Think Hungarian food is all about mysterious, dark goulashes and amorphous dumplings? Think again.
In Budapest, food is a proud celebration of this city’s complex identity, its past and present found, mostly separately, but sometimes married together, in its vast array of culinary establishments.
A Michelin-starred feast fit for royalty at Onyx
We took heed of the warnings on its website to prepare those about to embark on the dining experience: no children, arrive early and dress to impress. Following such instructions was a small inconvenience for which we were rewarded handsomely, for when you dine at Onyx, you are not just there to scoff down food and slosh it back with some wine.
You can order a la carte but we went for the Hungarian Evolution tasting menu, which takes you on a journey through some of Hungary’s most famous foods – ghoulash included – all produced with a modern twist and an artistic flair that has you pausing to take it all in before you delicately dissect it and savour every morsel.
This tasting menu is billed as a six course affair, but along the way there are some surprise mini courses that take it up to a 10 course extravaganza – all, even the bread course and its trolley of exquisite pastries – are delivered to your table with such formality and fanfare that it is almost like being at the theatre. The sommelier decants your wine with as much care as a doting father and the precision of a craftsman.
If Onyx is like being at the theatre, then dessert is an act all unto its own. See the first picture below? That’s not the dessert. This is Onyx, so it’s all about the build up. It’s the pre-dessert, a light pumpkin sorbet with poppy seed foam to clear the palate, to ready you for the star of the show, the Somló sponge cake, made 21st century through its stylish, single serve presentation.
But don’t start packing your bags yet – the petit fours trolley, a dazzling rainbow of delicate macaroons, fudge squares, and other delights – has yet to make its way to you. I’m never one to pass up on dessert, especially a good looking one, but after downing two already, the petit fours trolley was hardly a sight for sore eyes. In another world, I would have been all over it, but, I’m sad to say, I managed to eat just two items from the trolley. The waiter looked genuinely disappointed.
After all that, it’s still not over! On leaving, you are presented with a gift box filled with two petit fours, so you can relive some of your experience the next day. Or eat it in the cab home if three hours of eating and drinking just aren’t enough!
A wild goose chase at Fulemule
On a quiet, cold Monday afternoon, lunch at Fulemule restaurant in the Jewish quarter was an understated yet warm, welcoming affair. On this particular day the menu was dominated by all things goose, in commemoration of the feast of St Martin. We had noticed this on other restaurant menus around Budapest, so we thought we should ask the waiter about the significance of the goose. Turns out it was St Martin’s favourite food, simple as that.
Well, we didn’t want to argue with St Martin, so goose it was. How many ways can you cook a goose, let me count the ways: goose crackling. Goose pate. Goose dumpling soup. Roast goose breast. Goose stew, starring the neck, kidney and heart.
I came away from this meal simultaneously with a new appreciation of goose but slightly wishing not to eat goose for at least another year. Maybe for next St Martin’s day!
No frills – just honest home cooked food at Kadar
If Onyx was a theatrical culinary experience, the neighbourhood, family-run eatery Kadar, also in the Jewish quarter, is more focussed on the theatre of life. This place is bursting at the seams with local families talking loudly and gesticulating wildly over Sunday lunch, children playing with their table settings and the staff pausing to have a casual gossip with friends who are dining.
This is where you’ll find your bog standard Hungarian ghoulash, but Kadar is about hearty food that brings people together, which it’s been doing for years. If you want to dine like a local, this is the place to do it.
Forget McDonalds – Hungarian fast food is still about old favourites
Ah, the Szolarium. Not a place to tan but a place to get a quick fix so you don’t have to visit the House of Terror on an empty stomach (some people, however, might prefer to do so).
The staff grunt at you. You point to your choice of a series of indiscriminate yet local looking dishes. They put your selection in the microwave. You can drink either sparkling water, tea or an energy drink. But it does a job and gets you in, fed and out in ten minutes. If you have more time, there is even a dessert buffet!
There is a Burger King across the road, but the Szolarium is much more interesting!
We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Palazzo Zichy and flew British Airways and RyanAir.
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