Tamás Horváth and Zoltán Kalocsai have been friends for more than twenty years. Their past goes back to secondary school, and their professional life started in Mágnáskert restaurant, where Tamás was the headwaiter and Zoltán worked as the sommelier Zoltán continued his career at Bortársaság for seven years, where his job was wine tasting and deciding which wines are worth selling in stores. After Mágnáskert restaurant was sold, Tamás started working in Bock Bistro. Later, it happened that Zoltán left Bortársaság and found Tamás with a fantastic possibility. This was the birth of Borkonyha.
What does Borkonyha really mean? What is behind the name?
Tamás Horváth: Borkonyha is not a bistro or a restaurant. It is a kitchen where everything forms a rounded whole and complete.
By establishing Borkonyha, we have made a dream come true. We did not invent anything new or special, but we used only the best pieces of our 20-year experience. We believe in the continuous, direct connection between our guests and us. We are always in the restaurant in order to create familiar atmosphere, keep personal contacts, know our guests, we can also talk to them, and we are attached to them emotionally as well. We have special offers every other week – sometimes every week – beside the menu, which are usually written on boards. The point is that we prefer serving dishes made from very fresh ingredients, and we are able to start a conversation with our guests while explaining the specialties. I like wines, Zoltán is an expert of them. We put our experience together to make prime quality dishes and serve them with excellent Hungarian wines at affordable prices.
If you mentioned wines, would you show us the selection? What should we know about this decorative glass-case?
We have a 200 piece Hungarian wine selection; all of them can be tasted here from glass. This ‘glass-case’ is nothing else, but a huge wall of wine bottles cooled at cellar temperature. There are six additional bottles behind each of them in order to provide continuous quality. Altogether, this wall is able to store 1000 or 1200 bottles.
Borkonyha is not only a restaurant but a special wine store as well. Zoltán found out an excellent pricing method. He puts an extra 2000 HUF collectively on all wines having a price below 4000 HUF and 3000 HUF on all others that are above 4000 HUF. Due to the seven-year experience at Bortársaság, Zoltán has several connections. 60% of our wines are mainly from Bortársaság, but we do have 18 own pieces. Anybody can offer us their wines, brand is less important than quality in case it has the best price-value ratio. Because of this routine, we have some excellent vintage form some 1-acre farmers and from smaller vineyards in Transylvanian or Slovak regions.
Why did you choose Ákos Sárközi as your chef?TH: We always do the planning and designing works together with Zoltán. We wanted a chef, who is well-known among a large group of people and has professional reputation. He was selected in the top 10 in the Tradition and Evolution – Hungarian chef competition – for four years, his experience in Alabárdos restaurant and his excellent work in Villa Joya, a 2-Michelin starred restaurant in Portugal, proved us that we should choose him as chef. Ákos has great ideas, he is very creative and all comments about his work are positive. He kept all his promises both personally and professionally. It is proved that he managed to build a strong restaurant within half a year. Our restaurant has been full every night since March. We survived many blind tests, there were some mistakes, all of them were totally acceptable. Our menu has changed a lot compared to the first one; each of them was a little better.
Where do you get the ingredients? Do you get on well with the producers?Ákos Sárközi: 80-85% of the ingredients are from the local markets. Some types of fishes, seafood and some kinds of special meat are form abroad. We make our own bread on the spot. During summer, we try to take a great part in making jams, syrups and preserving fruits. We ran out of our first smoked ham so quickly, that we didn’t even realize it.
Why don’t you serve lunch-menu?TH & ÁS: We think that serving lunch-menu is wrong. We thought about it, but luckily we decided not to have in our restaurant. For a 1000 HUF you cannot get the same quality. We should have changed a lot on the menu cards, and the rush hour at lunchtime would have spoiled the evening quality. During the day, we receive fresh food continuously, which must be prepared and vacuumed immediately, so we are not able to provide two waiters for only serving at lunchtime.
What should we know about the architecture concept?
We found out everything together with Zoltán, and we bought all cutleries and plates with Ákos. The interior was completed by Anett Ficzere and István Muzsai. They have also designed Mokka, Dió, Klassz and Menza restaurants as well. Our aim was to open a classical restaurant with a little bistro atmosphere that is not needed to re-design in every three year. That is why we have the black and white photos on the walls, the mirror, the counter and that is why we used black and white colors and the leather-like flooring. We did not want tablecloths, but we felt that the chairs should match the sofa, so they got fabric covers.
Ákos, how would you characterize the cuisine? Are there any favorite ingredients or techniques?ÁS: I would say our cuisine is ‘open’. It is not typically Hungarian, I cook anything freely, I don’t like categories. Transylvanian cuisine is a little stronger, but I like far Eastern tastes as well. I write the receipt, I draw and I take photos of every single dish I find out, so all my colleagues can provide the same quality if I’m not there. I love all modern cooking techniques, like vacuuming and cooking below boiling point. I enjoy preparing fish and some interesting ingredients like crocus, elder, lavender or robinia. I saw many different methods and innovations in Portugal, which luckily, were used in Alabárdos as well. In many cases, our guests decide what they would like to eat. I like talking to them and listening to their ideas or comments, which I usually fulfil. Among others, pigeon dish appeared on the menu this way.
What are your plans for the future?ÁS: I think the hardest part of our job is about to come, since our first half year was so fantastic, that we need to keep the quality this high or even excel it. Expectations are getting higher and we must always fulfil all requirements. Anyway, we do love the hectic way of life, we are right there where we want to be. We do have plans for the future, and we enjoy it. Here, everybody proves to themselves first and than to others.