, as a starter, the “Home-made Fine Nuggets on a Spoon” (HUF 2280): a selection of “delicatessen” elaborated with a special know-how, featuring Cheese Cream with Pesto and Ham, Aubergine with Garlic, Smoked Goose Liver, Doughnuts with Caviar, and Baked Goat Cheese. Perfect with a glass of “Royal Tokaji, Ats Cuvée 2005, The Royal Tokaji Wine Company” (HUF 1500 by the glass). Alternatively, try the lavish “Morel Mushrooms Stuffed with Truffle Cream, Pasta with Ewe Cheese and Dill”. At HUF 2680 we found it an amazingly good value, much inspired, and actually palatable. This is a royal dish served in a very generous portion.
Royal also is the “Breaded Fillet of Pike-Perch” (HUF 2980): the legendary, and unfortunately more and more scarce, authentic Balaton “Fogas”, came to our table with some mild, fragrant forest mushrooms, and aromatic jasmine rice with vegetables. This is certainly the highlight of the very attractive menu. The texture and taste of the “Fogas” are unique, and it is fairly well cooked at Remiz. We warmly recommend it with a “Don Olivier, Chardonnay and Irsai Oliver 2006, Nyakas” (HUF 1150 by the glass): a juvenile, light and refreshing white wine matching fish very well.
The deserts respect the receipts of the former coffee shop. The best sellers are the Dobos, the “Remiz” (a chocolate cream biscuit), and the famous "Somloi Galuska": at HUF 880, this sponge biscuit covered with a bitter chocolate cream, cannot be ignored. It is lighter than in many local restaurants, and can therefore be enjoyed without any restriction.
A smart venue for smart gastronomes.
ONYX (*****L): Rated 17/20 points by Gault Millau, and awarded with one Michelin Star, the so-refined Onyx bloomed in April 2007, Vörösmarty Square, in the touristy heart of Budapest where finding a decent restaurant, impresses in a number of ways. Located on the ground floor of Gerbeaud (one of the most famous tea-rooms in Central Europe), the theatrical 55-seat dinning room, boosting modern textures and Neo-Regency armchairs, creates a romantic and deliciously chic atmosphere which we liked straight away. This is the ideal place to bring your girlfriend; or maybe even your wife... The light-coloured walls are decorated with precious fabrics and wall-paintings.
The elegant tables are set far enough apart to preserve an intimate atmosphere amidst the Babel of voices which resounds with every language known to man. Expats from all origins, including many diplomats, business executives and government officials, make this little world go round. The tourists dining at Onyx the evening of our visit where definitely first class foodies, with an ardent interest in executive chef Szabina Szulló refined and inventive cuisine.
The first Michelin star chef in Hungary, Szabina and sous chef Tamás Széll introduce a modern "Hungarian Evolution" cuisine, made of the freshest, highest-quality domestic ingredients products. Menu, where and new technologies are used in the preparation and presentation of renewed and updated versions of traditional Hungarian cuisine. We have ordered the recommended "Tasting Menu" (served only for the entire table), at HUF 30,900 (EUR 100) the evening of our visit, in Spring 2015. Wine paitring costs an extra HUF 18,900 (EUR 62). Plus 15% service fee. Though we found the "mise en bouche" ("Beetroot, Trout, Blueberry") quite common and poorly harmonious in the association of savours, we actually liked the good natured appetizer: "Marinated tuna, Celery Cabbage, Coriander". "Apple, Duck Meat, Grated Liver ", followed by "Langustino, Veal, Sorrel" were the highlight of the menu: well worth one Michelin star. "Venison, Asparagus, Almond" and "Goulash Soup" impressed us little bit less, though the goulash was awarded a Bocuse d’Or 2013. We received two desserts: the yummy "Sunflowers, Orange Blossom Honey, Ginger" and the refreshing "Pear, Verbena, Malt Beer".
fantastic classy gourmet restaurant
opens Tuesday - Friday: 12 noon - last order 1:45 pm. And Tuesday -
Saturday: 6:30 pm. - last order 9:30 pm. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.
KARPATIA (****): Founded in 1877, unaffected by the changes of regime, economy and mentality, this is still one of the top five legendary restaurants in Budapest. Located in the heart of the historic downtown, on the Pest side of Elizabeth bridge, next to Vaci street and the Franciscan Church, this could be a perfect tourist trap; on the contrary, the Karpatia name has not been spoiled at all since Budapest became a major travel destination. Still serving the same gourmet specialities we had there many years ago, with the same lively and somehow heart breaking romantic live Gypsy music (with a "primas", cimbalom, and all which makes a band authentic), the quality matches the decoration: the rich wall paintings covering the gothic arcades refer to the XVIIth century, when Hungary was defending against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Realized in the 1920's, they have been classified "National Heritage" together with the furniture.
International courses are available on the multilingual menu. But, in Rome do as the Romans do: rather order those peasant specialities, which make the Hungarian local gastronomy one of the most delicious in all Central Europe. Not to say in the world. Sometimes reinvented a lighter way by the chef, the menu includes all our favourite "csarda" style meals. Let's start, for instance, with a hearty Hungarian style Fish Soup, with catfish cutlet(1600 / 2300 HUF). Hungary being the first producer of goose liver, you should certainly order it as a main meal: pan-fried on a potato flat cake, with caramelized blackberry and rose pepper, it is a pure marvel (6500 HUF). Their Cold Goose Foie Gras with Onions & Fresh Vegetables (5600 HUF) is another good alternative. It should also be the perfect opportunity to open a fine bottle of Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszu 2004, Degenfeld Winery: this is a sweet, complex and full aromatic "white" (let's say: yellow) wine, with nice balance of acidity and sweetness (9500 HUF). Hungarian still like sweet wine with the foie gras: just like French gourmets used to do some decades ago. Up to date dinners will maybe prefer a classical and more adequate Egri "El Classico" Bikavér 2011: quite similar to the Spanish "Sangre de Toro", this is a full-bodied red wine with high acidity (6500 HUF).
Hungary is not that much a country for fish: anyway, their Perch -they call it "Fogas"- is well worth the trip. This delicacy is of course in the menu, under the appellation Grilled Pike Perch Karpati Style, with shrimps, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, and dill sauce (5500 HUF). Hungary abandoned by force Transylvania to Romania in 1921; which is a bitter souvenir! But it never forgot the specialities of this splendid and wild Carpathian region, which gave its name to the restaurant. We like the “Pörkölt”: this Hungarian veal stews, served with butter gnocchi (4600 HUF), is an excellent introduction to traditional Hungarian cuisine.
During our last visit, we ordered the spicy Peppery Mangalica-Pork Roast, with hot paprika, potatoes and red onions (HUF 4500). One of our favourite, made out of tender Hungarian "Mangalica" (reputed for its savor and low-cholesterol ratio); nobody does it better, and nowhere but in Central Europe will you find such generous portions! Alternatively, we can recommend the “Hungarian Appetizer Platter" featuring salami, sausage, peasant ham with fresh vegetables and paprika-ewe-cheese cream (3900 HUF).
Modest eaters and vegetarians will see with pleasure that the chef has not forgotten their culinary choice: of course there are lots of salads and pastas available. But we prefer to keep on the Hungarian way, and recommend the signature dish "Karpatia Salata", called here Salad Karpatia with tender duck breasts, served with grilled wild mushrooms and vinaigrette (2900 HUF). The Salad with Baby Spinach, Bacon & Garlic Baguette with Parmesan is not bad either (2700 HUF). Those light meals would go well with a Matrai Excellent Rosé 2013 Ludanyi (4500 HUF): delivering intensive aroma, this is a fine example of the fantastic rosés to be found in this part of Europe.
You should order by all means the Somló Sponge Cake, with nuts, raisins and rum, sprinkled with chocolate cream (1800 HUF). It is extremely popular under the name "Somloi Galuska". This is, by reputation, the heaviest dessert you could have in Hungary. But at Karpatia it is prepared a different way: the sponge cake has been converted into a light mousse, rich in vanilia; and the thick, caloric chocolate sauce, has been replaced by a slice of brownie made out of a strong cocoa. Is it a miracle?: it tastes like the original; not to say better! Alternatively, the Strudel Trio (“Rétes”), with cinnamon mousse is amazing (HUF 1700). This delicacy goes well with a glass of chilled Hungaria Extra Dry (5700 HUF/bottle), listening to the "primas" playing "Ciocirlia" for your very special attention!
For about 15,000 HUF this makes a splendid evening only Budapest -when you go to the right restaurant! - is able to offer to distinctive dinners. Some even more affordable group menus, packages and seasonal offers are also available: for instance, the lovely, informal Brasserie offers a great value for money lunch menu (updated each week with fresh ingredients) at only HUF 1700 for 2 courses and HUF 2000 for 3). Note that, for special occasions (meetings, wedding parties, or simply very intimate supper) lovely private rooms can be put at guests disposal. During summer time, the terrace offers outdoor seating for up to 150 guests.
BAR (****L): Those looking
for a chic, cool Asian-fusion style cuisine experience will hear
enthusiastically that a branch of the world-famous Buddha Bar, part of the top luxurious Buddha
Bar Hotel Budapest, operates
in Vaci walking street since 2012. We experienced the graceful atmosphere of
one of the most lavishly designed
interiors in town, majestically accessible by marble stairs dating back
from the erection of the Klotild Palace housing the restaurant and the
hotel: example of the refined, somehow pompous neo-Gothic architecture
which developed during the reign of the Habsburg, it has been
enthusiastically restored to please the eyes and senses of the Buddha
Bar spoiled patrons. We enjoyed our dinner by the the tall, gold Buddha
statue protecting the preciously
SPOON CAFÉ & LOUNGE (****): The most fancy restaurant in Budapest is situated on a boat docked along the Danube: strategically opposite some of the leading hotels (Inter-Continental, Marriott, Sofitel, Gresham Palace), which brings to the place 80% of its smart clientele. The rest is composed by the local society who likes to come here without the formal black tie, still imperative in lots of the restaurants of a similar category.
Árpád László, the most famous restaurateur in town, opened in 2003 that astonishingly cheap, though very chic restaurant. Making it "THE place" where the action goes indeed. An army of waiters, managed by a young, super active "maître d' " directing the operations through his talkie walkie, assures a quick, almost immediate service with a thousand smiles. A miracle, when you know it deals with 200 indoor plus 300 outdoor seats! Once we reached our table on the upper desk (full, like the rest of the boat), we imagined at first sight that such a volume cannot deserve the best quality of food.
Our pessimism vanished once we were served our starter: a selection of Sushi and Sashimi, homemade by a Japanese chef operating in public with the freshest ingredients. Have them by a mixed plate: the "Sashimi Moriawase" contains 7 pieces, and costs HUF 4,100 only. The Salmon, Tuna and above all the Octopus sashimi are simply wonderful. Excellent with a glass of Champagne or a local Törley.
We then followed the wise advice of Chef Zsolt Beke, and ordered an "Octopus from Barcelona" (HUF 2,390), with basil olives: well worth the best "tapas" we ever had in Spain. It was cooked with a rich dose of garlic, which didn't affect at all our digestion (chefs have tricks to make that delicious garlic inoffensive). Alternatively, the "Roasted Goose Liver" (HUF 2,690) will satisfy the meat lovers. This is a declination of the famous Hungarian "Foie Gras"; lighter, with a caramel peach, it is an interesting speciality. Keep your glass of Champagne to enjoy both of those delicacies; or order a white Chardonnay from Villanyi. With the liver, do like the Hungarian do: have a glass of Tokaj. With the melting, palatable "Argentinean Angus Tenderloin Steak", with garlic, blue cheese and a strong pepper sauce (HUF 4,890) that we had as a main dish, we took a red "Kekoporto". All those Hungarian wines are well worth the tasting, and reveal very good value for money indeed!
Refresh your mouth with a "Gazpacho" (HUF 850). Rich, thick, made out of the best quality of tomato, it came served like in the Andalusian "tiendas": with peppered stick of celery.
The dessert daily offer was a "Vanilla Pannacotta, with Lemon Grass and Strawberry" (HUF 890), worth the best confectioners. Great with a Danesi "ristretto" coffee.
Lots of "cigar aficionados" aboard! We smoked our Cohiba Esplendido with a glass of Cognac "Godet XO" (HUF 4,000). Peacefully: enjoying a million dollar view on the illuminated Castle district (note that you can enjoy this breathtaking panorama from the gents washrooms, with the unique "pissoirs with a view" in Central Europe, and maybe in the world!).
are many things that money can't buy; but with EUR 50 in your pocket,
Paradise is affordable at Spoon!
ROBINSON (****) : An attraction on its own! This lavish restaurant stands on a fairy tale's secluded island, on the still waters of a small lake, shadowed by the centenarian trees of the Varosliget Park (the equivalent in Budapest of Central Park in New York). There are not many rivers to cross, but a short wooden bridge, to gain access to an Eden for the gourmet: it has been used since almost two decades by the local jet set, ambassadors and international celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Warren Beatie, David Copperfied or Lionel Richie. Just to mention a few of them. Of course, this is one of the Top 5 restaurants in the Hungarian capital city for gourmet tourists who, like us, prefer this relaxed, romantic place, to the opposite Gundel (more stiff, conventional and expensive, with a cuisine which doesn't match Robinson).
A million miles away from the busy city centre, we sat at the water edge terrace. The lovely pavilion-restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, was also appealing; but on winter time everybody wish to stay outside, enjoying the cool air of the powerful brumizer providing a maximum comfort when the temperature goes too high. The view on the Fine Arts Museum, Heroes' Square and Vajdahunyad Castle is imposing.
The menu is summed up in four pages. It features only the freshest ingredients. "World Cuisine" is the chef's main inspiration; with a strong Mediterranean influence, like at Spoon Cafe & Lounge (Zsolt Beke is in charge of the kitchens of both restaurants, owned by Arpad Laszlo). Seafood is well represented. There is also a wide selection of vegetarian fares.
Great starters. We knew the reputation of their "Grilled Goose Liver" (HUF 2,790), prepared with balsamic lemon-grass. But that time we preferred to enjoy the "Garlic King Prawn" (HUF 2,490): so fresh, so crunchy, with melting butter, smelling good the Mediterranean sea, they were served with a refreshing chilli flavoured rucola. Salads are a speciality here: like the "Rucola with Sherries, stick of Celery and Pistachio" (HUF 1,900) that we found nowhere but at Robinson.
As a main course, we had a "Fogas" the Hungarian word for that very unique, amazingly tasty pike-perch from the Lake Balaton. The chef knows how to prepare it: respecting an ideal cooking time keeping intact the wonderful texture of this delicate fish, salted with a thin slice of bacon, and prepared with a light paprika sauce. Just don't miss it! At HUF 3,790 we found it one of the best value for money items on an already reasonably priced menu. The "Fogas" competed in our choice with the "Giant Prawn" (HUF 5,890) which came on a garlic-spinach bed, with green curry. Almost the way it is cooked in the best restaurants in Thailand and Singapore. If such is the "World Cuisine", let's go! We love it!
The desserts came on a small, separate menu. Our two favourites are the "Creme Brulée", with a fresh fig (HUF 790) and the unforgettable "Floating Islands". Like our Mum used to do it; maybe lighter, more digestive, with caramel and sweetly perfumed with almond. At HUF 850 we found it amazingly affordable.
We had all our lunch with a couple of glasses of very refreshing Törley. The wine list is one of the richest in Budapest, at very balanced prices.
Like Spoon Cafe & Lounge, Robinson was awarded "Best Mediterranean Restaurant" and "Best Outdoor Place".
The restaurant is permanently full: make sure to book in advance, by e-mail or by fax, before landing to Budapest.
Old Tuscan specialities are served in the same atmosphere and style like in Florence. The receipts are certified by the Italian chef Giuseppe Mosti, who arrived recently in Budapest. Graduated from the Instituto G. Minuto, in Tuscany (regarded as one of the best cooking schools in Italy), he has exported his skill worldwide: from the Caribbean to the United Arab Emirates, Giuseppe acts like the apostle of the Tuscan tradition. Respect of the original receipts and supreme quality of the freshest ingredients are his guidelines.
If you are lucky enough to find a free table in the rustic, warm, permanently full dinning room, you will be treated like a Medici! Despite of its peasant roots, the Tuscan cuisine displays an indeed aristocratic touch. Traditional, refined and humanist when fashion goes to the food-processing industry, it pleases the gourmet at first sight.
The staff is anticipating. As soon as we sat, we were served a generous portion of freshly baked Focaccia; the temptation to empty our basket was revoked by the prompt delivery of a "Porcini Mushroom Cream Soup" (HUF 990), all dedicated to suaveness. Antispasti are the best in Budapest. Have the number one on the list: the "Steamed Octopus with Raw Zucchini e Citronette". At HUF 3090 this is not the cheapest: but indeed impressively tasty and fresh. We found it worth the visit! The "Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with Rucola and Shaved Parmigiano" might sound like a classic; at Toscana it comes like a pure delicacy. Again, thanks to the amazing freshness of the ingredients. At HUF 2250 we found it fairly good value for money.
The pastas can be lavish. Particularly if choosing the "Tortellini filled with Ricotta Radicchio and Mascarpone", served with a sea bass sauce and lemon zest (HUF 2090). Or the aristocratic "Linguine with a Lobster and its sauce", for two people, priced by the lobster's weight: expensive, of course. Our "Italian Black Risotto Fisherman Style", with mixed seafood, was certainly more basic; but we loved it, indeed. At HUF 2590, don't miss it.
Good meat. The "Veal Cutlet with Porcini Mushrooms" (HUF 2950) is delicious. Like the "Grilled Rack of Lamb" (HUF 3390).
We found the pizza splendid. Thin, crispy, slightly browned on the edges, generously filled with first class ingredients. The way we like it, indeed! It comes of course from an authentic pizza oven: similar to those used by the best "pizzaioli" from Naples. We cannot recommend one precisely: each gets its particular quality and unique taste. Ours was a "Capricciosa" (HUF 2150), filled with tomato, mozzarella, mushroom, Prosciutto ham, eggs, artichoke and olive oil.
We finished with a remarkable -though classic- "Creme Brulée" (HUF 1050), which goes very well with their strong expresso coffee All Amaretto (HUF 920). Of course, there is a rich selection of Grappa from the best origin.
Last but not least, note that the Trattoria Toscana is a great restaurant for wine lovers. The owner operates the wine shop next door, "L'Enoteca", with a solid reputation in town. The 12 pages wine list offers some interesting, valued for money brands. We had our dinner with a 2001 Chianti "Rufina, Basciano, Renzo Masi" (HUF 5200). Classic. Perfect with meat, pasta and pizza. But you can also order local wines, which are sometimes a pure marvel: they have all kind of Tokaji, and interesting heady, strong red wines like the "Egri Bikaver". More precisely the "Egri Bikaver Barrique, Simon Jozsef" which presents the advantage to be sold out by the glass (HUF 660 per 1dl).
to book in advance. The place is well known, and don't need to be
it is always packed with foreign residents who made Toscana their
CENTRAL KAVEHAZ (***): A "Grand Café" reborn! With a stunning Art Nouveau interior, and smart, anticipating waiters wearing a traditional apron, this is the Hungarian version of Lipp or La Rotonde in Paris. With a difference: bills are a portion of what you would be expected to pay in such a place in Western Europe.
It seemed that many of the guests comfortably sitting on the green wall seats were local and foreign residents. Astonishingly, we saw almost no tourist the day of our visit; the place might be still kept secret to them? Time and reputation will certainly help them to discover the interesting gastronomy displayed on the quite thin though attractive menu. The "Goulash Soup" (HUF 690 / EUR 2.7) is recommended. Don't miss the "Salmon Pike Perch": ours was superb! A delicacy, served with green lemon butter and grilled vegetable. At HUF 2,990 / EUR 11,5, it comes like a gift. Plenty of desserts: great cakes -this is a coffee-shop- and the redoubtable multi-caloric "Somloi Galuska" (HUF 690 / EUR 2.7): you must avoid if you are on a diet... but we love it, and found it wonderful indeed at the Central Kavehaz: with a soft custard actually tasting fresh vanilla, and a thick, slightly bitter chocolate sauce.
The menu suggests one or two wines fitting each speciality, at very reasonable price. Like many dinners, we rather ordered a mug of that fresh, almost chilled draft beer which participates to the fame of this amazing café which is also well known for its immaculate restrooms: they are so huge that they could host a dozen of local families!
value for money, friendly, and off the beaten tracks place.
GELLERT (DUNA RESTAURANT) (****): The restaurant is maybe not as smart as the neighbouring baths, but it displays a very interesting local atmosphere; just like the rest of this hotel, which remains one of our favourite in Budapest. Anyway, people rather come here for the high quality of its table. This is quite a classical place, where delicious Hungarian cuisine is available at moderate price. The main speciality, introduced some decades ago by award-winning master cook Ferenc Novak, is the Fillet of Veal Gellért Style, served with an unforgettable ragout (ham, cheese, cream, mushrooms and peas) covering the meat, topped with cheese and roasted. The Hungarian Sirloin Gulash is great. The Stuffed Cabbage Debrecen Style and the Braised Leg of Mutton "Bonne Femme" are absolute must. Simply don't deal with too sophisticated "nouvelle cuisine" courses; only their name sounds good. In Hungary do as the Hungarian do: prefer the palatable local gastronomy which goes here to a top. On summer time, a dinner at the terrace with a dramatic view on the Danube and the Gellert Hill, entertained by live Gipsy music, is simply worth the trip. Two people will be charged approximately HUF 17,000/USD 60, with one bottle of good local wine.
SZECHENYI (at GRAND HOTEL MARGITSZIGET) (****): We like this terrace, its romantic atmosphere with excellent gipsy music, and its location in the park of the Marguerite Island. Food is classical, without particular surprise, though tasty and good value. Just experience the "Somloi Galushka": this chocolate dessert is the very best in town.
GUNDEL (****): This very elegant restaurant is more worth for its decoration than for its cuisine. Very "touristy", indeed. This is the Budapest alter ego of "Maxim's" in Paris. Though sometimes some good surprise could happen: for instance when the maître d' hôtel remembers your face and treats you like one of the top VIPs (Georges Bush Sr, Sylvester Stallone, Queen Elisabeth II...) who still consider Gundel as the "best restaurant in Central Europe" (it is not anymore, since the 2nd World War...). We like it for special occasions. Quite expensive according to the Hungarian standards: don't expect enjoying a great dinner under HUF 20,000. Much more if you drink vintage wines... Formal dress.