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“Don’t play with your food!” scolds every grandma. But Dani Varga and Nikita Suharev didn’t listen to these orders, and we’re so much the better for it. Their new AUM restaurant in Budapest city centre – the second one to launch – is playful and delicious, with unusual flavour combinations proving it’s sometimes a good idea to, well, play with food.

After the first location opened in February 2019, it didn’t take long for AUM to become the talk of the town, and in May, the restaurant was awarded first prize at the Gourmet Festival. Now, a second location has been unveiled in the heart of town, delighting diners with an expansive and delicious menu.

AUM serves dishes that combine domestic and Asian influences. Chef Dani Varga lived and cooked in Thailand for many years, and travelled throughout Asia picking up culinary tips and ideas. The foods he studied go beyond typical tourist fare, and really dip into the rich options Asia has to offer. Back in Hungary, each plate is full of flavour, and presented in an attractive and eye-catching manner. But Dani is quick to shrug off any lofty titles of grandeur. “We’re not fine dining, we just cook what we want and what we love.”

When we visit them, we sit down at their second restaurant, AUM Natural, on Hajós utca. While it bears many similarities to the AUM on Flórián tér, we appreciate that there’s a uniqueness all its own. The interior is much darker and more mysterious, and draws inspiration from Asian forests with hanging ivy and wood-panelling. Dozens of hanging paper lanterns are reminiscent of the festivals so popular in Thailand, and give the place a magical feeling.

The à la carte menu has a total of ten dishes – eight menu items, along with bread and a special coconut ice which we’ll get to a little later on. There’s so many options to choose from that you almost have to spend two or three hours to get through it all.

The first course is a mix of Asian and Hungarian cuisine, with AUM house bread and ham paired alongside a Thai sauce and kimchi peppers for a little extra kick. After this come fermented oysters, ponz quail eggs and yuzuka caviar in a citrusy Japanese sauce. Metallic tongs are provided to pluck out the delicate eggs, which already feels exotic.

Following these international treats, the mini-bugerswith coleslaw which follow are, at first glance, comfortably rooted in the West. But looks can be deceiving. The coleslaw salad uses wakame in lieu of cabbage, and the bun is replaced with steamed dumplings. Even the meat inside is specially prepared in a Korean BBQ sauce.

Another great example of Asian-Hungarian combinations on the menu are the pig ears and squid, served on a rice noodle salad.

After this we indulge in sea urchins, roast chickpea with massaman curry, and wasabi mayonnaise on the side. Then it’s on to a Japanese noodle soup which has been reimagined with Thai spices, an innovative and playful recipe. When you’ve thought you’ve seen everything, out comes coconut-cauliflower ‘ice cream’,with a special exploding candy sprinkled over the top.

Waiting for you on the plate is a Sichuan flower – think Sichuan peppers – which neutralise your palate before you dig into buffalo steak,pickled octopus, steam dumplings and duck liver. A final poppy-seed cake is served at the end, soaked in coconut milk, with mango-and-white chocolate bringing everything together.

It’s a rollercoaster of flavours at AUM, and the surprises keep coming: a vegan menu should be expected sometime in the near future, as plans have been announced for its launch. Whisk yourself away to new cultures and new experiences with AUM’s innovative menu. It’s worth the experience.

AUM Restaurant

District VI. Hajós utca 32

Open: Mon-Sat 10am-10pm

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