You’ve tried gourmet restaurants, high-quality bistros and street food in Budapest. But what about classic, everyday Hungarian cuisine, where they serve goulash, stew and pork knuckle? Some of the city’s most illustrious chefs put six traditional eateries to the test.
Beginning with Tamás Széll of Stand25, we also talked to Ádám Barna of St. Andrea Wine & Gourmet Bar and Balázs Csapody of Kistücsök about Hungarian cuisine. Árpád Kovács of the Ybl Budai Creative House declared: “For years my family has been trying out these kinds of places during our free time on Sundays, places where we love going”.
Róbert Rosenstein pointed out the plethora of Italian restaurants where Hungarian ones used to be. He also mentioned a friend of his, a former chef at the Boscolo and the Gellért, who has since opened his own classic Hungarian eatery. Serving top-notch catfish paprikás, veal paprikás and tripe stew, the Kockás Abrosz (‘Checkered tablecloth’) sits close to the Thököly Vendéglő – in operation since 1923.
District V: Magyar QTR & Kispiac Bisztró
Bocuse d’Or competitor Ádám Pohner of Kistücsök usually cooks for himself but sometimes lets another chef do all the hard work. That’s why he can happily suggest Magyar QTR, and not only because of its prime waterfront location facing Gellért Hill or its fine spritzers: “In fact, we lived right above the restaurant, and if we couldn’t be bothered to cook, then we went dandered down for goulash, breaded meat or deer stew”. In the former Gepárd & Űrhajóban, nothing is too fancy – what you see is what you get. The thick soup comes with fresh homemade bread. The breaded meat is crisp, soft and juicy, and the tasty stew nice and chunky.
Alongside the Downtown Market, Ádám also recommends the Kispiac Bisztró, which “produces excellent cuisine, and I’ve been here several times. On the last occasion, I had the oxtail soup, in which the beef was cooked to perfection and accompanying contents just right”. “Perfect!,” in fact, was the word Ádám used.
Magyar QTR: V. Belgrád rakpart 18
Open: Reopens April 2019, then daily noon-midnight
Kispiac Bisztró: V. Hold utca 13
Open: Mon noon-5pm, 6pm-10pm. Tue-Sat noon-10pm
District VII: Kádár Étkezde
“Because it’s always the same,” says culinary advisor Csaba Harmath. “Resistance to change – which has its downsides as well. No, it’s not fine dining, but it’s decent, reliable.” Perhaps the word ‘institution’ is not one used that often in the ever-changing world of gastronomy – but that’s just what the Kádár Étkezde is. The duke of all diners. A place where the trotter stew slips down a treat (“I could do with some right now!”), slightly spicy, layered and homely, the meat gelatine heaven.
“The lung stew is just the way my grandmother used to make, the sauce is a bit thick (well, more than just a bit!) but the taste is there. The lemon juice, the toasted sugar… I know all this is old-school, but every three months I need it!” And as this is Csaba Harmath, that’s not just nostalgia talking.
Kádár Étkezde: VII. Klauzál tér 9
Open: Tue-Sat 11.30am-3.30pm
District II: Náncsi Néni
Dániel Bernát, known for his top-notch interpretations of Hungarian cuisine at U26, Bagolyvár and Rézkakas, not only came to Náncsi Néni as a boy but still frequents it today, usually when he’s in a bigger group.
“It’s a great day out, hiking in Hűvösvölgy, then going to a restaurant whenever hunger takes hold,” says the chef, coming out with recommendations for recreation as well as dining.
“Leaving aside more modern choices such as roasted goats’ cheese with mango olive oil and black olives, I would go straight to the classics,” he suggests. “Chicken soup, fried fish, a brilliantly prepared fish soup – also great at the Bajai Halászcsárda at Svábhegy, by the way – or a nice pork stew served in a little saucepan with bread for dunking.”
“Around 2,300 forints should be enough for two after a pleasant hike. The traditional Hungarian dishes are made from high-quality ingredients, prepared in classic fashion. The pottage, for example, is thickened with bread and flour,” he explains, going on to say how this defines decent, homemade Hungarian cuisine. It doesn’t want to follow any new trend or provide an inventive twist for dishes created in the early 1900s – the quality of the base ingredients is the key.
Dániel is at pains to say that those looking for modern, health-conscious should look elsewhere. Here you can feast on dishes as a good housewife would have cooked for her guests in days of yore. Just as, in fact, Náncsi Néni herself would have done.
Náncsi Néni: II. Ördögárok utca 80
Open: Daily noon-11pm
District II: Fenyőgyönge
Another of Dániel’s favourites on his Buda hikes is the Fenyőgyöngye, the ‘Pearl of the Pines’, in District II – “but before you set out on your stroll around the slopes of Hármashatár Hill or Remete Hill, phone the restaurant,” he suggests. “It’s a full house at weekends.” The chef also points out the right balance of value-for-money and portion sizes he always finds here.
“At the end of the meal, you feel great after three courses, always a good sign – plus you don’t have to ask them for a doggy bag. The veal soup, known here as kaszáslé, comes in a smallish cup. It’s fantastic, and I’ve never seen it on the menu. Tiny cubes of meat are the key. Imagine a soup of sour cream. Its taste is exquisite, just like the escolar fish here.” The chef also mentions that the escolar he came across at a more renowned restaurant was nowhere near as good as the one he enjoyed here. “In addition, the fried chicken leg is fresh, the mashed potatoes that comes with it wonderfully creamy.”
Fenyőgyöngye: II. Szépvölgyi út 155
Open: Daily noon-10pm
District XXII: Óhegy Étterem
Recommended by Attila Bicsár of Traktor Farmfood Restaurant and Sauska 48 fame, the Óhegy Étterem was eulogised in great detail, dish by dish. The meat stew comes in a classic red saucepan, with plenty of beef cubes, well cooked vegetables and pasta. Alongside comes a plate of bone marrow and toast, with a couple of cloves of garlic to scrape onto it. “This is real healing food,” says Attila. “So many return customers head there for the weekend menu.”
A substantial goulash, available in small and large portions, is made from juicy beef, the vegetables cooked just right. Served with it, of course, is spicy pepper, in home-made ground form and in slices of red-hot chili.
The pork knuckle pékné módra, roasted with chunks of potatoes and onions, crispy on the outside, juicy within. It’s served in a pan, with its side dish. The fried meat is made from pork chop but also from tenderloin. The first is baked in the standard breadcrumbs, the latter in larger pankó breadcrumbs. Both are straightforward choices. Bicsár also praises the potato salad that comes with it.
The green-pea soup is cooked with carrots and parsnips, plenty of parsley and buttered dumplings. It doesn’t feel thick but it’s substantial all the same. A large portion fills a deep bowl. They insist on not using flour to thicken the vegetable pottage and not to overcook it either, which is how they make the pumpkin version, with sour cream, dill and
vinegar. It comes in a contemporary black-coloured bowl, to be devoured in the classic way with stew as well. “You just need one spoon. One of my favourites!” exclaims Bicsár.
Óhegy Étterem: XXII. Bartók Béla út 120
Open: Daily 11am-11pm