Best of Budapest

Two bloggers who love Budapest telling you why, with the support of Helpers, Hungary’s leading business and immigration services provider.

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From April 2015, English translations courtesy of:

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The best vegetarian restaurants in Budapest – TOPLIST

2015.04.27. 10:38 | Gergő Helpers

As far as I can tell, Budapest doesn’t really have a group capable of bringing the same care and professionalism to a vegetarian restaurant that our tops chefs guarantee in the world of bistros.

I can still assemble an unenthusiastic list, however, which can be used to check out the world of meatless meals. But it’s even better if you take a look at a few vegetarian offerings by the top restaurants and go there instead. You’d likely be much better off this way.

1. Napfényes étterem

This is clearly Budapest’s best vegetarian restaurant. The people in the kitchen are full of ideas and have a lot of imagination, so the foods are all a delightful experience, which even meat eaters can applaud. The foods were so cleverly seasoned and the more acidic and neutral bites were so skillfully mixed that I hardly noticed I was eating only vegetables and grains (and, of course, oil).

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Since then, I’ve been back to this place several times, and even when the place is only half full, you can see the waiters are in a flurry and there is a sense of chaos in the air, but the courses are perfect and we are always happy to eat them.

Still, in an ideal situation, this place would only get a strong C in my book. Like a good csárda (inn), where hearty and delicious meals are prepared with great enthusiasm, but the gastro specialties are left to those who specialize in them. But as I see it, there’s no such place.

2. Nemsüti bisztró

This is where I had the best vegetarian hamburger in my life. I must add, however, that I don’t have much experience in this area. The goat cheese, special sauces and vegetables create a rich flavor between the hard ciabatta buns that you may be familiar with from Ring Café.

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The bistro has a little brother as well, Nemsüti ételbár, which didn’t knock me off my feet either, though it’s a decent place.

3. Govinda

After the somewhat awkward service, I had some surprisingly good mouthfuls, so the Krishna restaurant got third place in my book.  Contrary to the Hungarian flavors of Napfényes, this place prefers an Indian style. You could say it’s extraordinary in Hungary, but it’s not at all. In fact, most of the vegetarian places focus on this pepper pakora and sabji cuisine, and this place provides the best flavors.

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4. Napos oldal

Here the only thing we can highlight is the atmosphere, because it would be hard to say anything good about the vegetables that have been boiled to death. This is one of the few vegetarian places in Budapest where the restaurant is not down in a basement or cellar, so you can see the sun while you eat. Which does you some good.

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Nonetheless, they do have some exciting dishes – for example breaded seitan (wheat gluten), to mention one – but this place is geared to a basic “we chew because we must grind” experience.

5. Mannatural Ételmanufaktúra

This is a raw vegan restaurant. It’s a special category that requires a very specific approach. I’d say I could hardly it eat, but I know people who particularly like the courses served here.

Incidentally, they’re not bad. It’s more like getting to know an extraterrestrial gastronomy.

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It’s amazing how they put a plate of stuffed cabbage on your table made of vegetables without cooking it, but I for one would have been happier with an apple or carrot. Those are also raw, but somehow they go down more easily. Nature is a good cook too, so often it is wise not to interfere with it.

I wouldn’t rate the rest; I just wrote down what I experienced.

Vegalife

This place used to be the Ganga vega at 25 Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street, but now it has a different name (there is a location in Buda as well). This one also has Indian cuisine, as usual, and the place is definitely filled with exotic aromas. The chutney that you can order next to your food is quite good. It’s a bit too sweet for me, but at least it’s something that is worth a try.

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Otherwise, the food looks really bad on the plate when it’s served. I wonder why they can’t serve vegetarian food nicely. Of course it can be done, but for some reason there’s no real desire for it.

Alkotmány utcai Hummus bár

Cold pita, lukewarm falafel. The whole thing is just garlic. The staff are making huge amounts of it, although there are only two guests inside. They’re surely used to this kind of tempo. The walls are dirty.

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That’s what I noted when I was there.

Édeni Vegán

It’s a very carefully decorated place, although there are a few things that hurt my eyes a bit.

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The food here is thrown together without striving for perfection. I got onion potatoes at a pretty high price (considering that it was just plain onion potatoes, a bit burned), nor was the soup any good, and the falafel was tasteless. I don’t have any positive memories about this place.

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Rizsa17

This is not only a vegetarian restaurant, but a macrobiotic and vegan place as well. If you’ve ever had tasteless miso soup in which the tofu is like a dry sponge, you’ll know what I'm talking about. The second course was kinpira vegetables in tempeh (I had to Google it too), with rice and vegetables for HUF 2350. It had no taste whatsoever. I was told that it’s like that; macrobiotic food doesn’t use spices.

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Don't misunderstand me. Maybe this is Canaan for macrobiotic vegans. I’ve been on a macrobiotic diet myself before and suffered more than enough. I just want to say that unless you have some strong intolerance for food, you should be bold enough to have something delicious. You shouldn’t go from fast food places to the other extreme, but you should have something good made of fresh, good quality ingredients. Nothing can be healthier than that.

So, these are alleged to be the best vegetarian places in Budapest, and I’m sad about it. A complete revival would be needed for the chefs working at these places to treat the vegetables with the sensitivity that they deserve. I sincerely hope there will be some fresh blood pumped into this genre, since the city has been able to produce better and better chefs one after the other. Because what we currently have is way too little.

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu


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Five things to like about our newest Michelin-starred restaurant – Borkonyha (Wine Kitchen)

2015.04.25. 16:58 | Gergő Helpers

[The original article was posted on May 26, 2014]

As of March this year we have three Michelin-starred locations in Budapest. The first to receive a star was Costes in 2010, followed by Onyx – and we’ll quickly add that both of them have since maintained their good quality – and now the newest winner is the restaurant in Sas Street. Of course, I was eager to check out this new top restaurant.

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Booking a table was easy three weeks in advance. Currently, there’s no point in trying to get an earlier time.

Soon after I arrived I realized why I liked Borkonyha. Here are a bunch of reasons:

Cool style

When the star was awarded to Onyx, we were glad to see that Hungarian chefs had also finally been recognized. We are happy for Borkonyha’s success because a restaurant that appears to be average at first glance was able to make it to the top level. There’s no embarrassment, no special serving performed to the same rhythm, no neo-Baroque stuccos or white gloves.

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The waiters rush around but are also cheerful, informal and willing to crack jokes when we ask them about the origin of a particular dish. Of course, there are cooler Michelin-starred places than this one in the world (in Hong Kong, for example where even fast-food places can receive this sort of recognition) but Borkonyha is still a big step forward for us. The message is: you shouldn’t treat it as a religion, it’s only food.

Wines

The restaurant’s name shows that they are very proud of their wine selection. Just look at the wall behind the counter:

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The selection of wines served in glasses is not spectacular at all; the two varieties of rosé and the three types of champagne/sparkling wine make up a rather poor offering. On the other hand, 200 different varieties of Hungarian wine are available according to the website if bottled brands are included.  If you request a recommendation they won’t call for a sommelier (unless your randomly chosen waiter also happens to be a sommelier). Instead they promise to bring you a surprise, with your taster arriving soon after.

Luckily, even the low-priced wines are good enough and, more importantly, exciting. That the wine list begins with a furmint (kéknyelű) makes me especially pleased.

Flawless meals

My starter: gizzard salad with colored apples and mushrooms:

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Astoundingly exciting. Every bite was pure pleasure as we ate the gizzard pieces, perfect both in texture and flavor, mixed with the cracking marinated apples, mushrooms and salad.

The main course: duck leg confit with pressed liver and tender carrots with basil.

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The duck fell into pieces when touched with a fork, but the muscles remained intact. The pressed liver made the bites creamy with its tender flavors and the carrots were crunchy and perfect. Another main dish: polenta with curd and spinach:

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You can’t get more than that out of a simple dish like this. They managed to raise the commonness (not in a pejorative sense) of polenta to the highest possible level: astounding.

My dessert (cream-filled pastry), however, was not hedonist enough. It was way too refined and elegant, so I didn’t really like it. But in its category it was also perfect.

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Eating in a Michelin-starred restaurant is like listening to music on a perfect audio system. Everything is nice, complete, refined and perfect. You can enjoy it a lot, but then you’d put a vinyl record on your old record-player. You would like meals with a few small flaws scattered around because often that’s what makes eating fun.

Price

Rarely can you get a Michelin-starred treat for such a low price. The soups and starters begin at HUF 1500, the main courses cost HUF 2500 to 4000 (well, the Angus sirloin is the exception) and you can close the meal with dessert for HUF 1500.

Michelin star on the street

And another novelty: until now you could not eat Michelin-starred food outdoors. Now it’s possible, which is another thing that reveals the laid-back style this place exudes.

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Borkonyha
Address: 1051 Budapest, Sas utca 3.
Opening hours: Mon – Sat: 12:00–24:00, closed on Sunday and holidays.
The kitchen is closed between 16:00 and 18:00.

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu


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Super pho in Buda: Hai Nam pho

2015.04.23. 18:35 | Gergő Helpers

Even though I’ve never been to Vietnam, I can tell a good pho from a bad one. I’ve been to Thailand, but the experience didn’t add to my ability to distinguish a good tom yum from a bad one. I did, of course, finally learn to detect whether or not the soup was authentic, but this is only important if:

(1) you assume that the only people who try the place after reading your article are people who have already been to the country,
(2) you think that authenticity in food is more important than flavor.

Fortunately 95% of our readers will try this place out without ever having been to Thailand, Vietnam or India (our readership would otherwise be disappointingly small), I’m extremely confident in describing Hai Nam as a really fine bistro.

The biggest problem right off the bat is getting a table. From noon on it’s impossible, so reserve a table or get something to go. You can drop in here at 12:15, and you aren’t going to get a seat. Or you can wait for half an hour. But the food is quickly made and served. My pho was on the table ten minutes after I ordered it.

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The soup is in the middle, surrounded by lime, coriander, sprouts, chili sauce, garlic and chili pepper.  It costs HUF 1290 with shank, but HUF 1390 with sirloin. Both prices are perfectly fine since the portion is enormous. This is not just soup. It’s a full meal in a bowl.

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Even without seasoning it, it tastes just right. It’s not greasy, and it’s not loaded with flavor enhancer. Then you begin to carefully add the spices sitting next to it and the experience gets better in direct proportion to the amount you put in. After three or four minutes I decided to toss everything into the soup, from the chili sauce to the last drop of lime juice, and since it was still moving, I drowned it in coriander and sliced chili pepper.

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And the soup suddenly went from good to fantastic. Maybe it’s no longer Vietnamese when it’s this hot. Maybe it’s a Thai pho, but it can’t be because I wasn’t shedding any tears while I was eating it. But one thing’s for sure: the soup came together in a flavor that worked marvelously. You have to try it someday if you haven’t done so yet. A lot of people, though, have already tried it. The place is fabulously popular, and its popularity is built on the hearty, perfectly balanced soup.

A bit of advice: you can park for free for an hour across from the Allé if you want to reserve a table or get takeaway. Otherwise, it’s hard to find a place to park in the neighborhood.

Thanks to Móni and many others for the recommendation.

Hai Nam pho
Budapest, Október 23-a utca 27.
06-30-529-9969
Mon–Sat: 10:00–21:00
Sun: 10:00–15:00

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu


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Budapest’s best restaurant tried and tested

2015.04.22. 19:44 | Gergő Helpers

[The original Hungarian article was posted on July 30, 2014]

I was shoveling frozen French fries and a fairly tasteless chunk of breaded meat into my face in the third best restaurant in Frankfurt when I began to have serious doubts about Tripadvisor’s top list. The idea behind the top list is good. Everybody rates the places, and the public decides which is good and which is wretched. This way, at least, you don’t need to rely on dubious top lists and the opinions of idiot experts. I was chewing on a well-intentioned but perfectly lackluster dinner surrounded by a group of American tourists (apparently we look at the same top lists) and decided to try out the best restaurant in Budapest as soon as I got back home.

And here it is:

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The place is at Izabella utca 36 (thanks to Edit for the tip). It’s a bit out of the way, but somehow enough foreigners found their way here and hung around long enough to leave a thousand ratings. It was mostly Asian and American tourists sitting in the cozy and friendly room, where there are pencils on the tables, so you can doodle while you’re waiting. The staff is fabulous. Before I get too far into this, let me quickly say that I have rarely encountered a staff as attentive and friendly as the people here. They stop by regularly to see if you need anything and then stand back to keep an eye on things from a respectful distance. They brought around some sparkling elderberry wine and then fresh bread and butter to nibble on.

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The magic lasted up until I tasted the bread and butter. Neither was especially exciting. No problem. It was free.

The first course was quick to arrive, and I continued to fidget. The truffle soup was the most saltless thing I have ever eaten. I’ve had desserts that were saltier than that. This problem was easy to fix though, but even after salting it, the soup was by no means revolutionary or overwhelming, though I have to admit it was respectable. So far, Zeller was ahead of the restaurant in Frankfurt in that there was a hint of originality in Zeller’s food. But that was it.

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There was a fairly long break following the soup, so I started to draw on the paper in front of me. But I had not lost all hope, and I anxiously waited for Zeller to up its game. Fortunately, the Kolozsvár-style bacon and cabbage was a success:

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This was clearly made with care, and it was a very good deal for HUF 2,200. I have to admit, though, that even this was lacking salt, and I can’t for the life of me imagine how they were able to pull it off. They must have a salt pond somewhere out back where they dip the food, but, once again, I was able to help in this. The strong cabbage compensated, and, all in all, the dish worked wonderfully. The bacon was juicy and tender, and crispy on top.

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The meal only came to HUF 3,500 and I got a free dessert to boot, so you’re not getting ripped off here. Is this the best restaurant in Budapest? No way. I don’t think the owners want people to think of it this way. Zeller nevertheless has its strengths, and if you judge Hungarian cuisine on the basis of what you experience here, then we have no reason to be ashamed.

Zeller Bistro
Budapest, Izabella utca 36
06-30-651-0880
Tue–Sat: 12:00–15:00, 18:00–23:00

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu


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This is the place for sausages and other succulent delights: Őshonos

2015.04.21. 12:20 | Gergő Helpers

The good news is that a new store, Őshonos, recently opened on Radnóti utca where you can pig out on all manner of succulent delights – specially seasoned sausages, bacons, cheeses and nostalgic saveloys and frankfurters.

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Őshonos was created by Sándor Kerekes, the Hungarian Grey cattle king, and his wife. The idea is pretty simple. They don’t offer much, but

1. you can sample everything they have, and
2. it’s all made of exceptionally high-quality Hungarian ingredients.

One corner of the tiny shop is devoted to homemade honey, pastas, eggs, syrups and wines, but I’m really interested in their other offerings.

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Most of the sausages are made from Sándor Kerekes’s own recipes, sometimes using Hungarian Grey beef and sometimes mangalica pork, but mostly a mixture of the two (the dry beef needs the succulent mangalica). You simply have to try some of these. What they all have in common is that none of them is spoiled by caraway. The salami with dried tomatoes and capers is the Ryan Gosling of the genre, while the version made with crushed red pepper flakes instead of paprika powder is its Jessica Alba. Fantastic stuff.

They also serve buffalo-meat cold cuts made by Dezső Szomori. The beef products come from Pista Borda, a true legend for his frankfurters and saveloys. His stuff is so good that the people in the store remind me to steam the frankfurters, instead of boiling them, to retain the flavor of the marvelous seasoning.

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It makes a difference.

The secret, they say, is in this book:

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It doesn’t appear to be revolutionary, but fats, by their very nature, aren’t. The people in Őshonos believe that it was possible to get proper bolognas and other cold cuts in the stores just a few decades ago, but the quality started to go downhill when soy and other preservatives and artificial ingredients were added. Nothing needs to be reinvented. It’s enough to go back to the basics with traditional cold cuts, all of which is brilliantly described in the above-mentioned book, which is worth its weight in gold these days and can’t be got for less. But if you can get a hold of it, feel free to improvise. Some dried tomatoes here, some capers there. The most important thing, though, is to abide by the basics.

And all the different kinds of bacon. You’ll go crazy. They’re beautiful, hanging there, the fat dripping down. They melt in your mouth. The hams will knock you out. One bite of one of these, and that’s all she wrote.

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The prices are perfectly affordable. A wide selection of real cold cuts goes for HUF 3,000 a kilo. The biggest game can be had for HUF 5–6,000 a kilo, while HUF 2–3,000 will get you a kilo of one of the many kinds of bologna. Even the cheeses are reasonably priced. Try the Etyek Rouge, which can compete with the toughest salamis.

Őshonos
Radnóti Miklós utca 22
06 30-574-7062
Mon–Fri: 10:00–19:00
Sat: 09:00–13:00

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu


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