Subject to Turkish, Jewish, Western, and even Soviet-Russian influences, Hungary has always been a fusion of East and West. Budapest, a buzzing city, offers surprises to even ’old’ inhabitants, like myself. I chose two distinctly different restaurants for these two dinners: one that is part of the ’new wave’ food culture, and one that first opened 20 years ago. And yet, they both fit in perfectly with the spirit of the city.
Dob utca 21, 1071 Budapest
Vintage Garden, located on Dob Street, is a fairy-tale scene amongst the pubs and clubs of the busiest part of Budapest. The owners, a family of florists, planned on opening a cafe next to their flower shop. They decided to serve food as well, and nowadays Vintage Garden is mentioned — rightfully — alongside the hippest, coolest bistro-style restaurants in the downtown area.
The decorations and the food are all made with fresh flowers and herbs, of course. I would say that the place is mainly targeted towards women, with the vintage decoration, male waiters suitable for Calvin Klein underwear adverts, and low-carb salads. That didn’t stop me from ordering a burger, though. My friend ordered a pasta dish, and we both had a lemonade — I went for the more adventurous rosewater lemonade, and she ordered a strawberry lemonade, both freshly made with the addition of a cute rose garnish.
My burger came with fried goat cheese on top of the patty, onion jam, and a piece of crisp bacon. Her pasta was a classic carbonara with the addition of fresh herbs. The close attention the owners paid to every detail — be it the decoration of the place or the preparation of the food — was obvious. Even the bill came in a small vintage floral box. Speaking of which, the burger with fries was 1900 forint, or £4.50. By Hungarian standards, that’s rather on the pricey side, but the experience was unforgettable.
Kolozsvár utca 48-50, 1152 Budapest
If you don’t like hearty, meaty dishes, this isn’t the place for you. But if you’re looking for a quintessential Hungarian meal and want to experience the Hungarian retro vibe, look no further than Pléh Csárda, or as most people — even its owner — like to call it, Bádog Gundel. This name literally translates to ’Gundel made from tin’. Gundel Károly was perhaps the most famous and respected Hungarian chef at the turn of the 20th century, so this nickname has a bit of irony to it.
This little stall is located in one of the least touristy places in Budapest. Although it is more than 20 years old, it became internationally famous just this year, when Anthony Bourdain, the king of American gastronomy, visited Hungary and went to Pléh Csárda. Watch the sneak peek of the Budapest episode of his show, ’Parts Unknown’, just for the look on his face when he sees the piece of meat as big as his head, served with a side of potato salad and a large glass of raspberry szörp (a drink that’s a sort of syrup mixed with soda water — another Hungarian staple). You get your money’s worth at Pléh Csárda: for around 1000 forints (£2.50), you get at least one kilogram of meat. The owner of the stall is a very nice gentleman (he told us jokes to keep us entertained while our meal was being cooked freshly on the spot), and he never gets offended if you ask for a doggy bag.
Check out our other Budapest: 2 Days, 2 Dinners for more food suggestions.
Featured image: Viktoria Szanto