Cuts Above: a top Budapest butcher opens a stylish steakhouse
Photo : MészárSteak Kitchen
16/11/2015, 11:40 PM●5-minute article
Budapest’s contemporary gastro scene is full of enterprises that are all about “reinterpreting” old classics or finding “unique” ways to set themselves apart from the competition, and while these words are as important as they are overused, it feels like a breath of fresh air to find establishments that don’t believe in over-embellishing their creations or distracting patrons with complicated flavor combinations. Food at MészárSteak is honest – what you see is what you get, and what you get is quite exquisite. This is a must-try for meat lovers, and is strongly recommended for serious foodies.
Owner Józsi Gál set up his first business called MészárSteak at the Great Market Hall, and today he runs one of the best butcher shops in town under the same moniker at Hegyvidék Center. His name is synonymous with high quality, and his shop is a source of some of the best sausages and steaks in Budapest. The shop supplies ingredients to a number of top-notch eateries in the city, while also attracting adventurous amateur cooks who are up for tackling challenges at home. Naturally, it’s been one of his oldest dreams to open his own restaurant, and to showcase what his meats can be turned into with the help of a skilled chef. When it looked like the dream was finally coming true, Józsi could start looking for the right person to manage his kitchen. All of the chefs he invited to the casting call were fans of new-wave cuisine, but that was not the direction he wanted to follow; however, when Pál Igaz showed up, he immediately convinced the owners of MészárSteak with his ingenious, traditional flavors.
Designed by architect László Vályi, the interior of the restaurant exudes a modern ambience dominated by black and white shiny metro-style tiles, a wide range of lamps, and the tempting red meats, of course. Placed in a prominent spot within the restaurant, the dry-smoking machine is always packed with wonderful steak meats, and the meat-themed “maps” on the walls give patrons an idea of where the food on their plates comes from.
Photo: Norbert Juhász/We Love Budapest 6 pictures
Carefully created dishes take center stage at MészárSteak, and we were lucky to sample quite a lot of different options. The menu is concise and well thought through, so you don’t have to study it for hours to spot your favorite creations. Guests can choose from the à la carte selection or peruse the weekly offer – including savory treats like Gödöllő-style chicken thighs, tripe stew, lung stew, and gizzard stew – displayed on a decorative chalkboard. They work with the kind of flavors that are well known and cherished in local cuisine, and evoke nostalgia in many Hungarians. We adore the kind of trend that Lajos Bíró adheres to at the Downtown Market, A Séf utcája, or Buja Disznó(k): there’s no rabbit pâté with coriander and noodle espuma, but you can find all-time classics such as paprika chicken and fried blood with onions. Unlike the fake goulash soups and Hortobágyi pancakes served at many fancy establishments on nearby Váci Street, this is Hungarian gastronomy done right.
During our recent visit, we tried items that Józsi Gál and the resident chef recommended to us from the permanent menu. We started with a toothsome snack, MészárSteak’s very own spin on butter, which is an expertly seasoned mix of roast fat and sausage fat. We continued the feast with lamb’s liver pâté with black radish (1,150 HUF), steak tartare (2,200 HUF) and fried headcheese bits (1,250 HUF), the latter being our favorite starter – it might sound bizarre, but it definitely works.
In regards to the entrées, we tested Józsi’s fried sausage with beans and eggplant cream (1,650 HUF), which was an unusual combination, but the textures and flavors went really well together, and the traditional Hungarian favorite was instantly transformed into a Lebanese-style creation. Our next course was veal schnitzel with potato salad and pumpkin seeds (2,750 HUF): the veal is fried in excellent French butter, which gives it an almost cake-like fragrance, while the breadcrumb coating around the meat remains wonderfully crispy. Our two top picks were the meatloaf sandwich (950 HUF) and the butcher’s pie (1,950 HUF). With divine flavors and a reasonable price, the sandwich is a great, retro-style alternative to the burger, the current hit of the street-food scene. The succulent meatloaf is served in a soft, tasty bun, and the pickled vegetables on the side are nice and zesty. Prepared in accordance with a “mysterious” recipe, the pie is the perfect choice for the fans of big portions and bold flavors. Rounding off our meal, we nibbled at some chocolate mousse with greaves – crazy as it may sound, it’s an insanely delectable combination.
Photo: Norbert Juhász/We Love Budapest 8 pictures
Even though we haven’t tried any, the steaks – including ribeye (3,250 HUF, 250 g), tomahawk (6,900 HUF, 600 g), and porterhouse (11,500 HUF, 1000 g!) – are absolutely the flagship products of this eatery. Józsi ploughed through old gastronomy books to find Hungarian names of the restaurant’s signature dishes. In a bid to make these savory delights more accessible, steak prices here have been set at a more affordable level than at most downtown locations, a strategy we couldn’t be happier about.