The WORST Steakhouse on the Planet: Prime Steak & Wine

27 February 2015

My plans kept changing but basically my evening became open at the last minute. Geez, a Friday and I have a ridiculously early wake-up coming, so I decided to go to do something easy. I trekked across the centre and headed to the popular Ráday utca, where many restaurants are. After negotiating through a maze of increasingly aggressive beggars at Kálvin tér Metro, I made it to The Beer Cellar – to be told it was reserved for the night. Damn it, of course never listed on the website. Ugh…

I trekked back towards the Metro and went straight back, but went a little further. I decided to try a place that was highly recommended, Prime Steak & Wine. I know, why go to a steakhouse when you are in Hungary? Reason is that it also offers, alongside other sourced beefs from around the world, the fabulous local Magyar szürke szarvasmarha (grey cattle).

The restaurant was mostly empty, which is a bad sign for Friday night. And the staff was already shaky, just standing around chatting instead of being attentive. I finally coaxed my server over to place my order. Took while to get my wine as they just refused to fill up my water glass. Had to keep getting their attention. At least then the starter arrived.

beef_broth_marrow

This marrow and beef soup was actually pretty good. I had to ask for a tiny spoon or fork to enjoy the marrow, as they had not even considered it. Another bad FoH sign. It was solid, and the marrow was a nice touch.

I chilled out with more wine but had to keep asking for water when they just refuse to fill my glass — despite me paying for the bottle. Then my steak came…and my heart sank.

filet_mignon

Was that a beef log they dropped on my table that looks already dryer than the Sahara?

Reason #1 why NO ONE eats filet mignon anymore (which is this restaurant’s specialty) is how utterly awful a cut it is. Reason #2 is that it’s so easy to screw up cooking. This was labelled medium-rare? Nope. Maybe partially, but it’s well-done through the top and one side. It’s obvious it was thrown into the oven that was unbalanced and cooked through badly. Right side was well-done and left side was medium. And it was all bad.

veg

Frankly the vegetables were much better. And they still won’t fill my water glass!

I actually then complained and the staffer was giving me attitude and I just said forget it. I abandoned the rest of the steak, asked them to give me the bottle of water and the bill. I actually literally carried the water bottle out of the restaurant with me.

Having graced hundreds of steakhouses around the world, I have to say I have NEVER had such a poor experience anywhere in the world. Crap service that just got worse, plus a truly horrible steak. Pretentious crap that everyone has seen though, which is why it was pretty empty on a Friday night.

As I tweeted that night, what they did to the Szürke marha tonight was a crime. Frankly this “steakhouse” is criminally bad. What a crappy last meal in Budapest…

Prime Steak & Wine
Sas utca 18
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Gepárd és Űrhajó

27 February 2015

It was a rather busy day already as I ran around in a now-drier Budapest all morning into the afternoon; so it wasn’t until mid-afternoon I had a chance to have lunch. I decided to make a quick detour and drop into another well-regarded eatery, Gepárd és Űrhajó.

I had wanted to try this whimsically-named restaurant several times before, but the timing never worked out. So this time I ended up going at an inopportune time — when it was empty and the staff seemed to be doing other things. Oh well, I ended up ordering a fine set of courses as I was hungry having not eaten all day.

Enjoying a glass of local white before the first item arrived, gulyás made with Hungary’s fabulous Magyar szürke szarvasmarha (Hungarian grey cattle) beef.

Szürke_marha_gulyás

Delicious, I just love this dish. Nice and spicy but not overwhelming. This special breed of cow is just perfect for gulyás.

I was having a bit more wine when my starter arrived…or what I thought was a starter…

pike_perch

The pike-perch from Balaton was listed as a starter but this looked more like a main course! Dear, I have more food coming. But I was hungry and I took this down with gusto. Actually quite an excellent dish, with the fish cooked well. A few rogue bones, but overall a balanced dish as the fish rested on a bed of lentils, peppers and arugula.

Having enjoyed all that, I switched to a red — having to get the waiter’s attention (he’s doing the books, as you would imagine during a down-time, it’s expected). Then came my main course…

Mangalica_chunk

Yes, it’s mangalica “chunks” under the gravy. I gotta say it was utterly overcooked, but the joy of mangalica is that it’s still extremely edible and good. I just wish this was cooked right and not smothered by unnecessary gravy. Not bad, but not a great end.

I had some coffee and headed out, glad to be full from a rather voluminous and rather late lunch. Little did I know I needed it…but that story next time…

Gepárd és Űrhajó
Belgrád Rakpart 18
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: MÁK

26 February 2015

After a long afternoon in rainy Budapest, I was spent. My schedule opened up unexpectedly but I managed to get a booking at the well-regarded MÁK. This bistro made its name when previous chef Kata Tálas (who has worked at London’s excellent Magdalen) won international acclaim for her take on modern Hungarian cuisine; she has since departed for Singapore to continue her culinary experience, and I was hoping MÁK is worthy of continued praise.

After an interesting tasting meny a few days ago in Kyiv at Канапа (Kapana), I decided to go with one of their tasting menus. Should be interesting. I happily went with the wine pairing, as it was all Hungarian wines. I chilled out and enjoyed the atmosphere.

The restaurant was busier in the front in their cafe section, and the restaurant section in the back was filling up much slower. Then the amuse bouche arrived.

AB-mackerel

A small tasting of mackerel in cream. Well, it’s not a great piece of mackerel to be honest. I asked them about sourcing, and unfortunately they tell me most of the stuff they get comes from France and not locally. I find that a bit of a shame, but they said they needed consistent quality, so…

The first wine was presented, a riesling from Badacsony…albeit with a light pour. This accompanied the first dish, the sunchoke consomme.

01-sunchoke_consomme

A simple dish with a big slice of sunchoke in the middle, it was full and flavourful. Something you’d enjoy on a cold wet day like today. I’m usually not a fan of this gas-producing root but it was very nice.

Next up was a nice wine from Somló as I awaited the dish… It took awhile, and the light pour again was a little annoying.

02-beef_tartare

This was the beef tartar. Rather plain to be honest, had no depth, and poorly seasoned. They told me the beef was from France…again, why go abroad? Frankly the only thing nice was the mangalica terrine on the side.

They poured the wine for the third course afterwards, and now this was annoying. Took maybe 20+ minutes to bring out the third course in an otherwise empty restaurant. But they at least caught it and topped up my wine. This I complement the FoH for catching it. Usually ‌in Budapest they let you linger, but kudos to them.

03-paprika_tasting

The third dish, when it came out, was a nice tasting of Hungarian peppers, accompanied by some gnocchi and sunchoke spheres. Nice, with the sweet but tangy pepper. A nice creation. Despite the delay I am starting to relax, as I have a better feeling about this place now.

They poured the wine for the fourth course, another nice tipple from Badacsony, as we move into fish.

04-skrei_cod

Didn’t take quite as long but the skrei cod was looking good. Fish was solid tasting and flavourful, and the vegetables were a nice set; cream was unnecessary though. A good little dish. And I also noticed the sommelier, who had taken over the wine service for my table, has turned light pours into very generous pours. This was noticed and appreciated.

He then poured me a red from Sopron as that tipped me off that we’re headed to meats. In fact it was saddle of venison.

05-venison_saddle

Wow, this was cooked very nice. Almost rare, it retained all the flavours and characters of venison, no cheating here. A very nice treat, for game lovers. You get the full essence of the meat with this light cooking, letting the meat speak for itself. Excellent.

As I was given a palate cleanser they sat a couple right next to me — in a rather empty restaurant. Why? Just then they brought a nice Tokaji with my dessert — poppy seed dumplings.

06-poppy_dumpling

This was actually a fabulous dessert, mixing some wonderful flavours. A deep, complex, challenging dessert, but also really tasty. I usually don’t praise desserts but this was real good.

I was told there was a little more, but I asked to move to the bar — so the romantic couple adjacent can have some privacy. The staff actually thanked me, and bought me a drink on the house. Now this you don’t expect in Budapest, so I was impressed. They acknowledge their errors by making up for it; slow food service they poured more wine (and increasingly more generous pours), poor diner placement they give me a free pálinka. I stayed, enjoyed the little snack they brought.

petit

Mmm, nice. I had a few pálinkas just chatting with them about the restaurant scene in Budapest and it was an interesting evening. I like these people, they are on the right track. They don’t just huff or ignore when something doesn’t go right (like so many other places), they actually work to rectify things. Now this place has a lot of potential. It is certainly a place I would happily come back to again when I get back to Budapest.

Overall I like MÁK. Solid food, some dishes were excellent (though some below par like the tartar). Service was good as it progressed. The sommelier is clearly the boss of the place and he really got them working once he took control of things. Overall, again, I think it’s a good place, and I had a good night. I know I stumbled back to my hotel pretty cheery after this.

MÁK
Vigyázó Ferenc utca 4
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Rézkakas

26 February 2015

I had a busy afternoon my first day in a rainy Budapest, so I decided to fuel up a bit with some good food. Walking up Sas utca, the location of many good restaurants and bistros, I eventually ended up Rézkakas. I admit it was not my first choice but a few places I know on this street had closed up since my last trip to Budapest.

Rézkakas is a pleasant bistro that has that Budapest charm — you know what I mean if you’ve been here. Service was a pleasant surprise, as it was actually quite good. I ordered my starter and main and chilled out with some excellent local white. I love Hungarian wine so much…

AB-pork_terrine

We first began with an amuse bouche of pork terrine, which was not bad. Surprised I got one for lunch. But a good start. Some good bread too.

01-catfish

My starter was catfish carpaccio on a bed of spinach pillow. Not bad, though probably shouldn’t call this carpaccio per se. But it was rather nice, a salty, ham-ish feel to this beloved local fish. Good start.

02-mangalica

My main was, unsurprisingly, roasted mangalica loin. The meat was cooked very well, retaining the juice of this magnificent beast. The pasta shell was done nicely, and the mixture of various mushrooms was a surprise treat. Nothing as wonderful as mangalica and wild mushrooms!

I finished my wine and had a coffee and thanked the servers for an excellent meal — and solid service. Considering how crap the service just next door at (the now 1-Michelin, utterly shocked…) Borkonya on a previous trip. I was fuelled up for my busy afternoon. Into the rain…

Rézkakas
Sas utca 3
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Канапа [Kanapa]

23 Feburary 2015

The one place I targetted for my Kyiv trip to check out the fledgeling food scene is Канапа [Kanapa], which is the first place I’ve seen that talks about new Ukrainian cooking. I looked at the menu and it indeed had many extremely adventurous items on the menu. It was recommended to me by food people I trust, so I was looking forward to the evening.

It was relatively busy compared to most places in town, as it was half-way down the touristy Andriyvsky uzviz. My table was not in a great location, near steps and it constantly got kicked by quick-moving waiters, which was rather annoying. And most of the tables were larger parties, so staff were pre-occupied by them. But I was glad to see them busy.

Although the menu had many fantastic items I had decided to do the tasting menu — to see how they handle it. It missed a few items I wanted to try but this is a good balance. Took awhile for the wine to show up but I’m reserving judgement…

01-canapes

The first item to arrive was a tasting of 4 different canapes — a combination of fillings and toppings. The pate with onion marmalade was nice as was the potato mousse with herring. I do apologise for the photo, as the last Android update screwed up the focus of low-light photos — YET AGAIN…

02-salad_mousse

The second dish was a cute service, on a glass panel with stuff you don’t eat beneath it. The salad wasn’t bad, but a bit excessive of the goat cheese mousse. The boar ham was a nice touch.

03-varenyky

The third dish is a take on an Ukrainian classic, the varenyky (dumpling). These had interesing fillings such as pike-perch with salo. I really enjoyed this item, including the odd “onion sponge” in the middle. Good stuff.

More wine and then the star of the night arrived — the potato “sausage”.

04-potato_offal_sausage

This is actually just some potato, but also minced sweetbreads and veal brains all covered in caul and cooked. A fantastic offal dish, wonderful flavours here. Offal lovers will love this dish, as would non-offal lovers. A complex and strong dish, it really shows excellent promise of this kitchen!

05-rabbit_ribs

Following this was the cute, almost heartbreaking serving of rabbit ribs. Very tasty and a beautiful serving, but you know it can be frustrating to eat rabbit because of the size — especially trying to clear meat between the ribs. But another excellent dish.

06-beef

Next up, with more wine, was a nice bull cheek. Cooked well, with strong flavours. I enjoyed this dish as well, solid stuff.

07-egg_meringue

The dessert was a “sweet” egg meringue and quince. A nice presentation and it went down quickly. It closed a relatively good meal.

I have to say some were a miss, but some were excellent. Service was a little trying, and being kicked constantly was annoying. A table-full of drunken brits misbehaving was also unpleasant, as were people taking flash photo nearby. I can see a lot of potential here. Maybe they need to streamline the menu a little, as it is huge. Take a look, some of it is spectacular, but it’s way too much stuff. Better to have a shorter menu and improve the execution.

But just to show how bad the local economy is, the food part of the 7-course tasting menu cost me…under 15 euro. Yeah, really.

But I do recommend this place, it has a lot of potential, and some of the dishes are fantastic. Some growing pains and other issues, but for Kyiv, this is indeed a great example of new Ukrainian cooking. Makes me optimistic for my next trip…one rare moment…sigh…

Канапа [Kanapa]
Андріївський узвіз 19а
Київ, Україна

A Heartbreaking Few Days in Kyiv…

I made my way to Kyiv from London on a very long-awaited trip to Ukraine. The local economy stinks, and frankly anything I can do to help — in return for filling my stomach — I’m happy to contribute! 21 years after I took Ukrainian language in college, I step foot in Kyiv.

My Ukrainian was beyond rusty, but at least I can read it. Most people were speaking surzhyk (a pigeon hybrid vernacular) anyway, so that was confusing enough. I had my first meal after a stroll around the hilly town, stopping in the middle of the small Shevchenko Park at the restaurant О’Панас (O’Panas).

The meal wasn’t bad considering it was a little of a tourist trap — though lacking in tourists. They made a garlic salo spread with some dark bread, which was a good start.

spread

The beef tongue (I love tongue) was not bad, the beet-infused horseradish made it more interesting.

tongue

And finally, the veal cheeks were pretty good, using a sweet-ish sauce. The puree was a little of an unnecessary sideshow.

cheeks

Not a bad first meal, a good fuelling for me wandering the town in the evening. It is very hilly, and you need all this energy. The evening I walked around the Maidan area and just looked at it with my heart skipping beats. It was just a year ago that Russian-paid snipers shot innocent people all over the square, and at the points where their lives were taken were spotlights shone into the sky. It’s emotional to say the least.

I needed to remove myself from this. This was as mentally damaging to me as the Hiroshima visit, partly because how close I was/am/will be to the Ukrainian freedom movement. So I dropped into the nearby brew-pub Славутич Шато (Slavutych Shato) and enjoyed a few hearty brews. I also enjoyed 2 large plates of smoked pigs ears, one of my favourite beer snacks. Mmm…

pigs ears

Then some nice local sprats…

sprats

And with several half litres of good beer it didn’t even cost me close to 10 dollars…

I wandered back to my hotel and had a nitecap before turning in for the next day, which would prove to be very busy. And food-less, as events overtook most of the day; for dinner I had my one tasting menu in town, which I will chronicle in the next review.

My last full day in Kyiv also had me skip food again, as I was too busy — this time doing touristy things. I had wandered down near the Dnipro, the river that bisects the city, and hiked up to the Holodomor Monument. Frankly, when you visit a monument that commemorates all the millions of lives lost in the Soviet-created famine, you lose your appetite… I hiked further to the historic Pechersk Lavra monastery complex for a long exploration of the buildings and areas, as well as into the amazing caves.

I was running low on daylight and had to make my way to Baykove Cemetery, so I skipped lunch and hiked across town. With the weather warming so much the cemetery was a muddy mess, and it was a challenge to hike around the hilly but muddy environment. Throw in a dinner-time meeting and I was running on empty basically, except for some nice fried small fish at a really nice Czech pub.

So I got back to my hotel and during my nitecap they admitted (the hotel bar) that they had salo — the ultimate Ukrainian treat.

salo_1

I had the plate with quite some vodka, and actually asked for another…

salo_2

I heard the kitchen ask with some incredulity when I ordered it… Oh, this was fantastic. Just melt-in-your-mouth goodness. I can eat this all night but I’d be dead by morning. Mmm…

Before I had to head to the airport to bid my farewell to this struggling but fair town I went for a last meal at Козацька грамота (Kozatska hramota), another bit of a tourist-trappy place (but no tourists). I had a pretty interesting lunch, starting with the студенець (studenets) — or jellied meats.

01-studenets

Not bad, a combination of pork and chicken. I enjoy jellied meat, but this was a little too large. Still, not bad. Main course was baked pepper pork.

02-pork_pepper

Now Ukraine knows its pork and this was very tasty. Grilled nicely, with good cuts of meat. I probably should have gotten some veg on the side, but too late now.

I left Kyiv with a heavy heart, fearing for its future. So many people once again talk about leaving, and they’ll take the heart of this country with them when they emigrate. The economy sucks, what little I did was less than a drop in the bucket for what they need. They need not just major amount of tourism — which they can easily support — but just wholesale restructuring of their economic framework. Then maybe this city will have a chance and shine as much as some of the domes on the city’s many churches.

Слава Україні! Героям слава!

О’Панас
Терещенківська 10

Славутич Шато
Хрещатик 24

Козацька грамота
Пушкінська 19а
Київ, Україна

Review: Tar & Roses

28 January 2015

My epic Japan trip had to end at some point, and it didn’t end very well. After a rather boring spicy pork lunch pushed on me by a restaurant that went back on its word and forced me to order only from the lunch menu after I was seated, I made the long trek to Narita Airport and the even longer flight back to North America.

I landed in Los Angeles and having not slept the entire flight (thanks to the awesome entertainment system on Singapore Airlines, I watched Godfather, Godfather II, and Godfather III — but only up to the start of Cavalleria Rusticana  as we landed early). I had pretty much zero jetlag going west to Japan, but I know going east is always my downfall…

I didn’t eat anything but planned for an early dinner, deciding to walk into one of LA’s most raved-about restaurants, Tar & Roses. I’ve heard many good things about this restaurant, especially their wood-fired vegetables. After all the fantastic veggies I’ve had in Japan I wasn’t ready to give up on them 3 hours after landing back in the States.

I cabbed it out there and at 5.30pm it was already buzzing, and the counter had just 1 spot left — for me. Albeit I have to say it is a squeeze, a very poorly planned system. If they keep suggesting small plates for people, it doesn’t fit on the counter the way they squeeze folks… And the only person working the entire counter is also the bartender, so it is very hard to get her attention; she’s working frantically and other members of the FoH staff are standing around. Poor management, but I digress…

I ordered a few snacks and enjoyed some wine. Soon the food started arriving, and I was wondering how I can eat without elbowing my neighbours (I know I was being elbowed when they started eating).

oxtail_dumplings

First to arrive were the oxtail dumplings. Sorry about the pix, it was dark in there too. These weren’t bad, with a little bit of a bite for the fillings.

pork_chicharones

Coming out a minute later were pork chicharones. Sorry, you can’t see them really from this picture. Not bad, but wee overcooked. It’s never good when you taste the fatty portion and then the dried-out lean part that aren’t in synch — and the dried out parts are really dry…

octopus_skewers

Finally I had some octopus skewers. Bad order, since I had so many excellent octopus in Japan like at Yoshitake (those marinated ones) and also at Iwa. Not bad, and still better than the horrible ones I got at Mizutani…sorry for mentioning it again.

I ordered a few other things since I skipped lunch, and enjoyed more wine. This place was buzzing, but I don’t see why so far. Food has been average, and it’s loud, warm and annoying with hipsters trying to pair their small plates with craft beers. So damn West Coast… The next set of plates arrived soon.

sprouts

First were the Brussels sprouts — one of my very favourite vegetables. Now what did they do to this? Completely unnecessary overdose of something vinegary, even the bacon tasted soaked. The sourness completely overwhelmed the taste of the vegetable. It’s like a chef trying to cover up very bad quality produce, not something a restaurant that is known for its wood-fired vegetables should be doing.

lamb_belly

My heart sank as the lamb belly appeared. It tasted really bad, cooked much worse than the chicharones earlier. It was so overcooked it was tough as a board at places. Just poor execution.

cauliflower

And finally, the cauliflower. This was a total disaster. It’s like they squeezed an entire lemon on this. Again, why overly-adulterate fresh vegetables? Is this the disease of cooking shows on TV, that you feel you NEED to screw with the food?

This is why I really dislike eating in LA and the West Coast. Completely unnecessary crap done to natural ingredients. All the fresh stuff in California and you go and ruin it because you want to show the world you’re doing something creative. No, this is just bad. It’s like Bestia — highly rated by Angelinos, for me it was rubbish.

And sadly, Tar & Roses isn’t far off from that. I abandoned most of those 3 dishes and closed up and waited for a cab to take me home. Frankly some chicken wings sound more appealing than this dinner. You gotta think Angelino hipsters would scoff at food in Sicily or Galicia because they are fresh and requires little adulteration — and served often as such.

Ugh…first meal back in the States and it’s a major fail…

Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, California