Many know the legendary Gundel and Gerbeaud culinary dynasties, but other landmark establishments have also made gastronomic history in Budapest. In our continuing series of Fork Tales, we present emblematic eateries from the past. Today: two revered restaurants, surrounded by the bucolic greenery of Buda, whose better days lie behind them.

The popularity of Hűvösvölgy and Normafa in the Buda hills did not come with the current quarantine – these were favoured hiking destinations for locals well before the 20th century. A number of emblematic eateries appeared on the landscape after the last turn of the century, although most are now gone. We walk down memory lane to present a couple of the most notable.

Hűvösvölgy/Balázs Vendéglő

One of the oldest restaurants in the capital closed its doors in 2011. The Balázs had been around since the 18th century, and had been run by the same family for six generations. Founded in 1799, the Balázs first served as pub and a place for travellers, traders and merchants to find refreshment on the way to Solymár or back to Budapest, as well as for those on a pilgrimage to Máriaremete. The founder, Antal Balázs, handed it over to another family member, Márton Balázs, with further five generations continuing to run the establishment. As the 19th century brought a wave of outdoor activity and hiking, citizens often ventured out to the green areas of northern Buda and needed a place to eat after their walk. 

The Balázs Vendéglő opened its kitchen in the 1850s, and locals started pouring in after their hikes nearby. When the tram line connecting the city with Hűvösvölgy was established around the turn of the century, the restaurant shot up in popularity. Social disparities vanished at the Balázs, which welcomed everyone from factory workers to the bourgeois. Now a rarity, it served wine made with grapes from Buda. The dishes were also truly Hungarian: “For decades, fried and paprikash chicken, goose and duck, domestic pork, homemade marinated ham and various types of strudel attracted customers time after time,” share Imre Gundel and Judit Harmath in their Memories of Hospitality (Vendéglátás emlékei). 

The peaceful years for the Balázs, as for so many others, ended with the war and subsequent nationalisation. Although it was swallowed up by co-operative ownership during the Soviet period, its popularity among locals remained. In 1979, the restaurant burned down, but was restored to its original format and became a protected historical monument. 

After the end of Communism in Hungary, co-operative ownership disappeared and the restaurant reopened in 1990. The following years consisted of internal management turmoil, and the restaurant was closed in 2004. The building went into decay, serving as refuge for the homeless and drug users, catching on fire in 2009 and 2011. Set on valuable real estate, the ruined building was finally demolished in 2012.


Zugliget/Disznófő Vendéglő

Back in the day, hostels, taverns and guesthouses in the Buda hills could only be built next to an abundant natural water resource. In 1803, there already stood a simple inn by Disznófő spring, on the trade route connecting Buda to Budakeszi. Opening in 1837, Disznófő Vendéglő restaurant was first a tavern that served wine, one that even made the local papers in 1846. By 1854, nature lovers could pop in for food as well as a drink. 

Its popularity escalated after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, when Hungary began to open up and boom economically. Weekend hikes became common. The turn of the century brought golden years to this venue as well, when mansions, villas and the aristocracy appeared in the surrounding area, fun and laughter breaking out beneath the restaurant’s fashionable, Swiss-style roofing.

Despite changing owners every ten to 15 years, the restaurant’s popularity kept rising with continuous expansions. In 1867, its capacity reached the staggering 600. Celebrities of the day were not uncommon, especially in summer.

From the 1910s onwards, it’s difficult to trace successive owners, but based on contemporary postcards and newspaper articles, the place certainly did not dip in popularity until World War II. Moreover, its attraction remained even after Communism. Despite the fact that demand had obviously changed dramatically, the area was still a popular excursion destination. The tavern by Disznófő spring was still going strong into the 1980s. 

It also survived the post-Communist change of régime, when ex-football star Kálmán Mészöly became the owner. As in the case of the Balázs in Hűvösvölgy (see above), it can be said that what nationalisation and régime change did not destroy, privatisation did. Its last owner upped the ante considerably in the kitchen, aiming for high-spending foreigners, but then had to close the place after a couple of years.

Although the Disznófő Vendéglő still exists today – albeit in a rather depressing state – the once-famous building, founded 180 years ago, may not survive for long.