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The legacy of Károly Gundel
Over the last 125 years or more, the name of Gundel
has echoed around the world. Károly Gundel himself showcased Hungarian cuisine at
the World’s Fair in New York in 1939, while Victor Emmanuel III of Italy sampled
Gundel’s legendary dishes here in person in 1937.
The fame extended to the modern age, when Queen Elizabeth II, Czech filmmaker Jiří Menzel and Angelina Jolie all came to the restaurant to sample the palóc soup, Bakony mushroom ragout, Carpathian perch and Tokaj goose liver, and desserts including Somló dumplings and Rákóczi cottage-cheese cake.
As we recently found out, these creations were all based on the ideas of Károly Gundel, without whom Hungarian cuisine would not be what it is today. In turn, Gundel’s reputation has not only been based on its acclaimed food, but also its regal service, its entertaining and cheerful atmosphere, as well as its constant gastronomic renewal.
And now Gundel has just reopened its doors after a long hiatus, this time under the wings of the Eventrend Group, also behind the revival of the New York Café.
History and tradition
“The Gundel is an institution of national importance whose illustrious history, culinary mission, legendary food and building itself are worth preserving, nurturing and passing on. That's why we're giving the reopening and the running of the Gundel the utmost respect,” says Gábor Nagy, one of the founding owners of the Eventrend Group.
Now that Gundel is in a safe pair of hands, not only has its interior been treated to a little extra sparkle, but there have been big changes in the kitchen, too. András Wolf and Viktor Moldován now look after the tradition of these legendary Hungarian dishes and, instead of rethinking the food, the emphasis is on preservation.
Gundel open to all
Gundel hasn’t simply reopened but, after a long period
of time, it’s now accessible to all. Many might have the impression that they only
come here for important occasions or major celebrations. Now, however, not
only has the slightly outdated design been dusted off in the interior but
prices have also been smoothed out.
Way back when, Károly Gundel also welcomed everyone with great affection, the ladies who strolled in City Park, ordinary citizens and families visiting the Zoo used to pop in.
“We want to preserve, build up and enrich the heritage of Károly Gundel in the decades to come, so that it is not only accessible to a privileged circle, but also for all of us to enjoy many a happy moment,” says Gundel director Norbert Polyák.
Gundel now wants to revive this sense of variety. When
it opens in spring, its garden will be a gateway to fairy-tale surroundings
while its cosy, renovated interior beckons visitors to sit down with friends
for coffee, enjoy a hearty lunch or allow digital nomads to work on their
And those looking for authentic elegance should not feel left out because, just as before, in the back area, everything is ideally suited for a luxury feast with damask tablecloths, Zsolnay porcelain and silverware. And if you need to host an event, the Gundel’s upper ballroom and lavishly furnished private rooms await.
Menu in place for 80 years
Under the leadership of Károly Gundel, the restaurant started to soar,
and not only because he was a great master of hospitality, but also because he
served guests the best dishes in the Hungarian and French cookbooks. The
combinations of flavours and food he created are still the foundations of
modern Hungarian cuisine.
The Wiener schnitzel was naturalised by the Gundel dynasty, and the Gundel terrace was where popular dishes such as Jókai bean soup and Feszty steak were first served.
This tradition doesn’t need to be rewritten, but the revived kitchen was
entrusted in the hands of careful professionals who grant Gundel’s heritage its
due respect, with all the necessary dignity. That’s why Viktor Moldován, a huge
fan of classic Hungarian cuisine which he showcased in Japan for 14 years, was
His work is aided by András Wolf, who demonstrated at the New York Café and Salon Restaurant how well he understands traditional Hungarian gastronomy. The two of them head up the kitchen.
Around the menu in 80 years
“We dreamed of a traditional, friendly, accessible cuisine welcoming back
original dishes. The menu has been in place for 80 years, so you don’t have to
reinvent it. That's why we didn’t want to renew the food, but to think it
through and to handle it with care,” says András Wolf, about the menu that underscores
Legendary food the way people love it
Gundel has a long tradition of carefully crafted and precisely conceived menus, which is why the new one is called National 11. These eleven iconic dishes represent the most important legacy of Károly Gundel. Tokaj goose liver, goulash, palóc soup, Újházy chicken soup, paprika chicken, Feszty steak sandwich, mangalica pork Bakony-style, Carpathian perch, Somló dumplings, Gundel pancakes and Rákóczi cottage-cheese cake are all now on the teamsheet.
We were able to sample a few dishes before opening day. The palóc soup evoked home-made flavours, but with a tiny twist, a little extra creaminess and freshness from crunchy vegetables and spices not often used at home. The paprika chicken elicited nostalgia but here the juice is prepared for 48 hours and the meat softly fell apart with each touch of the fork.
In the field of desserts, while it is true they have not rethought
classics such as Gundel pancakes, they have added a few touches. The exact
harmony of the familiar flavours is crowned by a chocolate collar, decorated
with Gundel’s elephant logo.
To make something entirely new, András Wolf has created the Gundel Ring, a cardamom roll with cinnamon and pistachio, guaranteed to be a great experience with coffee or hot chocolate.
A Gundel adventure at friendly prices
The Gundel is not only about the meal, but also about the unique atmosphere
and experience, which is why acclaimed interior designer Ildikó Hergenrőder asked
theatre director Zsolt Meskó to make the Gundel a real dramatic experience with his
In the middle of the café, for example, they have created a vintage carriage where Gundel’s own women’s band plays all day. At the turn of the century, gentlemen would ride to the Gundel with musicians playing tunes behind them.
The revived Gundel also commemorates its famous guests, as each table is
dedicated to an artist, actor or politician, so you can take a seat alongside Antonio Banderas, Hungarian stage star Zoltán Latinovits or Arnold
There is also a mini-jungle inside, so statues of the residents of the adjoining Zoo pop up in the most unexpected places.
When visiting the Gundel, not only does fine cuisine sweep you off your
feet, the surroundings and atmosphere do, too – and you don’t even have to
reach too deeply into your pocket. For the substantial breakfast, you can choose
from exciting dishes for as little as 2,000 forints, hearty snacks, such as the
Feszty steak sandwich, 4,000 forints, the same as the goose-liver appetiser. Soups
are around 2,000 forints, main dishes 4,000-5,000 forints, desserts about 2,000
The portions are as hearty as they were in Károly Gundel’s time, and you can even drop in for an afternoon tea, with an impressive selection of cakes and sandwiches with coffee or tea for 12,000 forints.
The Gundel is now more than for just that special occasion. You can head there after a visit to the Zoo, organise a friendly tea party here, have a hearty lunch with business partners, a hot chocolate after ice skating or just sit by yourself and enjoy a delicious Gundel pancake in its unique atmosphere in the morning.