Buda usually evokes visions of bucolic garden restaurants barely changed since the Habsburg days. A slow change has snowballed into a modern-day transformation, and now another establishment is breaking new ground: the Vokál Rock Bistro, opened by renowned chef Imre Nyúzó.
Showing yet another side to Buda, the Vokál Rock Bistro has moved in to premises occupied by the Bölcső Bar before it set up on Zenta utca. What on earth, though, is a rock bistro? According to owner/chef Imre Nyúzó, “it’s a simple pub, just with banging good rock music and better food”.
Imre Nyúzó’s name may be familiar to many in Budapest – we can thank him for the delicious dishes at Café Delion and the KGB, and he has also worked at now Michelin-starred Babel and the renowned Olimpia. But few know, at least in gastronomic circles, that before he was a chef Imre sang in dark-rock band Garden of Eden.
“I’ve been doing fine dining for a long time, and I got bored with it. I’ve always wanted a loud, noisy music pub, and now it’s time. Rock tunes play here all day long, with drinks and bistro cuisine laid on,” says Imre. ‘Bistro’ refers to classic French bistro: simple, delicious dishes, not such a wide selection but expanding every month, and plenty of hand-measured portions at fair prices.
The familiar cellar space hasn’t changed much since the Bölcső days – but now band posters line the walls, allowing you to dine under the ever watchful gaze of Lemmy or Guns N’ Roses. Visitors can leave their thoughts on two big message boards.
There’s little wrong with the drinks range, seemingly rock in theme – but with cocktails and a focused selection of beer. There are eight on tap, three of those Hungarian, the rest Belgian and Czech, and Hungarian small-batch brews by the bottle. The fixed menu changes every month or two, and for a reasonably friendly price you can sample the weekly-changing lunch menu of two or three soups and main courses. Students are offered 10% off during the day and 15% in the evening – across the board.
This is not by chance, as the Vokál, located in the immediate vicinity of the Technical University, is likely to be a popular spot. Of course, the question arises as to what might be the attraction of a rock bistro in a student quarter where cheap cuisine is usually the norm, but that can be answered right away: the quality of the food. At first glance, the menu could be of the kind found at any of the local pubs, as both the weekly menu and à la carte are dominated by Hungarian flavours, but the execution is well above the likes of venues of similar calibre. Imre, even if tired of fine dining, makes great use of his previous experience in the kitchen.
On the fixed menu, you can find typical bar snacks to go with beer – one of the most striking items is the triple-fried potatoes (1,190 HUF). Here you see the difference between regular pub food and the Vokál range, potatoes specifically chosen, cooked for a few minutes and, after three separate sizzles, light within, crunchy on the outside, with the skin almost peeling off.
Among the soups, despite the monthly menu changes, the meat broth and the goulash (each 1,690 HUF) are likely to be regular features. There are two types of base ingredient, but each is worth investigating: the broth is made from roast duck wings, sat for a day and a half in the company of lemongrass, ginger or lime, resulting not in Asian flavours but the classic Hungarian variety, with homemade pasta, crunchy blanched vegetables and soft chicken meat.
The goulash is also a hit – slightly fiery and so thick it could almost be a stew. Of course, given the kitchen, this was no coincidence, either: they start with a goulash base, which is creamed with a Thermomixer, and strained later, so it’s no wonder the result is extraordinarily rich.
Fried cheese (1,790 HUF) is also a typical communal dish, and it also got a little twist, nothing untoward, just perfectly prepared, all too rare in Budapest these days. Alongside the gooey, hot gouda, they serve a tasty rice and peas prepared in the meat broth, and a salad sassed up by sushi vinegar and sesame oil.
Great things should be expected of the burger (2,690 HUF), not because the spirit of the place calls for it, but because they’ve brought over the elements of the Hamburger of the Year from KGB. The 200-gramme meat patty twixt buns by Szabi Szabadfi is raised to new heights by, among other things, melted cheddar and a red-onion jam mashed with Chinese cinnamon. Even though there’s cheeseburger on the menu too, Imre reckons this megaburger – as they called it at KGB – is the dog’s proverbials.
Gábor Osváth’s Gyenesdiás grilled sausage (2,290 HUF) is also classic Hungarian cuisine – it comes with a feather-light potato mash with Dijon mustard and some pickles.
As far as gastronomy is concerned, south Buda is on the rise, with ever more exciting openings. There’s still room, however, for couple more venues like Vokál. Anyone who loves loud rock music, and easily identifiable, honest places with great cuisine, will surely become a returning customer at Imre Nyúzó’s new locale.
Vokál Rock Bistro
District XI. Lágymanyosi utca 19
Open: Mon-Fri 11am-11pm, Sat-Sun noon-11pm