When we visited the SZÉK Restaurant & Bar in May 2021, we noticed that the concept was quite unique, the food adorable, typically the kind of place to take a friend or family member otherwise reluctant to try out more sophisticated cuisine. In fact, we couldn’t imagine of a more suitable introduction to the world of refined bistro food. Here, Sebestyén Réti combines traditional Transylvanian cuisine with a modern gastronomic approach and a good sense of style.
Everyone has at least one acquaintance who doesn’t
believe in modern cuisine. They don’t need those tiny but powerful portions, they
want a proper fill-up of fried meat and, in any case, no-one cooks better than their
Mum, so why try too hard? They defy the new.
Well, in that case, we can certainly recommend SZÉK, a Transylvanian bistro on Andrássy út which has left the difficult trajectory of the pandemic behind and has been waiting to win back regulars with the same talented chef.
The fact is that while you can find Peruvian- and
Hawaiian-inspired places in Budapest, the city is hardly brimming with Transylvanian
restaurants. However, in addition to a cultural agenda, legendary Transylvanian
hospitality, an arsenal of characteristic flavours, abundant portions and fresh
and pickled spices can also be attractive.
Hungarians coming here from across the border in Transylvania would also like to find their culinary favourites without having to undergo the long trip just to see grandmother in Budapest. That’s not to say that you’ll find Grandma’s recipes at SZÉK, as they hide the best Transylvanian flavours in a modern, contemporary guise.
The origins of Szidónia Varga from Székelyudvarhely, the restaurant owner full of ideas. nicely frames this story.
The chef goes for traditional dishes such as csorba soup, vetrece meat stew, stuffed cabbage and Brasov roast, all with unceasing creativity.
The short but striking menu changes seasonally but, of course, there are favourites that might change slightly, but never disappear. Whatever the time of year, many come to SZÉK for that very reason.
highlight here is always dinner, but lunch is also becoming more popular. We
arrived just after the busy midday hours and sat down with the chef to talk over
the menu, so as not to miss a certain speciality dish.
Sebestyén Réti loves to cook rooster when it comes to bouillon, so it came as no surprise that he serves kakasesszencia (rooster essence) at SZÉK, with fresh root vegetables, noodles and soft rooster meat. He’s a firm advocate of this lesser-known type of meat, which is not often prepared at home, whose name mostly comes up in connection with the French coq au vin or the rooster stew made in Hungary. Here, it also works perfectly as a concentrated bouillon.
The egg cream dish with goose crackling from the carnival selection was nicely decorated with pickled vegetables, refreshing the fatty appetiser.
The Liptauer spread is made with Transylvanian burduf cottage cheese. This makes it creamy and unique in taste, especially when you put it on hot polenta bread, which is why they serve three soft mini versions with it instead of regular bread.
This is the kind of locale that screams ‘hearty goulash’, but here they make it in the Transylvanian way, in harmony with the spirit of the restaurant. The chef combines it with vetrece, a kind of meat stew dish. It is made of confit beef cheek, which is so soft that it melts even when you blow on it. The goulash-vetrece centrepieces a special plate, while the edges of the serving dish are lined with goulash ingredients such as beets and tender potatoes with parsley. As an extra, pickled pearl onions are added.
The dishes are really filling at SZÉK, winning over any aforementioned sceptics, who will have little to complain about where flavour and size are concerned. The same is true for the vegetarian options described here as ‘fasting’. This means Transylvanian layered potatoes covered with Tekerőpataki cheese, with crispy fried leeks in brown butter and smoked eggs. French cuisine springs to mind. The velvety cheese engulfs the potatoes. Actually, the restaurant’s fasting selection is really quite impressive, with a lot to choose from, and a real pleasure for vegetarian guests.
To end with, the cottage-cheese dumplings make for a perfect dessert, but because of the winter season, they are not fused with dill-flavoured ice cream, but they use pumpkin seeds as the base. Plus, it’s not savoury, but sweet, the broken pumpkin seeds mixing nicely with the breadcrumbed dumplings.
The drinks stick with the Transylvanian theme: Csíki beer, Géza Balla’s smooth wines or Gyergyó cordials may accompany your hearty dinner.
There may not be too many fine bistros showcasing Transylvanian cuisine, but SZÉK is a reliably excellent culinary destination right on Andrássy út.