Budapest gets lots of international visitors in search of amazing architecture and cultural experiences, but it is not well known as a culinary destination – and it should be.
Perhaps a mid winter trip to Budapest is best suited for sampling the local cuisine. From goose liver to duck legs to every variety of pork, Hungarian food is not known for being light, but it is extraordinarily delicious.
With some suggestions from the amazing folks at TasteHungary, I put together a nice selection of restaurants to try on my trip to Budapest. This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you visited just these restaurants, you would be well on your way to having a great Budapest foodie experience.
Our first stop was at Bock Bisztró. The restaurant is connected to the Corinthia Hotel and while comfortable, not the most charming in appearance. That was more than made up for by incredibly rich and flavorful food. For the table, they brought a pork fat spread with crispy bits and herbs – a decadent start. The special appetizer of duck tongues in a demiglace with gnocchi was interesting, although the duck tongues lost their novelty early on. Traditional Lecso – onions and peppers with paprika, cooked in pork fat – was delicious, as was the pork ravioli in a paprika cream sauce. Main courses of ox cheeks and chicken paprikash were decadent and intense. On a lighter note, a stunning (and light) ricotta/cottage cheesecake with dill honey completed the evening. Bock has a lengthy wine list, many of which are available by the glass. Unless you’re familiar with Hungarian wines, you will probably need some help choosing. Overall an excellent meal.
Next up was Klassz, a bistro near the opera house and connected to the Bortársaság chain of wine shops. As to be expected from a restaurant associated with a wine shop, the wine list was excellent – well-curated but concise. The cuisine is an adaptation on traditional Hungarian. Soups were incredible – both the cabbage and mushroom – making liberal use of smoky pork fat flavors. For main courses, we had a traditional beef stew over hearty grains and a pork confit with an adaptation of a gratin of tomato and potatoes. After your meal, check out the small wine shop in the back of the store where you can purchase any of the wines on the restaurant’s menu.
Borkonyha (Wine Kitchen) is a relative newcomer on Budapest’s restaurant scene. While one of the missions of the restaurant is to showcase Hungarian wines, its kitchen is also excellent. Borkonyha’s menu changes frequently and focuses on regional ingredients. As Carolyn from TasteHungary said: “The menu offers a wonderful combination of well-known Hungarian dishes (prepared in a contemporary way), as well as more creative dishes prepared with wholly-Hungarian ingredients.” Our menu included such deliciousness as cream of lentil with a blood pudding croquet, forest mushroom cake over beets served with a quail egg, duck breast over a beet puree, and venison served with a polenta cream. Highly recommended.
A neighborhood find turned up when a friend suggested we join him at Két Szerecsen also near the opera. The restaurant is casual and inexpensive offering an interesting mix of Hungarian food with North African and Middle Eastern dishes. We had an excellent aubergine spread and a trout ceviche to start. Leg of rabbit with potato dumplings and a very delicious duck breast with quince puree were on the menu. But, the most delicious of them all was a flourless chocolate cake (which I normally think is trite and boring) served alongside an orange creamsicle sherbert and lightly candied orange slices with some chili powder that, when eaten together, were divine.
Our meal at Costes, one of Budapest’s two Michelin starred restaurants, was the only disappointment of the trip. I don’t like to write negative reviews so I will keep my comments short. The ambiance of the restaurant was comfortable and presentation of the food exquisite, but everything lacked soul. There was absolutely no Hungarian influence to the menu and, while I wasn’t expecting chicken paprikash, I did expect some homage to Hungarian cuisine. Preparation and plating of all the dishes we had over the course of the extensive tasting menu were spot on, but they lacked the rich and explosive flavors that I’d come to expect in Hungary. While I appreciated the precision of the experience, I left longing for that first experience at Bock Bisztro. Sorry Costes, I can’t recommend the experience.
After an exceptional home cooked lunch on our tour of Tokaj wineries (I will post about that shortly), we ventured out for our last late night meal in Budapest. The choice was Pesti Disznó, a restaurant on the “Hungarian Broadway”offering small plate portions of typical Hungarian fare as well as more creative takes on the classics. A carpaccio of beef confit, goose liver in its own fat, a rich venison soup, and medallions of pork in a tomato sauce were highlights. Definitely recommended and it would be a great first stop to sample a variety of dishes.
Stay tuned for more Hungary recommendations and check out the suggestions of the folks over at TasteHungary for some more restaurant tips.