FWIW, we went to Gundel last night. Had been curious about the restaurant for many years—since reading “Blue Trout and Black Truffles,” in fact, the memoirs of a restaurant professional who had gotten his start there, if memory serves, before World War I. http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Trout-Blac...
We had our trepidations, we had seen posts and reviews that weren’t that impressed—but we had made reservations over the internet months before, and we had a fine time.
They seated us in an outdoor courtyard (it was a very warm evening); most of the other diners we could see were tourists, probably (one Asian table that had a young translator in tow; several couples who had to be American, a two-generation family, we think, who were likely German or Austrian and dealt with the staff in English, and so forth).
The food? Partly Magyar, I’d guess; partly international formal. But the thing at Gundel is the atmosphere and the service. We were handed out of our taxi by one staff member, shown to our table by another, had chairs pulled out by a third, were visited by the maître d’ (I think), had wines poured by sommeliers, lost count of the food runners, bus persons, etc. Handsome young women (none of them touching the food or taking orders); men in their thirties, forties, fifties. Where I had begun to fear obsequiousness, or hauteur or even boredom, there was energy, dignity and grace. At one point we asked that our procession of courses be slowed down a bit; later, we asked that they be speeded up a notch, and, no muss, no fuss, we were accommodated. And everyone spoke English, no problem
The staff wore pretty formal attire; but not the clientele.
Anyway, we had the Degustation Menu:
“Essence of beef”—broth with vegetable quenelles.
Rack of Lamb
All accompanied by wines (well, not the broth and not the sorbet) from different regions of Hungary.
A very cool thing is that we each got a printed booklet of the menu, which I’m consulting even as I type.
The high points? The goose liver and the sorbet. Any lows? Maybe Pike-Perch isn’t that great a fish…
Oh, and there was a band—piano, clarinet, and wandering violinist who made a fuss about certain tables but left the rest of us alone. Fine playing—a mix of “light classics,” what I took to be Hungarian classics, and American jazz. All acoustic.
At last we were handed into a taxi for the trip back to our hotel by the river, and Budapest’s heat wave and crowds (and lit-up castles and bridges). not a life-changing experience, but a memory we'll treasure
I should add: My partner just looked at her credit card bill for our dinner at Gundel--well more than $200 US each..."the most expensive meal we've ever had," she said, but I think we've spent more once or twice. Her tone was, that may not have been worth it--but I mention this just for perspective....
I share most opt HBink's assessments of restaurants, but emphatically disagree with both the notion that "the general situation is that dubious value and tourist traps dominate the scene". This is about as accurate as saying the same thing about NYC after being dropped into the middle of Times Square. The fact that one finds tourist traps in tourist districts should not be a surprise in any city.
And I also take exception to the notion that the very variable recent history of the Cafe Central places it at the top of the cukraszda (patisserie/pack) pack. It's a historic place, relatively carefully redone lately by new owners who also own several of the city's trendier spots, and among the things they have done is bring the pastry kitchen there up from ho-hum to competitive. But there are many far better and more consistent pastry options, depending on one's taste and interests ... consider the Auguszt, the Jeg Bufe (primarily takeout, as are Nandori and Kovacs Cukraszda) and for that matter the Cafe Alibi in some ways, the Cafe Gerloczy in others ....
There are many good options but the general situation is that dubious value and tourist traps dominate the scene. A vast proportion of restaurants are business opened in the last five years, mostly on a low skill, low cost calculation. There are however outstanding restaurants and the wine scene is very interesting.
Very good are the following places, where you will need to book well in advance.
Bock's Bistro (upmarket, higher price level, very good traditional meat dishes perfected, wines to match, can be very noisy)
Csalogany 26 (on the castle side, far away from tourist concerns, refined technique and products, good choice if you like fish and are not as meat obsessed as Budapest is)
Rosenstein (near the east station, hard to find, traditional jewish-hungarian with slow food pedigree, comfort food with excellent ingredients, not a diet place though, think bacon and cabbage, goose liver, service can be extremely pushy) (I like their concept of kosher - "If it tastes good it is probably kosher".)
If you want to sample the truly outstanding and for now still underrated wine scene you could head to Klassz (where they dont take reservations, but serve simple tasty food) or Borkonyha (rapidly becoming too popular for its own good, but good value for money).
Onyx and Costes are rightly famous but cater to the international wallet, and are remote from hungarian tradition.
In general terms I would recommend to stay well away from all restaurants near Liszt square and Vorosmarty square.
If you get disorientated and lost you could always go to Nobu :-) and if you were a dedicated foodie who cooks for yourself and your family, the large market hall near Fovam ter at Szabadsag bridge is a much visit site.
Cafe Central near Ferenciek ter has the best pastries and cakes.
Not a diet destination, Budapest!
Hi there hbink, and thank you for your recommendations. Can you suggest anywhere for a top quality blowout classic Hungarian cuisine romantic meal including foie gras? My wife and I are coming to Budapest for our anniversary and are keen to have a really outstanding meal eating classic food really well executed. Gundel gets such mixed reviews that it doesn't feel like a safe choice, but we want to go somewhere posh, beautiful and traditional (we've eaten enough foams etc for a lifetime).
Cheers in advance for any thoughts!
Hard to say, actually, why not be romantic and have several anniversary dinners on consecutive days :-)
Good choices that apply to some if not all your criteria would be Onyx, Bock's Bistro, Csalogany 26 and the restaurant at the Gresham hotel.
If I read the romantic in your question as conversation and privacy Bock's might be too loud.
If dramatic setting and posh is required it is hard to beat the Gresham. Very beautiful too is the Hotel New York Boscolo but I would never recommend it for the food.
Classic hungarian dishes and goose liver are wonderful at Rosenstein, but the interior decoration is not that great.
Your doubts on Gundel are well founded. Enjoy the others!
we ate at Dunacorso twice in the past week and were quite happy with the scene, the food, the menu, the musicians (live! acoustic! dancing with customers!), the price (though I didn't much care for the waiter hovering while we tried to figure out what tip to leave), the view (we looked at t
the park both times), speculation about the other diners,