[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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Budapest, Izabella utca 36
Tue–Sat: 12:00–15:00, 18:00–23:00
Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu