Hungarian classics star at new Budapest venture Zuzu
The constant pressure to produce high-standard Hungarian fare still weighs heavily in 2018. Goulash Socialism may have all but broken Hungarian cuisine two generations ago but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Talented chefs can still do great things with classic peasant recipes – as proved by this new venture from the acclaimed Krisztián Huszár, whose Zuzu features old favourites such as stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage and breaded chicken legs.
The former Tanti of Michelin star fame has been transformed into a modern bistro, where the gastronomy is completely Hungarian, with first-class ingredients and contemporary kitchen technology. Having created the successful fusion of Hungarian and Asian cuisine at his renowned Fáma, Huszár now has a free hand to take diners back to the roots of domestic cuisine.
In designer surroundings, lunchtime customers can expect stuffed pepper followed by a floating island dessert, while on Saturdays, you can chat to your date over beef stew or meat and rice. Finding a target audience isn’t a problem here. These homely delights appeal to families, couples, old friends, everyone, in fact. It’s just that here they’re of higher quality than you’ll find elsewhere.
We arrived at Zuzu on a weekday lunchtime, curious to see how Huszár will cope without the flavours and spices of the Basque and Asian cuisine that featured at his previous restaurants. At a neighbouring table, another famous Hungarian chef seemed to have come here for the same reason.
Deep-coloured and tasty beef soup (1,800 HUF) comes in a manageable portion, richly embellished with extravagantly thin vermicelli. It’s the kind of dish that heals and can save your weekend on its own. Alternatively, you can start with cold melon soup (1,800 HUF), which is more yellow than melon-coloured, and full of blackberry and raspberry.
Some of you may already be familiar with the pickled-cucumber-and-caper beef tartare (2,000 HUF) from previous venture Beszálló: it was a great favourite there, with bits of toasted bread to accompany. The cabbage stuffed with Kelemér lamb (1,800 HUF), lathered with sour cream, is another worthy inclusion among the appetisers. The cabbage is nice and crunchy, the lamb divinely tender. The most exciting starter is trout from Tahitótfalu (2,500 HUF), accompanied with beetroot and strongly flavoured yet soft horseradish. No Hungarian grandmother has created anything like this, though it’s as traditional as it gets.
Which other top chef would dare to feature something as prosaic as yellow-pea pottage (2,500 HUF) on their menu? It’s a rhetorical question, as here this stalwart of the most humble of Hungarian diners melts in your mouth, the meatballs succulently roasted. Similarly, super creamy mashed potatoes complement the breaded chicken leg (3,200 HUF), the skin crunchy, supported by cucumber salad. The aforementioned Kelemér lamb also appears in what Huszár refers to as a ‘gangster-style’ stuffed pepper (3,200 HUF).
The beef stew (3,000 HUF) follows in classic tradition, with egg barley, and a tomato salad. The main fish dish is Akasztó carp, which comes sizzling in a small frying pan and placed atop a bed of risotto. Crunchy on the outside, it breaks up with the slightest touch of the fork.
Off-piste from the main dessert menu, two have been prepared by Luca Várady, previously known for his contribution to lakásétterem and Czakó Piacz. Luca makes an excellent floating island (1,500 HUF), created with a fine caramel fringe. The Rákóczi cottage cheese (1,500 HUF) can also be recommended.
After our hearty lunch, we talked to Varády and Huszár about how childhood favourites and nostalgia influenced the Zuzu menu, from its tripe stew to its apricot sponge roll. They felt no pressure, nor any need to meet with particular requirements – they were just enjoying the sheer pleasure of creating Hungarian cuisine.
District XII, Apor Vilmos tér 11
Open: Mon-Sat noon-11pm